The end of each year, and the beginning of a new one mark a time for looking forward – to hope for better times ahead. Times that will be less stressful, filled with a little more joy, far less struggle, and a lot more success. While everyone around me prays for a better year ahead, to leave this year behind and surround themselves with positivity for the new year, I find myself always looking back. Looking back at what could have been. At the choices I made, the decisions I took, the people I left behind and those that I let in.
There’s always more of the former and a lot less of the latter in my case. I worry that some day there won’t be any on either side, but that’s a story for another day.
Each year tends to become about what could have been. What if I’d put in a little more effort, or any at all? What if I’d loved a little more? What if I’d put my foot down a little stronger? What if I’d said no? What if I’d said yes?
I’m someone who spends barely any time in the future, a little bit of it in the present, but a lot in the past. Internally, I obsess over my failures, flit over my successes and punish myself for not trying hard enough. Externally, it’s a completely different story.
And after years of doing so, of running this experiment on life playing the double role of the lab rat and the mad scientist, I’ve concluded that it doesn’t work. That I was wrong. It takes a lot for me to admit that I’m wrong, but I take solace in the fact that it was me who proved myself wrong. Narcissism at its finest.
The truth will set you free, but not until it’s done with you. And I’ve got the scars to prove it.
I’ve lost time in the present because I’ve been beating myself up over my past, worrying that the choices I made then paint a desolate picture of my future. But my past doesn’t decide my future. My present does. It’s not what I did then, it’s what I do now. And doing something now is important, otherwise it’s always about what I’ve already done.
Learn from your past and move on they say. Learning from your past is easy. Recognizing your mistakes and vowing you’ll never repeat them is simple. It’s the moving on part that’s hard. The forgiving yourself that feels impossible. The fear of repeating a mistake that’s crippling.
But do we have any other choice? Has it served anyone well for dwelling on the past for a moment too long? Is it a viable option to lock ourselves into the darkness, shying away from the light? To not attempt to sing because we went out of tune in public that one time? To not skate again because we fell once and sprained our ankle? To never love again because we were wronged a few summers ago?
Living in the past for too long can paralyze your present and obliterate your future. The past has been left behind for a reason. Learn from it, then leave it behind a locked door and throw away the key.
Beat yourself up for all the wrong choices you make. Punish yourself for not trying hard enough. Chastise yourself for the decisions that lead to bad situations and hardships.
But always remember to move on. To take a hit and keep moving forward. To learn, and to do your very best to never make the same mistake again. And even if you do, that’s fine too. You’ve been down this road before.
Don’t get sucked into the endless void of regret. Learn to fight your way out of it. Live in the present. Deal with what is now, and not what could have been. Living in the past is suffocating, living in the present will be liberating.
If your past calls, don’t answer. It has nothing new to say.
Happy New Year.