An interesting conversation popped up last night at a celebration dinner for a local entrepreneur who’s just closed a nice round of funding. Chatting with a journalist I asked her about her most interesting interview, leading us into a discussion about our educational system & our fixation with the past. By the way, the spark that lit this discussion was no other than Charles Handy who’s noted for quoting “We must not let our past, however glorious, get in the way of our future”.
As we all know too well, when we’re not looking forward and focused on what’s just ahead, we’re more likely to fall prey to our worst imaginable situation.
A brief look back..
From a very early age we’re reminded of how great it was in the good old days. “When I was your age I used to walk 5 km to school barefoot in the snow, you kids have it so easy these days..” Ah.. the good old days..
Then we go to school & every subject is in relation to the past. History, biology, science, philosophy, etc. The closest I can remember getting to look at the future was in sex education.. if you don’t wear a condom you’ll make someone pregnant or catch a terrible disease that will make some body parts fall off..
As we move along into our professional studies or university we finally start using the past (case studies) to develop hypothetical estimations about what the future might look like. We start attending job fairs to try & figure out what we might be good at. It’s just unfortunate that by this stage our subconscious minds have already been soft-wired to think more in the past than the future. And so another generation looks back on high-school through rose colored glasses reflecting on the good old days.
When we finally snap!
I’m generalizing of course, but typically we don’t break out of this terrible pattern of being anchored in our past until something dramatic happens. A mid-life crisis will have us study why we behave in the way that we do, often finding that we need to learn & develop completely new habits in order to have a healthier & balanced life. e more conscious of, and appreciate, the present.
We might even go to zen retreats, acupuncture, psychologists, Tony Robbins and other forms of self help to enable us to overcome all of the programming we’ve been subject to from such an early stage.
The solution is..
Using the past only as a reference to help us better understand the probabilities for the future. If the past is associated with pain & discomfort, we’ll try to find ways to change our habits & practices in the hope of giving us different results. When our past is abundant in joy & happiness than we repeat or do more of what works to maintain or increase the joy & sense of fulfillment.
I have found that the past is only healthy as a basis for brief reflection, or to take comfort (i.e. confidence building) in what worked in order to improve our quality of life for the future. Observing what didn’t work & making the necessary changes, often requires some self introspection which isn’t always the most comfortable thing to do. However, only then can we truly begin to development, prosper & grow.
But where do I start?
Where we are today is only a reflection of our past actions. The present is only a temporary state determined by our past. Thoughts are only thoughts stuck in our heads until we move them to words or actions through a decision process, thus our future is always within our control. With the very next step we take we can determine for ourselves our immediate future.
The pace of our future growth is only constrained, but never limited, by our past actions. Example; if I’ve committed a crime I will have to spend some time in jail. I can take that time as an opportunity to learn, develop & grow so that when I’m released I can get on with my new life in freedom. Or, I can use that time to feel sorry for myself & hate the world that put me into these circumstances, only to be released and commit the same mistakes.
Personal & Professional..
Independently of where this posts touches your life, what can you take-away from it?
When an organization is stuck, I typically get it moving again by using the very same principles of reflective analysis in order to affect change. Whether it’s people, process or communication, all the most common cause for breakdown, tomorrow will only be different by making a change through the next step forward.
When a friend reaches out in desperation, where do we typically start? How did you get to where you are? What is it about your life that you’re unhappy with? What were the feelings & subsequent actions that got you to where you are today? OK, so what can you do differently in order to reach a happier outcome?
The formula is simple.. do less of what makes you sad & want to cry.. do more of what makes you smile, laugh & feel fulfilled.
OK, time for you to get to work. What’s your next step?