Progress Through Reflection: Looking Back to Move Forward

For a while now, I’ve been caught up in thinking about the past. Ever since the loss of a friend late last fall, I’ve had more regrets than I usually do. Most of these have taken the following form: “I wish that I’d known. . .”

To be clear, I know that there’s no way to go back. I know that there aren’t any guarantees on the amount of time that any of us have. I know too that we all learn our lessons in our own ways. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t lessons that I wish I could have learned – and put into practice – sooner in my life.

Last week, when these reflections were particularly present, I stumbled across a post on Simplicity Tree in which a number of bloggers were asked to share what one thing they wish they would have known or done 10 years ago. A number of the responses had to do with letting go of fear and taking more risks. Others were about finances. The response that actually “spoke” the most to me, however, was the final one that said the more important question to ask is about the now: what can we change in this moment – because regret alone won’t get us anywhere.

And this is true: we can’t change the past. I’m beginning to suspect that if I could go back and make some changes based on where I am now, there would simply be other things that I would now be wanting to go back and change.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some lessons I wish I’d accepted sooner. In no particular order, here are a few of them:

  • I wish I knew ten years ago how much I would miss Boston after I left. Mostly I miss my friends, but I also find that I miss the energy of the city, the creativity that breathed in me there, and the opportunities that I’ve never seemed to find elsewhere.
  • I wish that I hadn’t left a stable job for the great unknown without taking advantage of more of the benefits that were available. I’m not saying that life would be better if I’d stuck it out long enough to get my MBA, but I think that if I had there would be additional opportunities open to me now.
  • I wish I knew that I would survive the process of becoming myself. Though I have community and support now, I wish that I’d started the process I’m now going through when I was younger and when re-establishing an identity would not have meant letting go of so much.
  • I wish I knew ten years ago that my relationship really was for keeps and meant to last. I would have done less to sabotage it in an effort to get the end result that I kept dreading and expecting – and it would have meant a lot less pain for my partner and myself.
  • I wish I would have understood more about the passions of others and how they play out. This one is deeply personal and something I don’t quite feel ready to get into, but I think it could also be expressed this way: I wish that I understood that passion manifests differently for different people, and that it’s about their lives and their experiences, rather than mine.
  • I wish I understood that the greatest strength comes from giving rather than receiving. There’s a lot to be said for doing more for others and recognizing that the rewards from that are what matters the most. There’s a whole lot to be said for selfless giving without expecting anything at all in return.
  • I wish I’d known then that being true to myself would have caused so much less pain than trying to be someone I wasn’t. Truth be told, this isn’t a lesson that I’ve fully embraced; it’s one that I still struggle with. But I can’t help but suspect that if I’d been more focused on becoming someone I was comfortable with, a lot of the other pieces would have fallen into place.

So how do I start making more progress building on these realizations now?

That’s the question that I keep asking, and it’s not having an answer that’s slowed my progress in getting this post together.

Put another way, I can’t help but wonder what the best strategy for building on these realizations is. I think it’s this:

  1. Make connections, celebrate the passions, and jump on opportunities so that in ten years from now I don’t find myself tripping over the same regrets.
  2. Embrace authenticity. If I can see through myself, others can too – and that’s only going to stand in the way of accomplishing my goals.
  3. Look for opportunities to gain knowledge and experience and never give up on learning more about what it takes to live my own best life.
  4. Celebrate my relationship more, because it really does mean more to me than I give it credit for.
  5. Trust others who are passionate, see their joy, and look for ways to build that up in myself.
  6. Give more to others, whether it’s through volunteering, donations, or simply remembering that there’s no telling what someone else’s experience is and which one kindness may completely change their path.
  7. Trust the process of becoming – especially when it seems to be going a lot more slowly than I’d really like for it to go.

I may not be ready to cut myself enough slack or to fully let go of some regrets for a while – and that’s probably okay, at least as long as I don’t let it stop me from making progress and continuing to grow into the person who I really want to be.

One Response to Progress Through Reflection: Looking Back to Move Forward
  1. Melissa @ ...the space between...
    February 8, 2011 | 11:32 am

    It can be really challenging to focus on the things we wish we woulda/coulda/shoulda done, but like you’ve said, the past is just that – the past.

    For me personally, I’ve found that I don’t necessarily have to ‘do’ anything as far as letting go of regrets when I make conscious choices to be present in the now and mindful of the lessons I’ve learned. Cherishing the present (your strategy), and allowing what is, has a way of opening our hearts and lives and the regrets have a way of drifting off on their own when they know we’ve gotten the message.

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