How Holding On To The Past Prevented Me From Having A Successful Future.

How Holding On To The Past Prevented Me From Having A Successful Future.

“People who live in the past generally are afraid to compete in the present. I've got my faults, but living in the past is not one of them. There's no future in it.”
Sparky Anderson


“You’re setting yourself up for failure.”

“Do you leave your brain at the door when you come in?”

“You are so dense”

“Oh, he’s only an amateur”

For years I let these stinging words from my past affect me.   I would look back at my life and dwell on the mistakes I’ve made and the people who offended me.  Often I thought “What if I had done things differently?”  I would scroll through my Outlook calendar, holding the up arrow for over a minute just to see what day it would land and wonder “What if I could go back to this day?”  I did what many people do on a daily basis. I was spending today’s energy re-living events in the past, to afraid to face the future.

It took me years to eventually figure out that the trouble lay not in others or some brutal hand of fortune.  The problem was me and my inability to cope with the events of my past. By re-living these events over and over again, by taking heed to these words over and over, I was unable to do the one thing I desired most. That was to be happy and move forward.  But constantly looking backward prevented me from doing this and if you are reading this it may be preventing you from doing the same.  There are several things I realized about how living in the past was damaging my ability to succeed, my health, my family, and my ability to socialize with others.  I realized that I had to live in the now and do so in a positive  way. Here is what I learned and why I deiced to no longer live in the past.

Our memories of the past can be flawed by our emotions.

One good reason to not dwell on the past is that our memories are often flawed by our emotions.  Psychiatrist have given accounts where patients recall events of their past.  Repeatedly after checking with relatives, neighbors, and school officials, it’s been found that the recalled events either never happened or were misunderstood.   It’s like a group of people that witness a car accident.  One person will give an explanation of what they witnessed, another person will present a different account. Both believe what they regarded as truth, however, but both cannot be 100% right.

I look back at how I had been hurt by others.  While yes, I may have been wronged, but am I perceiving things in a way that aren’t 100% accurate? I am not saying everything is a matter of you seeing or hearing things incorrectly because trust me, I have been in situations that were truly messed up and definitely recall with 100% clarity.  But we must be careful because our emotions can get in the way and make a not-so-bad situation seem worse than what it is. We must be careful about judging ourselves, or others, too harshly based on our memories of how things happened.

Feelings of guilt and shame

Being a single father, I have often wrestled with feelings of guilt and shame.  There were times I would feel guilty because my boys didn’t have a mother figure in the home. That “full family unit” I saw other children have and I felt mine deserved. I felt guilty because I would think that there was something wrong with me, hence why I was divorced and somehow not good enough to be a husband and thus doubted my ability to be a father. I would look back over my marriage and ask what I could have done differently.

One day I was driving with my brother to his house to for dinner. It was Mother’s day so we were doing the customary “Mom is special” thing. As my brother and I were talking I heard someone sobbing in the back seat. There was my 7-year-old son holding a homemade card he had made in school.  I asked him why he was crying. He answered, “I made this gift, but I have no one to give it too.” Instantly I felt the guilt of him not having his mom around, even though it was totally out of my control.

I have spent days, months and years wishing I could have given my boys a better life. I would see people my age or younger in seemingly fulfilling relationships, succeeding in life, and happy.  I would hear them talk about things like buying a house when I struggled in a tiny two bedroom apartment. I would avoid visiting them because I didn’t want to see how they lived, yet I was too ashamed to invite anyone over to my tiny apartment.  I hated seeing people get promotions, hated seeing people get married, hated seeing people driving in their new cars,  and hated hearing people talking about their kids getting straight A’s. I was an equal opportunity hater and I would avoid these conversations at all cost because of my shame, guilt, and jealousy, of not having the same. And so once more, I would look backward over my life and ask the question “Why me?”

"I have spent days, months and years wishing I could have given my boys a better life."

I would also say to myself how I was years behind where I should be in life. I absolutely hated New Years and birthdays because it reminded me of another year come and gone where I seemingly accomplished nothing.  That’s when the disgrace of being me turned to anger towards myself and those I saw as doing better than me in life.  I constantly thought about what I should have done differently.  I would stay up at night crying, asking God “why can’t I succeed?”, “Why did things turn out this way for me?” I was always looking back, and too afraid to look forward.  I felt guilty because I felt that I failed myself and failed my family.

I got angry, A LOT.

As I mentioned, after the guilt and shame, I would get angry.   I would become angry with society, angry with family and acquaintances whom I thought were living better than me and thus looking down on me.  Most of all I would be angry with myself because I felt I was a failure.

I would sit here during my lunch breaks and dwell on the mistakes I had made.

I would sit here during my lunch breaks and dwell on the mistakes I had made.

I would look back over past events in my life (remember, these can be flawed) and I would blame everyone and everything I could for my failings in life instead of owning up to them.  I would think of ex-girlfriends that treated me wrong, friends that I thought talked bad about me, teachers that told me I was headed for failure, all kinds of negative things. These people were going about their lives and I was here wishing the cruelest death on them and stuck in my misery.  I was stuck on hating everyone in my past so much that it became hard to form new relationships, whether they be friendships or romantic.   Any slight insult or question on how I lived would piss me off.   I was like the Hulk, always angry about something.  I was unwilling and unable to move forward. How is that a way to live?  The answer is that it’s not living at all.  This reminds me of aquote from Buddha.

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”  Buddha

 I would fall into a deep depression hoping the feeling will go away.

“I can’t feel this way forever, so I’ll just sit here and wait it out.” There have been mornings where I was so depressed that I would call in sick and lay in bed all day unwilling to do anything but dwell in my misery. I believed that if I just had one day to let this feeling pass I’ll be o.k. in the morning. I had done this for years, being depressed about the things I hadn’t accomplished, the things I didn’t have, the money I didn’t make, the house I didn’t live in, or the relationship I wasn’t involved in.  This is like having a dirty skillet that has been left out overnight with food, dried and crusty stuck to it. You know it won’t come off easily so you figure if you let it soak long enough the food will just slide off. I was letting myself soak in my misery thinking if I did it long enough, eventually, this crusty, depressed feeling will go away. It would become so bad that headaches were common and subsequently, I found out I had high blood pressure; not because of obesity, but because of the tension and stress I was bringing upon myself.   You can’t just soak in your depression with hopes that it will just slide off over time. You are not a skillet so soaking won’t work.  Depression must be dealt with.  If this means visiting a counselor, talking to a pastor, or whatever you need to do, do it. Seek professional help.

 


So what did I do to turn things around? How did I stop living in the past and embrace the present?

"Why let go of yesterday? Because yesterday has already let go of you."
Steve Maraboli

I stopped comparing myself to others.

Eventually, I realized that by constantly comparing myself to others I was placing them on a pedestal and placing myself in a ditch. I had to stop letting the words get to me. “Why does this person’s opinion of me matter so much?” I would ask.  Then I had to ask myself this question. “Whose measure am I trying to meet?” I realized how ridiculous it was for me to look to others for approval or to compare myself to other people. By doing so was to belittle myself.

I once heard a quote that said, “Stop comparing your behind the scenes to another persons highlight reel.” I decided to stop comparing myself to others, stop listening to the voices of the past, and do what I needed to do to succeed.

I finally forgave myself.

I decided that I was no longer going to live in guilt and shame. I was no longer going to let my past decide my future.  Those mistakes were made and there is nothing I can do to go back and change them, so why waste today’s energy on the past?  This was energy I could use to have quality time with my boys or time to spend with family and friends in a positive atmosphere.  I know it sounds simple, but for me it was. I simply decided to forgive myself and move forward, not  look backward.

I decided to live a positive life.

I knew I was broke and had bad credit. I knew my boys weren’t getting straight A’s in school. I knew that my life wasn’t perfect. But then again, what is perfect?  I decided to live my life being as positive as I can.  I did simple things like join Meet-up groups with people who had similar interest. I began managing my money and took a "Financial Peace" class at church.  I picked up new hobbies, stopped speaking negatively all the time.  I cut ties with people that didn’t bring joy into my life.  I spent more time with my boys, reminding them how much they meant to me.  I decided that I would spend my energy creating something positive which is why I created this blog.  I even volunteered more at church because by helping others I felt better about myself. I decided to take responsibility for my life, my own happiness and make a difference in the lives of others.

 

It’s been said that hindsight is 20/20, meaning that it is easy to recognize the right thing to do after it has taken place.  Unfortunately, we can’t go back to the past and change things no matter how much we may want to.  But we can decide to stop killing today with the problems of yesterday.  We can decide to live in the present, instead of the past.


 

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