I met up with two of my oldest friends the other night. Given the two-hour drive and busyness of our lives, we don’t get to see each other as often as we would like. But when opportunities arise like golf, a special occasion, or business meeting within a reasonable distance, we try to make time to hang out.
These guys still live in the area where we grew up and they’re on Facebook (which I’m not…yet), so when we get together, I know there’s always going to be a lot of: 1) updates on people we know; and 2) laughs about the past. As for the second point, I love to listen to and tell great stories – over and over again. This is one of my favorite activities. Just hanging out with friends, catching up, and re-living the past.
Re-living is the operative word here. Hanging out and recounting stories, is this considered re-living or just appreciating the past? When I think reliving, I think of Uncle Rico in the movie “Napoleon Dynamite.” Uncle Rico is a middle-aged former athlete who lives in a van and laments his failed opportunity to become an NFL star. This is someone who you’d consider “living in the past.”
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with revisiting the past. Revisiting the past allows you to laugh at funny experiences, lifts you up when you’re down, and even builds confidence during times of fear or anxiety. However, when your brief visits become an encampment, this can be problematic. Ever have a conversation with someone trapped in the past? It usually goes off the rails and onto some weird path:
- “I was the high school homecoming king/queen. I was one of the most popular people in school.”
- “I was class president. I could have gone to (name of preferred college or university here) but I chose to go to (name of community college) instead.”
- “I played two sports in high school and was recruited by some big time colleges. If I didn’t start working right out of high school, I could have played (insert professional sport here).”
- “I was the class playa. All the girls used to love me.”
Fortunately, I haven’t had one of these conversations in a while. The people I’m around the most are pretty settled, present, and don’t dwell too much on the past (at least publicly). As for myself, I’m probably like the average person. Something will trigger a thought about the past, but I think I do a good job of not camping out there.
What about you? Are you a little too much like Uncle Rico or Al Bundy for comfort? If so, here are four things to think about:
- Have A Vision For Tomorrow: This is where living in the past gets dangerous. It puts you in a place where you think your best days were yesterday. The most successful and optimistic people understand that their best days are still ahead. It’s cool you were a big-time athlete in high school, but what would be the awesome vision for yourself tomorrow?
- Assess What You Have Today: What are you taking for granted? Your health? Your beautiful family? Great friends? A good job? Constant past talk can wear you (and the people around you) down. Instead of yearning for yesterday, how about appreciation for what you have in your life today?
- Re-connect With Who You Are: The quarterback who threw the game-winning pass in the section championship game is retired. The homecoming queen has since gone home. These people will always be a part of you, but who are you today? When you look in the mirror and can’t remember who you really are, it’s time to stop and take stock of who you are right now and who you want to be tomorrow.
- Appreciate the Past: This may be an odd recommendation given what I’ve outlined above, but we should always remember where we’ve been. The past, whether we like it or not, has shaped us into what we are today. Every year, around the holidays, I go home and have a nice dinner out with childhood friends. Part of my own “tradition” is to drive around my old neighborhood – the house I grew up in, schools, friends’ houses, and old hangouts. Not only does it bring back great memories, it humbles me, helps me appreciate what I have today and reminds me of tomorrow’s possibilities.
How much time do you spend thinking about the past?