Looking back or looking ahead?

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First there was one Facebook “friend” request that showed up. Two weeks later, a second request. And the other day, a third one. These “friends” were distant names from my past, some going back many, many years.

And, as the memory bank is wrought to do when names from my past surface, I pulled up memories of my previous experiences with these people. The question, “do I want them back in my life again?” darted through my mind, due largely to less than positive “old tapes” I’ve held on to about those recollections. I ignored the requests, in fact deleted them.

With that as an opener, you need to know that this piece requires a bit of mental and visual imagination. It also requires some serious introspection, an honest look at the person in the mirror. That person? You, me…all of us!

Now what prompted all this is a series of recent conversations I’ve had with some folks. The common thread in these was, among other things, a “stuck in the past” syndrome; a few with unresolved issues dating back years, even decades back. Getting them to let go of the past proved more difficult than I could have imagined. In one instance, I asked the person why she had not spoken to her “nemesis” for over 25 years. “I…well,,,you see…uh…that was a long time ago.” After struggling for an answer she could not fathom, and now uncomfortable, she changed the subject.

So first, close your eyes and recall the names of a short list of people – a brother, sister, parent, ex-husband or wife, co-worker, old friend, date – who you, perhaps angrily, consciously erased out of your life. Jot their names down on a slip of paper nearby. Describe the approximate date and circumstances which may have led to the split. Go ahead, we’ll wait. We’ll revisit your list toward the end of this narrative.

Next, visualize yourself behind the wheel in the front seat of the car pictured in the photo accompanying this article. You’re alone, consumed by personal thoughts with someplace to go.

Now imagine the words “Before 2016” etched in small print on the rearview mirror and ask yourself, what’s behind me? Was the past year (or years) a smooth sailing one laden with great deeds and accomplishments, or were there bumps in the road, a fender-bender here and there, or perhaps a bout of “road rage” in your personal or professional life?

In hindsight, what’s in your rearview mirror that you’d like to remember? Was it the relief that comes with a good heath report for you or someone close to you? A promotion or new car? Or maybe some quality time spent with your spouse, mom, or aunt on a stroll down the aisles in a neighborhood Wal-Mart? Or perhaps it was that long-awaited final tuition payment, or that final chemotherapy treatment declaring you or someone close to you cancer-free.

In further hindsight, what’s in your rearview mirror that you’d like to forget? A missed soccer game, PTA meeting or an argument with a family member, friend or coworker? Or was it an unpaid loan, a conflict unresolved, a failure to communicate perhaps? And who did you demean, shout at, bully, diss, ignore, fail to recognize, or miss an opportunity to simply thank?

One of the realities of life – thanks in part to social media – is that often we don’t get a chance to hit the “reset” button once we’ve said, not said, done or not done something. Do-overs are rare, extremely rare. Sure, there’re things we wish we would have said or done differently. But like the images in our rearview mirror, do-over opportunities are behind us, get further and further in the distance, soon to become nothing more than a haze or mist in the form of an impression we left behind.

Turning now to the future, the vast windshield in front of us. After all, we will spend the rest of our lives there and not in the past (unless we choose to do so). Now imagine the words “2016 and ahead” in large letters on the windshield as a segue from the rearview mirror. Answer these questions:

  1. Of those things I’d like to remember, what do I need to repeat?
  2. As to those things I’d like to forget, what do I need to do to ensure that I don’t repeat them?
  3. As for the person, or persons, I may be holding on to an “old tape” about – those I jotted down on my list above – what’s the possibility that they may be unaware that I’m holding something against them? Why not take a chance on updating my criticism given the real possibility that he/she may have changed considerably – and positively – since them?
  4. What are some of the enormous possibilities if the two of us “buried the hatchet,” restarted the relationship with zero time spent in that guilt-blame-laced rearview mirror and, instead, etched out on that windshield great future times together, lots of laughter with a person you lost time with, one disguised and put away in the form of an “old tape”?

In many ways we really don’t know what lies ahead, do we? Some things are predictable, others not. But be very, very careful with spending so much time looking at the rearview mirror and being burdened with all those “old tapes,” that “old baggage.” Why?  Because you run the risk of bumping up against the vast windshield of opportunities that lie ahead. That could be painful…very painful!

And not only that; when you bury your face in the rearview mirror, you run the very real risk of suddenly seeing a flashing blue light from the patrol car of a police officer who’s about to issue you a ticket …for running a red-light!

Now let me finish with one more request – take the list you complied at outset out into the backyard, light a match to it…and let it go up in flames!


© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer, story teller, trainer and senior associate with Diversity Wealth. He is a member of the Cross Cultural Academy, founder of the Global Diversity Consortium, a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, New York-based Catalyst and the American Diversity Report. He can be reached at terry@diversitywealth.com or wwhoward3@gmail.com

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One comment on “Looking back or looking ahead?”

  1. Karen says:

    Great insight!

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