“You can only lose what you cling to.”
“I could run forever,” stated Alvin. “Nothing and no one could catch me.”
He was talking about his running days again. We all rolled our eyes and sighed.
“I was the fastest kid in school. That’s why I was chosen for the running team.”
We all knew the story; we’d heard it at least a dozen times. His high school running team was chosen to compete in a big city road race. After finishing the race “a mile ahead of the competition” a big-school running coach asked if he’d like to try out for the provincial team.
“Of course, I said yes but my old man wouldn’t drive me.” Alvin went on to explain for the nth time that he lived on a farm and his father thought running was a foolish pursuit.
“That coach went on to train runners for the Commonwealth Games.”
I knew what was next: Alvin’s declaration of what might have been.
“Who’s to say? I could have become a world-class runner.”
“Another Roger Bannister,” I said with a wink and smile.
“Very likely,” he replied. “Very likely, indeed.”
I realized a long time ago that Alvin was preoccupied with the past. Some have referred to this longing for the good old days as Glory Days Syndrome. When I think of Glory Days, I think of the old Bruce Springsteen song by the same name. The lyric tells the story of three people longing for the past. Each is disappointed with how his or her life has turned out. Each looks back and views past achievements as the highlight of his or her existence — the best part.
Now don’t get me wrong; a little nostalgia can be a good thing. Often, it is only through reflection that we can appreciate the value of past experiences and receive the lesson that always accompanies them. It’s natural to recall fond memories, such as a special vacation or something deeply personal like our first love, first kiss or the birth of a child, and feel warmed and comforted by the recollection. Too much nostalgia, however, can rob today of its rewards.
Before I began my journey of building self-esteem, I was stuck in the past. Much like Alvin, I was happy to share my glory days stories with whoever would listen. Initially, people enjoyed the stories but over time — and multiple retellings — people would stop me in mid-sentence, explaining that they had “heard that one before.” As my awareness and self-worth began to improve I started to look at the stories differently and more realistically. Instead of living in the past, I began to mine the past for its life lessons and use the insights to learn and grow.
It comes down to this: where are you putting your focus? If you’re so invested in the past that it blinds you to seeing and appreciating the wonder of now, you’re in trouble. Imagine going on a road trip but instead of looking out the window, staring into the rear-view mirror. Let’s say for the sake of this example that someone else is doing the driving. Instead of experiencing the wonder of what lies ahead — the adventure of what is — your view only includes the past.
The results of an impromptu survey conducted among friends and colleagues produced some interesting results.
When asked to describe the most memorable events of their life, most people responded with things that happened between the ages of 15 and 25. I think this association is natural. Adolescence and early adulthood is a time of firsts, a time during which we’re making many first-time decisions that will have long-ranging effects on our future.
OK. Let’s start by stating the obvious: you can never go back. The past is the past and it’s gone, never to return — ever. Life is not static or, as the old expression goes, time waits for no one. People, places and things can never be re-experienced in the same manner. Don’t miss today while longing for yesterday.
There’s a piece of advice I’ve carried with me for years and it has helped me stay grounded in the moment: these are the good old days.
That said, here are a few ways to break free from the past.
Keep life exciting. You can do this by opening yourself to new people and experiences. When you become bored with your current situation, that’s the time you start looking backwards. Life is filled with exciting opportunities to learn, grow and succeed. Make today so darn interesting and inspiring that you’ll have no reason to look to the past for fulfilment.
Focus on a new goal. Sometimes, if we’ve achieved something momentous, everything else pales in comparison. So stop comparing! Research has shown that we gain more pleasure from pursuing a goal than achieving it. Without goals, our life can lack purpose and direction. Choose a new goal. It needn’t be grandiose. Write it down. Pursue it and make it happen.
Let go of illusions. I remember reading once that many of us have a romantic attachment with a time that never existed.
The good old days can easily become exaggerated, embroidered upon, deconstructed and reconstructed. In short, we forget the bad and accentuate the good.
“Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson,” wrote veteran broadcaster, Owens Lee Pomeroy. “You find the present tense but the past perfect.” (As a writer, I love Pomeroy’s wordplay.)
I don’t know if Alvin could have become a world-class runner but I do know that letting go of the past and living in the moment is possible. All it takes is a shift in focus and the realization that the best is yet to be. This moment is our only place of power. Embrace it. Live it fully.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.