Why you need to look back before you look forward

Updated to Life on December 19, 2022.

“Don’t seek for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it actually will—then your life will flow well.”— Epictetus

How weird is this…

Stores full of shoppers without masks, teams meeting in person (like it’s a new thing) – we even shake hands and hug. It’s like we are back to pre-pandemic times—as if the last two years didn’t happen.

Hold on one virus-infected minute. Let’s take a step back.

Why are we always so quick to move on? After all, isn’t life all about reflecting on the past and learning from history?

Actually, we humans move on pretty quickly.

When I entered college I pretended I had my act together. I put behind me the awkward school dances, fantasizing about a hot temporary teacher, or red-pen corrections on the paper I sweated over for days and thought was brilliant. That was history.

We get a raise and within months forget how good the recognition felt. We get more responsibilities and work longer hours. Pretty soon that becomes ‘normal.’ One day the friendly neighbor next door parks in your space and becomes the selfish neighbor you try to avoid.

Experience after experience, lesson after lesson we tuck away like pages in a journal never to be revisited.

And here we are (supposedly) post-pandemic. Well, what have we learned?

What have we learned?

For me, the pandemic was like a big bowl of loss, divorce, new love, selling my business, and a shell game of finances, all sprinkled with a topping of self-doubt. It felt like I was climbing a huge mountain praying I’d like the view on the other side. 

I did.

I have a life partner I adore, my daughters love me, my wife of 29 years is still my friend, I sold my business for more than I expected, and somehow the ledger balanced and I don’t owe anything to anyone (except the bank, of course).

And then there is the loss.

One year into the pandemic I lost my father-in-law, Lorne Vinge. It was surreal. One day I was visiting the care home he’d recently moved into. The next day a text said he was gone. Maybe you had a similar loss.

I just miss the man.

Dr. Lorne Vinge and me

Lorne was whip-smart in the world of medicine, devoted to his wife, children, and his religion, and unfailingly trusting of anyone he met. He knew the names of his plumber’s children, thought nothing of driving a half hour for the perfect espresso, and if he thought you might be struggling between jobs or relationships he’d want to adopt you.

His heart was as big and open as the prairie fields of Saskatchewan where he grew up and he carried the same innocence I imagine he had as a young boy who left a promising career in baseball to learn medicine. 

And in the midst of a worldwide crisis that overwhelmed our hospitals, and governments, and changed how we lived we lost him. He was here one day. The next he was not. And we moved on.

Big events, big lessons

I’m sorry, but that’s not right.

When we rush to move on we miss the life-giving lessons buried under the mountain of pain. The loss of a brother who had been my mentor and idol for half my life and later the passing of my parents. Navigating the end of a marriage only to discover a world of possibilities on the other side. 

Pain and reflection can be gateways to learning and growing stronger. If we let them.

This time of year I want to make goals. Big goals – bigger than last year. What adventures can I dream up? Should I start a new business? What new habits will I explore? It’s what the experts say we should do. Right?

But that can wait.

First I want to spend a bit more time with this year, past years, and memories that are already fading faster than I like. I want to stir that pot of emotions and past events just a few more times. 

And then I’ll be ready. Hopefully a little wiser. Hopefully a little kinder. Hopefully a little better.

I hope you find time to do the same.

Happy New Year.


Here are a few more posts about resolutions, planning, and goals:

21 small wins that can lead to big wins in your life
Why I no longer make New Years Resolutions
Procrastinating about New Year goals? Make Origami instead