Three Reasons to Celebrate Your Past

Dec 15, 2010 by

Three Reasons to Celebrate Your Past

The past month has been a hectic one of deadlines upon deadlines and making lists and checking them twice–sadly not in a happy holiday fashion. Getting my tree up was a moment of joy and accomplishment, and has been the one bright spot to remind me of holiday cheer. After a long day, I’m able to curl up on the sofa next to it, with a cup of spiced tea, and just breathe.

There’s a quote of Andrew Wyeth’s that has always stuck with me: “I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape – the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.” There hasn’t been a great deal of time to feel that bone structure lately, but as the days get shorter, I have finally been able to take the time for reflection.

The end of the year has always been a time of reflection for me, a time to examine the year that is ending, and a time to look toward the one to come. This year feels particularly momentous for several reasons. My cousin just turned forty last week. A couple of my friends turned thirty-five last week, and my thirty-fifth birthday is coming up next month, to be followed by those of several more friends in the coming year.

I’m not sure why thirty-five feels like a milestone birthday. Maybe just because I can no longer say I’m in my “early thirties.” Maybe because it feels like I should most certainly be “grown-up” by this age. Maybe because I had definite ideas about what life would look like by this time, and my life has gone in such a different direction than what my twenty-five year old self thought, that I hardly know what to think about it.

It is that looking back to look forward that I find myself doing in the recent moments in which I can breathe, though. I have unearthed essays I wrote during my graduate work in 1999, and reading over them is like a journey to the past and a rediscovery of the girl I used to be. I’ve come up with some surprising insights.

Maybe it’s time to sit down and have a cup of tea, or a glass of champagne, with your past self and see what you can learn, as well.

1.  When we’re younger we’re far less afraid to dream and to share that dream with anyone.

Scrawled through my old journals are the dreams of my younger self. Some of them read as just the daydreams of a child, admittedly. But the essays I wrote, where I stated them out loud, fearlessly for the world…they hold the same dreams. Dreams about art, dreams about writing, dreams about teaching.

I knew what I wanted in my life, then, and I wasn’t afraid to speak up and say it to anyone who asked. I didn’t let anyone tell me I couldn’t do something, however unlikely.

Some of those dreams may have changed in the intervening years. Some have not. But for too long I let fear cripple my tongue and held my dreams in check, whispering them in the dark instead of shouting them from the mountaintops.

I’ve gotten better at that this year, but reading the courage the girl I was had has been an inspiration to the woman I have become, and gives me confidence as I face a new year I intend to be full of purposeful action.

2.   Insight is not solely the purview of the older

There is a tendency in our culture to dismiss the wisdom of youth, even moreso of ourselves. But it’s not for nothing that “out of the mouth of babes” has become a cliche. If children sometimes say the wisest things, seeing as common sense so much that adults are blinded to, why do we so often dismiss what we once knew?

In reading my older writing, especially, I’ve found myself amazed at how much insight I had into myself–the way I think, the things I need in my life, the values I hold closest. I was still struggling to figure out who I was, but I had tremendous insight into what made me tick.

What’s more interesting to me now is in reading these essays about my search for community and connection, the struggles of a military brat and the way they shaped my life, my claims then that I don’t see myself settling down for any sort of a traditional life–they all hold true now and each of those memoir pieces could be expanded out with further stories from the past decade illustrating the basic premises.

I let myself struggle for a couple of lost years, wondering what was “wrong” with me, that I didn’t fit into traditional molds. These past couple of years, I’ve come to the realization that it’s all right that I don’t, that I don’t want to, that I’m carving my own path in the world.

How facepalm-worthy to realize I came to the same conclusion at 24, and somewhere along the way forgot what I was once so certain of.

3.   Success should be remembered

It’s easy to put yourself down. It’s even easier to look back on your past and see all your mistakes. The “should have dones” and “could have dones” litter the highways and byways of our lives, mixed in with the “what might have beens” and a few roads not taken.

When we look at our lives and they are not what we want them to be, so often there is a temptation to look back and see where we went wrong. This wrong choice in school. That failed marriage.  Taking this job instead of that.

But what about all of the things we did right?  What about the times we succeeded?  What about the moments of glory?  What about the victories that stand out as shining moments? How easily do we let those slip by, as well, dismissing them as moments of glory past, but now forgotten.

We treat them like flukes and all the things that could have gone better as the truth. It’s time to see it the other way around.  Look back this year and celebrate each success. Not just from this year, but in your past.

Raise a glass to the girl you were, and toast all the things that went well and all that you’ve accomplished in your life. I bet it’s more than you think.

They say that learning from history is a way to not repeat the mistakes of the past, but it’s also the way to learn from your successes.  Remember the girl you were in all her brilliance and verve.  See the seeds of her in the woman you’ve become and reconnect with all that was best to carry it into the new year with you.

I’m willing to bet that 2011 will be a better year for it.

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