Should We Ever Look Backward?
Should we ever look backward? Does it provide any value, or does it keep us from moving forward?
I recently celebrated one year in Southern California. It’s been a year of transition, growth, and learning when and how hard to push as well as when to extend some grace to myself.
While this is commonly saved for the first week of January, there are some benefits to adding these self-reflections through the year. Some people complete monthly recaps for themselves, so they can evaluate what went well, how they can improve, how their time was spent, and their favorite moments. This isn’t required obviously, but there’s some value in reviewing what went well and what you can improve upon.
The challenge comes, then, when we begin to dwell too much on the past and not enough on the present and how we’re shaping our futures.
This often occurs during times of transition, and social media makes it harder. My transition from college into post-grad life was a challenging one for many reasons, including a loss of identity. Anyone who’s been involved in campus activities can relate: you find your people, you love what you do, and while you’re excited about the future, you also realize you’re moving from a place of familiarity to (likely) a place of unknowns.
This was certainly my experience. I went from a place where I had a tight community at the college radio station (and the relatively small broadcasting department in general) and a job I thoroughly enjoyed with the university’s production team. The music department and some of the administration knew me (even if just as the one who helped them soundcheck and handed them mics).
Friends jokingly started a hashtag, #thatgirlwiththeheadset, when I had to run on stage during an event, and resurrected it every time I needed to do that. Whenever someone I didn’t know acted like they knew me, I knew it was probably from one of those times fixing mics.
Because I graduated in December, the entire spring semester while I was working at Starbucks and job hunting, I saw Facebook posts and tweets about some of the year’s biggest events, and got a serious case of FOMO. Here were these people moving on without me, and while I was also moving on, I had gone into a place where I knew less than ten people and wasn’t working anywhere within my major.
Soon, though, I found my rhythm. I started freelancing again doing something I enjoyed, and I had started a company. (Spoiler alert: didn’t go anywhere. But that’s a story for another episode.)
And because apparently, I’m a sucker for leaving comfort zones, I chose to follow the call to California, where I’ve spent the last year helping build a company with some of the best. I say that facetiously, because while I knew it was going to be rewarding and it was the right step professionals and personally, I was also nice and content in Nashville and not ready to leave.
But that’s the amazing part about change. You have to trust that it’s the right decision and make the move, whatever it might be. In this case, I knew that while it would be a challenging transition, it’s where I knew God was calling me to go and I needed to listen. Didn’t want to end up in a whale, so… friends helped packed up a Penske truck and my dad and I set off on a road trip from Nashville to Orange County to start this new season.
It’s been rewarding and filled with amazing experiences, but it’s also been incredibly challenging.
While I grew up near Philly and definitely still have a bit of that North Eastern toughness, spending a couple of years in the South certainly changed that. Orange County may not have the LA toughness and superficial nature, but there are definitely times when I realize that there’s an increased importance placed on appearance here. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting a fancy car or designer bags, I began to miss the “come as you are” attitude of Nashville. Sure, it’s known for its hipsters and cowboys and bachelorette parties, but it’s also a beautifully welcoming city.
Finding the right resources
I use a mix of alternative and Western medicine, which meant it could be a challenge to find the right providers. Thankfully, the land of sun has a wealth of alternative practitioners and I was able to find the right people without much hassle. This became essential as I went through a flare or two with my autoimmune disease, because feeling sick 100% of the time and working with a small team and growing company isn’t an enjoyable experience.
If you’re interested in hearing more about my journey with chronic illness, head over to Nonexclusive Podcast and listen to episode six, where I share the emotional and physical challenges of autoimmune diseases.
Learning to change your mindset
This is a big one. I spent my time in Nashville primarily as a freelancer, which meant that while I was part of two agencies, I served a very specific role: writer. Here, though, I was able to do so much more. But I needed to stop thinking with the freelancer mindset. This may sound like an inconsequential change, but it was a tough mindset to adapt!
These lessons and challenges from the past year have taught me a very important lesson: it’s that sometimes growth happens all at once, but more often it’s agonizingly slow, and it’s only months or even years later that we realize how far we’ve come.
This is the value of looking backward.
Not to complain or to wish we were still there, but to appreciate everything it’s taught us. But there’s a fine line between looking to the past to learn, and living in it.
When going through a major life transition, whether it’s getting a new job, moving to a new city, or any other life event, it’s easy to mourn the loss of your past life, and it’s okay to do it. But be careful about how long you’re doing that.
Focus on everything this time taught you, then begin applying it to your current situation. If you don’t learn from your experiences, then they will continue to hold power over you. Your fears will spark doubts, and that little voice inside you will whisper lies and hold you captive.
You’ll begin to wonder why you’re even trying something new, and next thing you know you’ve given up and have resigned yourself to a life you don’t necessarily want.
I’m definitely not saying that you should quit everything and make the jump without thinking it through. I am, though, saying that it’s time to stop letting fear be the reason we hold back from something amazing.
Looking backward needs to be a source of growth and motivation, and it takes practice to see it that way.
Learn to reframe your situations
Reframing creates a different way of looking at a situation, person, or relationship by changing its meaning. For example, reframing can help you view another person with empathy instead of annoyance when their personality begins to grate on you.
Reframing your current situation helps you see what good is coming from it, instead of dwelling on the “what ifs” or what you don’t like about it.
- Who have you met through this experience?
- What have you learned?
- How has this set you up for success in the future?
Find happiness in the in between
The waiting is often the hardest part for anything in life, but particularly when it’s a transition from one stage of life to another. Waiting for a community, for stability, for a new sense of happiness.
It will come.
Why? You need to realize that you’re in this specific spot for a reason and that it’s here to grow you and stretch you and strengthen you.
Learn to find the moments in this in between where you feel happy. It could be taking a walk, grabbing a juice after your favorite workout class, discovering something familiar in an unfamiliar place, or reaching out to an acquaintance to get drinks so you can get to know them better.
Learn to enjoy the uncomfortable moments. It’s where you find your strength.
I have this tendency to write on all the mirrors in my apartment with chalkboard markers. One of the phrases I wrote in both my Nashville home and my first home in California was “It won’t always be easy, but it will always be good.”
This isn’t a magical overnight solution; it takes time. Remind yourself every moment that it’s time to dream, risk, and create. Embrace the difficult times, because those are the moments that turn you into the best version of yourself.
Embracing the fear
I found a quote recently that reads, “Living with fear stops us taking risks, and if you don’t go out on the branch, you’re never going to get the best fruit.”
That’s not completely true, though. You can do great things while living with fear, it’s all in how you work with it. If you let fear paralyze you, you’ll miss out on some truly incredible opportunities.
So yes, you should look backward, but only to learn, never to dwell. Use your experiences to learn and grow and thrive so you can achieve something even greater in the coming months and years.