Look Back

April 8, 2013 Comments Off on Look Back

I tried to be present while traveling in Europe. I was, for the most part, but I could never shake the future from my mind. I have a valid excuse for this. I came to Europe not to delay real-world responsibilities but to confront them. I came to Europe looking for clarity and found it, two months and four work exchanges later.

Now, here in Portland, I’m preoccupied with the past. I admit that I hold myself to lofty, unattainable standards. Even if I recognize the absurdity of the standards I set for myself, I’m never satisfied with my accomplishments. I look at my resume as I send duplicate after duplicate to prospective employers, thinking about how much more I should have done in college, about all of the programs and platforms I’ve yet to learn, and the skills I should have acquired by now.

I seldom ever question the worth of my English degree. I take pride in my uncanny abilities to memorize Chaucer, discuss the merits of postconsonantal literature, and explain to people how to use a semicolon. Yet, a few days ago I wondered aloud, “Why wasn’t I ever any good with numbers?!” By this I mean, why did I have to be a wordsmith? Why couldn’t I have been a mathematician, engineer or  computer scientist? Then companies would beg me to come work for them.

Don’t worry, I’ve calmed down.

I reflect upon these last three-ish months, and, at the risk of upsetting my loved ones, I’m frustrated. There’s so much more I think I should have accomplished by now. I didn’t think I’d set expectations of any sort for myself. It turns out that I did, but I wouldn’t admit it until now.

The question remains: how do I emerge from the past and bring myself into the present?

(Questions. I ask so many questions because they’re all I have.  I have no answers. I hope I never run out of questions to ask. If you’re not asking questions, then what are you doing?)

We’re often advised, be it in song, literature, or contemporary philosophy, never to look back or to live in the past. Otherwise, we’ll never move forward in our lives. I want vouch for looking back. Not so much for living in the past. There’s a difference between “looking back” and “living in the past.” I find that these phrases are used interchangeably, their meanings convoluted. I’d like to make an attempt to distinguish between the two.

Looking back can be beneficial, when done judiciously, that is. If we never looked back, we’d make the same mistakes over and over again.  There’s be no reflection, and with reflections come some of the richest opportunities for growth I can think of. There would be few thoughts, and most action would be senseless. I’ve been able to grow considerably as an individual just by looking back. It’s made me a better, more conscientious participant in the present.

Living in the past is to inhabit a distant space. One withdraws from and rewrites reality. They close themselves off from people and opportunities that may enrich their lives. I tend to look back, but I don’t live in the past. I can say that much.

I’ll continue to look back. Though I admit that I need to figure out how to look back less often.

I want to close with these wise words from Roger Ebert (via Buzzfeed). I couldn’t decide which of these two quotes I liked best, so I included both:

“We are put on this planet only once, and to limit ourselves to the familiar is a crime against our minds.”

“Life’s missed opportunities, at the end, may seem more poignant to us than those we embraced–because in our imagination they have a perfection that reality can never rival.”


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