On Romanticizing the Past

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

“I wish I’d realized then how lucky I was.”

“Those were the good ol' days.”

“Life was so much easier back then!”

Sound familiar?  I know I’d certainly been guilty of uttering one or more statements like these every so often.

And then I read an article by Paul Angone over at AllGroanUp.com, a website that seems to be speaking directly to me on the topic of all of that lovely confusion surrounding the mystifying process of “becoming an adult.”  Paul gets it.  He knows that being a twenty-something is hard.  And he also knows what kinds of changes are important for us to make in our lives, so he crafted this wonderful list of 29 resolutions for us, in particular, to make this year.  And though I’ve mentioned my love-hate relationship with resolutions in a previous post, I have to say that these are meaty and meaningful enough to warrant my commitment to at least a few of them.  Read them below to get inspired:

It was resolution #5 that really resonated with me: 

“No more nostalgia. No more wishing I could go back to some time where I didn’t have any ‘problems’. Nostalgia is a liar. There were always problems. Each season carries with it the good, bad, and the ugly. If I only see the good in every season only after the season is over, then I will never actually see any good.”

Whoa.  That definitely sounds like a wake-up call to me, considering that especially in this foggy period of a post-graduate haze brought on by constant anxiety over discerning my life’s purpose and figuring out if I’m doing this whole thing correctly, I’ve been wont to believe that “things were so much easier back in elementary school/middle school/high school/college.”

But nostalgia is deceptive this way.   In a reality where every opportunity is open to me and it’s a struggle to know whether I’m picking the right ones, I’m admittedly a little bit jealous of the Sarah who, for 22 years, questioned nothing because her life was neatly laid out for her, and the biggest problems and inconveniences she had to endure were a few petty arguments with friends, a couple hours of challenging homework a night, and deciding where she wanted to go to college.  It’s easy to find myself wishing I didn’t have to think or stress or worry about anything major again.

But this is where it’s helpful to remember Paul’s advice.  Every season of life comes with a full measure of joys and struggles.  Maybe I felt carefree in elementary school, but I also lacked the independence to make many of my own choicesExhibit A: one summer, my well-meaning parents signed me up for softball so I could learn the value of becoming a team player.  But due to my hand-eye coordination falling somewhere below zero, I spent the season hiding in right field and wincing every time the ball came near the bat, hoping maybe I’d at least get to go to first base on a “walk,” and maybe my teammates wouldn’t roll their eyes too much at me.  I think it’s safe to say I much prefer now spending my time on pursuits that are of genuine interest to me.

And maybe I long for the simplicity of a junior high and high school homework and social life, but I certainly didn’t see either of those two things as “easy” at the time they were handed to me.  I struggled with crippling perfectionism in middle school, and a constant need to prove myself for a reason I can’t now identify.  And then I was bullied relentlessly for the success in school I experienced because of that.  And of course high school was awkward too, because that’s where I was just generally beginning to figure out who I was becoming, a process that began with forging new friendships and starting to really like boys and wondering what I wanted to do with my life… and never really ends (which no one bothered to tell me at the time)!!

And though I undoubtedly enjoyed myself more in my four years of college than in any of the previous 18, it’s also unfair to classify this as “the time of my life.”  Because, for one thing, college came with its own set of problems, chief among them massive amounts of homework, brutal final exams, and a sometimes overwhelming fear of the future as I began to understand that everything I knew was slowly changing forever (which I realize sounds super dramatic, but is one hundred percent how I felt).  And for another, if college was “the best four years of my life,” then what is there to look forward to now?

I’m not trying to sound cynical with these examples; I just want to be realistic, and to remind you that you’re not being very forgiving of or fair to yourself if you feel like you’re somehow doing worse at life right now than you ever have before.  You’ve always faced struggles.  And you know what?  You’re here right now, reading this, which means you’ve triumphed so far.  It means you’ve got the know-how and the resilience to make it through a lot more.

So bring it on, life.  If there’s one thing reflecting on the past teaches us, it’s that We’ve.  Got.  This.


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