Forgetting where you came from

From the Archives

Originally published April 8, 2014

Grammatical nightmare aside, there is some value in remembering where you began, the place where you got your start. It’s humbling, and humility is a refreshing quality in an age of inflated egos. It’s a way to gauge achievements and progress toward goals. It’s a healthy reminder of your power to overcome hardships and obstacles. And then sometimes, it really pays to forget that place and focus only on what’s ahead.

There are about as many arguments for forgetting the past as there are for never forgetting how you started. Can it at times be harmful to dwell in the past? Can lingering there impede your progress toward loftier goals, even blind you to possibilities in a more beneficial realm? Remember Lot’s wife?

It was in April that on my way to church, I stopped by a former neighbor’s house to see how everyone there is doing. The house, once a point of pride for its owner, was in utter disarray. The whole place smelled of urine, and between the two babies and two dogs in the house, the other smells couldn’t be masked even by the incense burning in the living room. The oversized TV still graces the tiny living room, making it seem more out of place than usual amid new clutter.

As I stood there and made shallow conversation with the daughter, now 20, who had returned to the house a few months earlier after a restraining order against her – by her mother, no less – I started wondering why I was there and why I was so intent on owning problems detrimental to my health and future. And then I prayed silently for them as I left.

The experience, if it can be called that, reinforced the value of remembering the past as an incentive never to return there and of focusing on the future as motivation to do whatever it takes today to get there instead. The past remains for me a place of history, not definition. I’m defined by the future I declare for myself, so I’m not bound by the history that was written without my input. Be reminded of how the past has shaped who you are today, and do not live there. Dwell, rather, in the future, one that you decide is yours.