the BLOG of stuart mcdonald

Do You Long For The Past?
October 2, 2009, 9:43 am
Filed under: Mind Flush, My Life..., Think About It

I had an assignment in English class, a mock version of the Regents Exam, which all college students are required to take before they complete 40 hours. I had a choice of questions, but I wanted to share my response with you. Keep in mind that I only had about 45 minutes to write this, so get uber critical of me. The question was:

Do you long for the past or look eagerly toward the future? Explain.

M.C. Echer's "Maine avec sphère réflectante" (1935)

M.C. Echer's "Maine avec sphère réflectante" (1935)

The present is a funny thing. It’s only here for but a moment and then it’s the past. The future, then, is that which lies ahead of us – however near or far is may be. It’s far better to anticipate the future than to concentrate on your past. How can you drive a car by only looking in the rear-view mirror? You can’t. Eventually you would get into an accident. Our lives are the same way – we must look ahead more often than we look back. An occasional glance to the rear isn’t bad. In fact, it’s healthy. It helps us remember where we are currently by showing us where we’ve come from.

Often people look back at their past and wish they could somehow relive those days, yet they often fail to realize one important concept – if somehow you change one aspect of your past, your entire present, and subsequently your future change as well. In other words, we wouldn’t be where we are today if we didn’t have the past that we did. For example, my parents divorced when I was eight years old. Their relationship afterward and their relationships with those that they dated and remarried has greatly shaped my interaction, opinions, and actions when I’m in a romantic relationship. I cannot change this, nor should I spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on it. I must learn from their mistakes, and perhaps my mistakes and move on to what lies ahead.

The past cannot be changed, no matter how hard we try – this is undeniable. If we cannot change it, then we have only one choice: to learn from it, to avoid the mistakes of the past in our future. The future, at least the immediate one, is not a blank canvas as some might lead you to believe, but rather it’s a canvas already painted with certain guidelines and parameters that your past and present have dictated. The further into the future you go, the fewer guidelines and parameters you have to follow. Why? Time. The more time you have, the more you can change your history. I cannot go from being a high school dropout to a college professor in a matter of weeks or even months. No, it would take me obtaining my GED, then a college diploma, and then moving on to the graduate level degrees required of a college professor.

“You can do anything you set your mind to,” my grandmother used to say.  Indeed she was right. You may not be able to do it today, or tomorrow, or even the next day, but if you truly want to accomplish something for yourself, you can. That’s what the future allows – possibility. The past only allows for what is already there; nothing new. Certainly we don’t have imaginations just for the sake of having them, but rather we have them to actually imagine. And where better to imagine than the future? And where better to take our imaginations and put them into action so they can become our reality than the present. And where better to learn from our realities and mistakes in order to make our imaginations more obtainable than the mistakes of our past?

It’s of vital importance not to focus on just one time – past, present, or future – because you miss out on the benefits that the other has to offer. However, you cannot make any significant forward progress if you don’t look ahead. Think again about driving a car: You have to be entirely aware of your surroundings in order to properly move forward, and yet in order to understand how you go to where you are currently, you must understand and know where you’ve come from. No amount of awareness of the present can substitute looking forward, into the future, where you must go.

We have no choice in whether or not the future is coming. It’s inevitable. What we do have a choice in is what we do with our future. Yes, the immediate future may be restricted by our past, but that is no excuse for not chasing a dream we may have. Given enough time, all things are possible if you set your mind to it. Our present is yet and glimpse of what the future will hold and we can be sure that the best is yet to come.

{For more from Stuart McDonald, check out his blog on Elev8 and follow him on Twitter}


1 Comment so far
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I just read this exact same essay on someone elses blog

Comment by tat

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