If I Can Survive
My Own Narrative,
I’m Certain I’ll
There’s an episode of The Adventures of Pete & Pete titled Time Tunnel. It is one of my favorite episodes from one of my favorite childhood shows. In the episode, brothers Big Pete and Little Pete explain how every daylight savings night they take seriously the opportunity to travel back in time to relive the hour that just went by.
As a ten year old kid I was dumbfounded not at the idea we actually travel through time twice a year, but that I had never utilized fall back for this purpose: go back in time for an hour and make amends with how poorly you might have spent that hour. Or how great you spent it. Or just do it again. We are actually gifted a re-do annually.
If I am really good at one thing, like, I can put a flag on something and claim this is my territory and I just kill at it, it would be reflection. It’s not just because I studied history as an undergraduate, but because I study my past all the time. I am always reflecting. Even as a ten year old kid I recall writing journals with a sort of sacredness to the practice of reflecting on the day or big moment that just occurred.
I almost would charge myself with using too much of my present time’s energy towards reflection on my past. There is a balance of course. The practice of looking back at one’s mistakes, one’s victories, or just anything random from the past is an excellent discipline helping re-orient one’s self as to who they are and how’d they get here to the present.
We easily lose sight of how we got to the present. When we do we allow false narratives to hijack the truth of how we arrived in our present situation. By reflecting on the past in order to help course correct our present, we do a good service for ourselves by mentally confirming what actually happened versus what might have happened.
False narratives fill the void quickly and become terrible baggage, positive or negative false narratives the same, because it’s simply not how we got to the present. What we hope for, what I at least hope for with this exercise of intentional reflection, is to find the pivot points which were key and realize what I should or should not do the next time around.
But now I propose we shift this discipline of reflection forward to the future itself and time travel backwards to our present. What happens when we have the vision of our future self telling our present self how we got to our future condition? Couldn’t we use this information to engineer ourselves towards our future self?
What happens is a life-hack so powerful it is frightening when you embrace this exercise fully. The key is taking the same emotional ride when reflecting on a past event in the present, and transferring this same exercise to your future self reflecting on your present self.
Author Tim Ferriss stumbled upon this accidentally when he wrote a piece of fiction. It was a short story “about going skiing, retiring to the ski lodge to sip hot chocolate and wine, and ending up seated across the table from a wise old stranger….this stranger turns out to be my future self. It was a fun story to write, but – and this sounds a bit weird – I also got a lot of actionable, specific advice by going through the exercise. When I put my pen down, I was somewhat puzzled and thought, “I don’t know what I just did there, but it seems like a funky magic trick.”” (Tools of Titans, 443). His future self essentially encourages his present to get to his future self. It was a life-hack of epic proportions.
We are blessed with the incredible opportunity of having another day today. What we do with today will determine our future. Well duh! But I don’t believe we live presently aware enough most of the time to know we are defining our future moment by moment, choice by choice. We get to carve out maybe an inch or two of progress right now in this very moment, progressing towards a future self we desire.
The total mind blowing aspect to this visualization is to take the same clarity we get from looking at our past right now, and transfer this clarity to the future self looking at our current self. We end up feeling we have a better grip at how to handle bad or good things that happened in our past and what we can do to move forward.
By applying this same rush of optimism having seen the future for a moment, even if it is in Pete & Pete’s case only for a mere hour, we unlock the gravity of the powerful tool we posses. Our actions right now determine our future.
You get the opportunity to correct your future self. You get the opportunity to live out the good version of your future self. Right this moment, you can make the first positive incremental move towards who you need to become.
We all get the opportunity to go back in time. Pete & Pete were onto something every autumn.
And the changing of pasts for futures occurred
The tighter you held onto the present,
Your grip calloused and confused with
Distorting memories filling up your hands.
Forward motion begins to root itself today,
As opposed to the allure of busy reflection,
Utilizing points of interest along a map
Screaming where to go, not where you’ve been.
As it becomes harder to hold on for hope
The clearest passage of time reveals a destination.
Home beckoned the future which is already here,
A Home you neglected, but a Home waiting for you.
Are you babbling on about
Or are you getting on with
The moment you are in is taken
Away as you limp towards
Your next justifying mission,
Ignoring the pains which have hollowed your heart.
People can’t figure out what to do with you,
Because you never settled on being yourself.
Which was to avoid harm. Harm came anyway.
Be yourself fully,
Right this very breath.
You’ve always called out to be rescued,
To be removed from the present,
Swap out the accusatory for simply different.
Never once, till now, pleading for
Rescue from your inner being.
We were being prepared for the now all along.
Not for false presents.
Focusing only on the pain.
Not for lying futures,
Birthing worries for tomorrow.
Not for traumatic pasts,
Pressurizing shameful anxieties.
We were being prepared
By a mangled, suffering, powerful Lamb.
Do not rebuild my life in the exact same way it was before. It’s time for me to rebuild based on who I am growing into.
Author Maria Goff essentially summed up the main lesson from the past year of my life in her book Love Lives Here. In the excerpt below, she is referring to her family’s long-time cabin burning down to the ground. Everything inside of it was now gone, every item which contained countless memories. There was an instant temptation to rebuild the cabin exactly how it was before. As if the memories, the lessons, the warmth of friendships birthed and grown in the cabin could be rebuilt physically as well. However, with wisdom as the guide, Maria clarifies:
We’ll build something that will serve who we’ve become, not just repeat who we were. The biggest mistake we could all make in our lives [emphasis added] is to rebuild things we’ve outgrown or to live in constant fear that we might lose what we have all over again. It won’t be the fires that destroy our lives and our faith. It will be obsessing over not getting burned again that will.
Ouch. This drilled way down into me. I think dental work from the 1800’s would be less painful to endure than this quote.
Maria’s focus on two aspects of this strike me. The first is the temptation to rebuild things we’ve outgrown. It is hard to admit to defeat in an area in life. But it may be harder to pivot in an area of life because we have grown up since we first set out on the mission.
It could have been years ago when we decided on X, but the conditions we were in when the decision was made are no longer present. I could hold onto the romanticized version of the way I hoped it all would turn out when I started out on a venture. Or I could let the cold-water-splash-in-the-face take more of an effect than just sending shivers down my spine. The conditions are no where near the way they were before. There’s no good use utilizing old blueprints drawn up back then to start the process all over again now.
Her second emphasis is on the fear of building again at all. More poignant for me, this weighs heavy as I can carry the metaphor of not being burned again, or at all, to extremely fearful bounds. Something of great value was lost to Maria and her family. Yet, there was a resilience in building something new and different based on who they have become.
Not only will the cabin be new, but it will be built. I can paralyze myself just thinking of getting back up and trying again. But why try the exact same thing again? We all need to try again but in step with her first point, it will be different this time.
In a sense it will be different anyway, even if we want to start the same task or goal over the exact same way. We’ll have the experience of the failure with us. It will be a different time in our lives. We’ll maybe even be physically somewhere else. Regardless, if we start with new or old blueprints we must be willing to risk fire getting to our final product again.
Weren’t all the memories created in the first cabin worth it all anyway? That’s why we build again. But it’s also why we build based on who we are now.
Your past dreams are dashed across the internal echoing wall,
Motivating only what could have been.
Hurry, take heart,
Drag what remains to the present.
Nowhere places have set their best lures,
Persuading a perpetual chase after illusion.
Why conjure for emotions of yesterday,
Steeping inside the exact same spell?
From this, inadequacy overwhelms The Present,
The Right Now,
The Very Next Breath,
Even though The Present provides abundant Life.