Don't Paint The Past

Everyone has faced some sort of adversity in their lives, or they will sooner or later. This is inevitable. Like death, taxes, and my roommate leaving trash in my car; the only other guarantee is that you will face some sort of obstacle on your way down the path of life. As well, the universe has plans that we know nothing about. We may be jogging at a brisk pace down our “5 year goal” list, when suddenly we are laying face down in a pile of unexpectancy, breathing through clogged lungs, and sorting ourselves out of a pile of, “how did this happen to me?”

We all have these moments. When we feel as though life is finally going well, only to be turned upside down by a obstacle that we could never have seen coming. Suddenly, we are hyperventilating, counting our fingers and pinching ourselves to make sure this isn’t some sort of nightmare. Our spouse cheats on us, our lover cuts us off, we lose our jobs, a family member dies…. The list of obstacles we have or can face goes on and on, endless in itself.

Then, before we know it, we’re walking again, moving along like nothing happened. We find ourselves surprised at our resilience, sometimes even grateful for what has occurred. It is in these moments though, where we tend to long back in confidence, in an ego filled vision at immunity and  great choices. We tend to use the brush of hindsight to develop, stroke after stroke, the image that we knew what we were doing, that we somehow planned this. We tend to tell ourselves, and anyone who will listen, that we “knew we could beat it”, or that “it was all by my choice”. This is usually never true.

I love to use hindsight as a flute, serenading notes that butterfly eagerly into the ears of any potential employer, mate, or passerby. I use fancy words and paint a picture of a “before his time” 18 year old making choices for his future. This is all a lie, and an extreme injustice not only to myself, but to the nature of the universe. I love to say that I dropped out of college because I hadn't yet pinpointed my dart on the bullseye of my future, or because my father was sick and I needed to come home and assist (which was generous of him to give me an out of the future embarrassment I would face). This couldn’t be farther from the truth, I dropped out because I spent more time studying alcohol percentage than the text, spent more hours drowning out my mind with distractions than any semblance of knowledge, that I was a scared and lost little boy in a young adult’s body. But the other version sounds nicer.

It is a trap, and I warn you first hand. I was no savant. I was no genius trapped in the clutches of society. I didn’t make art with pain, using alcohol as liquid brush like an Edgar Allan Poe. There was no enlightenment that came to me from the sky, no flash of a bulb randomly occurring. I was afraid to be myself in a cruel world, so I hid from every responsibility that came face to face with me. Any other version I attempt to sell, whether to praise myself up, or to attempt to avoid the scorn of my fellow humans, is a lie. A bold faced lie.

Using words to shapeshift our past into the epilogue of a autobiography is easy. It is easy to look back at the maze that is our past, and believe that the lines were always aligned, that we always had this overarching vision and extreme confidence as we may have now. It is easy to let our pride convince us that we never made mistakes, or took insane risks, or doubted ourselves, but that isn’t true. It was by a thousand variables, and even more luck that we made it to the point where we are now, and we must wholeheartedly accept that.

Anything else, anything less than the truth is a criminal injustice to us, to the universe, and to our future. One of the downfalls of lying, of using a brush of roundabout words to portray a false sense of security is that it robs us of all of the hard work that it took to become who we are. Many of us have faced the ringer, we have been in situations that very easily could have backfired, but due to our work and dedication of rising above our circumstances, we persevered. Saying anything but that dictates our past into a straight line of success, instead of the positive correlation it is now, counteracts off of that. If I was always this person, if I always attempted to self reflect and find my flaws, then that would be good. But I wasn’t, and whenever I slip words into fancy explanations for my decisions, I am selling myself short. Whenever I try to turn away from the shame that arrives with the choices I previously made, I am refusing to show the world how far I have come.

Along with that, everytime I attempt to paint this 17 year old sage before his time, I instil a false sense of confidence into my soul. As if I was born this was, as if I was created to work and grow and challenge myself. This ego that develops is a lie, a lie that is only harmful. Unfortunately, we all do this. We make a lucky bet, and then see that as some sort of skill that allows us to continue betting, because we are “hot”. We inflate our egos, and swell our confidence at the belief that we are good at this, instead of accepting the situation as it was: a lucky encounter that very easily could have gone the other way.

On the other side, we also rob ourselves of a true, deep into the bones confidence that we gain from the understanding of the progress that we made. When we are truthful, when we accept the fact that we may have been scared, or lucky, or downright incompetent, but yet, despite that, despite all of the obstacles stacked on the other side of the scale, we still persevered, that is where a true sense of confidence comes from. That is the difference between foolish pride or ego, and humbling confidence. This journey, this true work that you put in to becoming who you are, this is what impresses (if that is our ultimate goal of lying) potential employers, or mates.

Lastly, if we take the time to pile up our past into a neat, straight tower, instead of a random assortment of blocks on the floor, we may turn what seems like a short term strategy, into a long term problem. There is a majority of life out of our control, in fact a hastily summarized version of the key point of Stoic Philosophy is that “The only thing we can control are our thoughts and our actions.” Attempting to live without that understanding sets us up for an uphill climb against anxiety, worry, and stress our whole lives. Looking back at what led us here, how much of it was planned? How much of it did we actually control? Maybe 10%? 20% tops. Therefore, stealing any credit that is due to the universe may sound nice on a job application, but it a very slippery slope. If we understand what we can and can’t control, and let go of what we can’t, we will actually assume more control over our lives. If we accept that we are just a lucky dice roll away from an onslaught of traffic tickets, jail time, unplanned children, accidents, etc, then not only can we appreciate the role that the “universe” (for lack of a better word) has played in our life, but we can understand that the universe will continue to shape our life, and let go of the stress of trying to control it.

It is tempting to want to look like we have always been in control, to look like we have always known what we were doing, but that is not true at all. Do not attempt to paint the past a pretty landscape, for that is not you. You are a series of poor decisions and random occurrences. We must accept and love it, and forge a wall to protect our soul from those who don’t. Anything else, any other system of indulgences we sell to the masses robs us of our true identity, and I wish I knew that years ago. I wish I spoke the truth, that I had no idea what I was doing (and I still don’t), because while the lies, the shifting of intentions into a positive flow, climbing like a climax, sounded nice, it stole from me authentic encounters, true friends, and most importantly, pretending like I already knew the answer prevented me from learning it.