Accepting the past

The simple key to learning from the past and forging a more successful future

We have all had experiences in our past, that for whatever reason, we have chosen to dwell on. We routinely allow past mistakes to haunt us and ultimately ham-string future successes. There are moments that I will fret about the fact that I did not take school seriously enough, and dream up all sorts of advancements that I could have made. I will then allow my emotions to tell me where I would be if I had just focused on achieving results. I can get down-right angry and fill myself with regret about all of the mistakes I have made. Deep down, we all know that this is not productive.

Change your perspective on past mistakes

We should never forget about the mistakes we have made in the past. More importantly, however, we should never allow those mistakes to define us. A key skill we need to develop as human beings is to accept the mistakes of our pasts and use the knowledge gained to advance ourselves emotionally, intellectually, socially and perhaps physically.  Understanding that we have control over many things in our lives is important. Moreover, understand what we do not have control over is critical to being able to progress and find happiness.

This is all contingent on deciding how you will view those past errors. There are some, and I certainly used to be just like them, that could spend years making themselves miserable as they thought about what they could have done differently. Over and over, they replay the incident in their heads and allow their emotions to take control and suck them into a spiral of self-loathing. What is worse is that when this is happening, it is incredibly easy to allow those emotions to paint a picture of ourselves which is unflattering, to say the least. On top of all of that, it is also easy to believe that the picture we have painted of ourselves, no matter how unflattering, is our true self. This is dangerous as it can be self-fulfilling. The more we tell ourselves that we are worthless because of that mistake we made 5, 10 or 30 years ago, the more we will act under that self-deprecating bias. When we act upon that bias, we are choosing to poison the future. We are choosing to believe that the error we had made in our past has defined us and is perpetual.

We can not control what has already happened. We can choose to accept the past. We can choose to digest what that means for our present selves and decide how we will proceed with our future lives. How someone manages their past failures, directing impacts their future successes. People who cannot get over their poor choices in the past will struggle at making positive and smart choices in the future. Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam is well-known for his interpretation of the Hindi philosophy of failure. He believes, as I do, that looking at the word itself answers the fundamental perspective that we, as humans, seek for acceptance.  Fail is not some evil, four-letter word that we should all fear and despise. Rather, “fail” is an anagram; First attempt in learning.

Let’s look at the learning process of infants, to toddlers, to children. When an infant first tries to sit up, it is often unsuccessful. This is not because they are unable to ever do it. This is simply the first attempt. The infant will instinctively try again, and keep trying until it is successful. Then it becomes time to learn how to crawl. Invariably, the first attempts are a little rough, but in time, they get moving. What about walking? If a toddler were to give up the first time they fell down, they may never take the second step. Yet they do not give up. They keep pushing and, unless there is a real reason that they cannot, they will walk.

The examples above repeat themselves, countless times, as we learn to walk, communicate, get potty trained, learn to read, etc. If as infants, toddlers and children, we were to act as we do in our adult lives, we would likely look back upon the attempts to walk and never try again. We would never be able to move forward and we would likely die.

Why is an infant better at this than me?

Simple. The infant has a desire to achieve. They have a set goal and really, nothing better to do than to get there. An infant does not compare its successes and failures to other infants. An infant does not judge itself harshly for not achieving the goal on the first try. That is not to say that an infant cannot get frustrated, discouraged, or even angry while trying to advance. Sure they can. But the assumption, because there is no data to tell them otherwise, is that all of this is normal and a part of growing up.

Our problem is that we love to compare ourselves to others. We need to be better than the other guy/gal. We need to show that we can do anything they can. NOW! We can’t. More importantly, we need to stop beating ourselves up if we do not achieve greatness on the first attempt.

What about the things I can never take back?

There are always going to be decisions we have made in our past, that we wish we could have changed. There will always be moments in our lives where we wish that we had taken a different action. The thing is, we didn’t take that different action. Because of the choice that we made at that critical moment in our respective histories, our present and future have been changed. The thing to remember is, that even though we cannot change that past decision or action, we can change how we choose to take the knowledge gained from that moment and use it to build our future. Every mistake, failure, misplaced emotional response, broken promise, poorly thought through decision, was an opportunity. Even if we did not see it at the time. The opportunity is not forever lost, however. The opportunity that we missed in our past remains an opportunity. It just changes a bit.

That past opportunity, in the passage of time, changes from the immediate opportunity of the time to a more rewarding one. The opportunity of learning and knowledge. Every failure is valuable to our present selves as well as our future selves. If we choose to allow those failures to be an opportunity to learn and adapt. If we can allow acceptance of our past failures, without allowing them to define us, we are given the opportunity to transcend those failures.

Yes. There are some biggies. I never completed my college degree. I told myself that I could not afford it and that I needed to go get a job and work. I told myself this because I was trying to justify what I now know was really a lack of drive and determination. It was a simple matter of my not wanting it enough. Why would I do that to myself? Simple. I didn’t think about the consequences of that choice on my future self.

Sure. I could beat myself up for this. I did, for years. Believe me. But during all of those years, I never once, corrected the decision and went back to school to complete the degree. Instead, I chose to repeatedly berate my past self. I screamed at my past self about how he ruined me. I hated my past self because he made me a loser who would never amount to anything. I allowed my present self to fully believe that all of that was true. Bottom line, I did not learn from my past self. I complained about him.

Accept, retain, learn and act

We need to learn to accept that which we cannot control. I had to accept that I could not go back and slap my 18-year-old self and push him to do what I needed him to do those many years ago. I simply could not make that decision go away. So I accepted it. I made the conscious decision to understand that I could not change it. I decided that even though the decision I made years ago, was ultimately the wrong one, that it did not mean that I was any less of a person. I decided that I had the ability to do more with my life, so I had to problem-solve.

That day, I decided to go back to school. I researched financial aid options and signed up for classes. It was terrifying. But I learned from the past and acted in the present. I stayed in school for a couple of years and learned everything that I could. While in school, I decided to marry and had a family. That decision meant that I would again, walk away from my degree. This time, I felt great about the decision. I had learned many of the skills that I had hoped to learn in school. I had made additional time for my family. I had started myself on a path of learning, which would simply transition to a more self-guided process and I was great with it. I still am.

At 45, I have played out the “what if” scenarios in my mind. I could have completed a bachelor’s degree in about two more years. At that time I would have been 40. I was already making a living which, while modest, was about what I would have expected someone of my skill-set would earn, even with the degree. So I would have to go for my master’s as well. Part-time, this would probably take another 4 years. A fresh master’s in the hands of a 44-year-old, would probably not make the same difference in my life that the master’s would have made at 25. I realized that the cost of completing the two degrees would not result in a strong enough return on the investment.

So I continue to find new ways to solve the problems that I created for myself in the past. I read. A lot. I try to build more relevant knowledge by learning from those that do the things that I want to be able to do. I have found that the skills that I learn in this way are far more relevant in real life. I have used the skills that I have learned to become a far better manager, trainer, mentor, friend, husband, and father than I had ever imagined that I would have become. The best part is that I would not be the man I am today without making the mistakes that I had. I value the learning that I have been able to get by making those mistakes. I cherish the choices that I have been forced to make in my later life, as opportunities to make right all of those “missed opportunities.”

If I had not been a screw up back then. I would not be who I am. Yes. Those mistakes changed me forever. But, they changed me into someone who is more thoughtful, well read and emotionally intelligent, than I would have been otherwise.

Your past doesn’t have to hold you back. You can decide to make your past the very thing that propels you into prosperity. But only you can decide that. You have to choose to win.

© POV Holdings, llc

 

The Reward

Using The Human Point of View is not easy

Stopping to think about the way our decisions and actions will affect others can be uncomfortable. Moreover, we may find that what we want to do most, is not the best solution for all of the stakeholders. Doing the right thing rarely equates to doing the easy thing. When it does? Awesome. But, let’s be real.

Nothing worth doing should be done the wrong way

Everything we do, we are doing for a reason. Sometimes that reason may seem trivial, but the fact that our actions and decisions will affect the people around us, or even people we may never meet, every decision, and every action, should be taken seriously. Every step of the way, we have an opportunity to be a positive influence on the world around us. Every action we take needs to be geared towards having a positive effect on our lives and the lives of the people around us. Taking this multi-faceted approach to decisionmaking has advantages. While not immediate, the reward is real.

So what is the “reward”?

This is where things get a little more abstract. While I can guarantee you that the reward is tangible, very real and incredibly beneficial to you, I cannot guarantee its immediacy, or that you will immediately recognize that you’re experiencing it. Okay, so I think I just lost about half of my readers; and that’s fine. This isn’t for everyone.

The reward makes its way into our lives slowly, but if we continue on the path, it will grow exponentially. The more it grows, the more we will notice the effects of our labor. So what is it? Simple. Gratitude. As we ensure that our decisions and actions harm as few people as we can, the people around us have an opportunity. Some will take it. Most will not. But the more we act with others in mind, the more it will be noticed. The more people around us tend to recognize that we are acting with their interests, goals, and values in mind, the more they will be thankful for our mindfulness.

Wait… That’s it? Gratitude? How does that equate to a reward?

Simple. People who are grateful for our ensuring that they are thought of in the decision-making process, are more inclined to respect us. Respect and gratitude will lead to a willingness to help us achieve our goals. This is a very real and beneficial result of our hard work. As others start to see that our process is mindful, they themselves will be more mindful. The difference? They will tend to focus the mindfulness in the direction of who they respect and are thankful for.

The reward spreads out and helps others too

As people witness your use of The Human Point of View in your decision-making and action choices, there will be some that are inspired to do the same. Let’s look at the “pay it forward” example. I went through the Starbucks drive-through a few weeks ago and asked the cashier to let me pay for the person behind me in line. So what, right? Good for them! They got a free coffee. Well, it didn’t end there. I heard from a neighbor, later that night, how that very morning about 2 hours after I paid for the car behind me, the person ahead of them had bought her coffee for her. She excitedly told me how she did the same and how great it made her day!

The lesson? My simple act of paying for someone else’s coffee at a busy Starbucks led to a chain reaction of similar acts. While I don’t know exactly how many people were touched by it, I would imagine that a pretty good number did. The reward there was that I positively impacted a great number of people’s day without really having to think too hard about it. It only cost me about five bucks, and a good number of people had a great day. I don’t care that no one knows it was me who started the chain. It’s the knowledge that it continued and the joy in my neighbors face that rewarded me.

That’s a small example. Here’s a bigger one. A colleague of mine was working on a big, company-wide project, and had been putting in a ton of extra hours to get it done. About halfway through he was stuck on reporting for a critical milestone. This colleague is far smarter than I, but had burned the candle at both ends so long, he was missing a small piece of the puzzle. He was clearly frustrated, so I offered to help. I asked him about the project, what he was looking to achieve with the report, and where the data was stored. I sent him home. I stuck around and took a look at his reporting, and found that he had gone about eliminating records in a way that was skewing his results. The data just wasn’t matching. I copied the report and went about changing what I could. I completed the report that night and spent about an hour vetting the results. The data was sound, so I sent him his report, my altered report and a quick note about what I changed and how I vetted the data, along with an offer to go through the data again with him the next morning.

I didn’t really spend all that much time on it. All in all? about 2 hours. But the new report allowed him to move forward on the project and complete it ahead of schedule. The very next time I was involved in a larger project, he was the first to offer help. And he spent more time than I did helping him.

THAT is a reward.

© POV Holdings, llc

 

Mindfulness: Knowing how your actions will affect those around you

Every waking minute of every day we make decisions. Every decision, no matter how small, can affect those around us. For instance; when you order your complicated coffee drink at your favorite coffee shop. Who is affected? The answer, when you think about it, is a lot of people! Interestingly, this simple decision can be both negative and positive to all involved.

Let’s look at the immediate surroundings

So we ordered a venti, ristretto, double-shot, 1/2 caff, mocha with 1/2 almond milk, 1/4 2%, 1/4 whole milk, no whip, two shots of raspberry and a touch of the cascara topping. It’s a handful, but delicious. The person taking the order has to enter all of the pertinent information into the system, grab the cup, write instructions on the cup for the barista and pass it on. All the while, you are hearing sighs from the well-dressed, yet frazzled-looking man behind you in line, who is alternating between glaring at you, the order taker, and a couple of teenage girls talking about how “totes adorbs” the latest heart-throb, boy-bander is. Potentially, you have slightly irritated the order taker. Clearly, the guy behind you is having a bad day already and is possibly in a hurry, so he’s upset that your order will slow him down. The teenage girls paid no attention to your order at all. The barista, on the other hand, loves a challenge and gleefully starts on your coffee. While the teenagers don’t seem to notice, you have had a negative effect on two people and a positive effect on the barista… And that’s just who is in the room with you.

Who else is affected?

That depends on how much effort you want to put into thinking about it. You could certainly demonstrate an effect on the manager, who will experience changes in stock levels and may need to adjust his inventory order. The coffee shop owner is benefiting from your order because of the up-charges associated with the additional customization. The various suppliers of goods that the coffee-shop buys from are affected in that every cup sold is an additional cup they will need to sell supplies to the coffee-close-up-1475387store for. The coffee roasters have a job because of the folks buying coffee. What about the coffee plantations? Undoubtedly, the owners of those plantations are making profits from selling the coffee to the roasters… Is that all? Well… Not really. All of these companies have employees. They all have jobs because people like us like coffee. Their families may or may not benefit. The employees’ future may benefit in that the coffee-shop may have a tuition reimbursement program, allowing employees to further their education or career. What about the dark side? Could some of those coffee plantations employ children to work 16 hour days picking coffee beans? Sure could.

Yes. This is a little extreme, but it illustrates the potential of each of your decisions, every day. You likely make bigger decisions that more directly affect people around you as well. Deciding to call in sick, when really you only have a minor head-cold and a major desire for a day off, can negatively affect those you work with, as they need to pick up the additional work-load. Deciding that you really need that brand new BMW, even if the payment is double what you should spend and could limit savings. Maybe that decision will make it hard for you to help your children when it comes time for them to go to college. Maybe you cash in your 401k to pay for your kids’ college education and limit your own retirement funds.

Wrapping it up

Being mindful means that you think about the perspectives of those affected by your decisions and taking them into consideration before making the decision. In doing so, you should be weighing the pros and cons of each potential outcome before selecting the “right” solution. This is not to say that you should always put yourself second. Not at all. Absolutely think of your own needs first. But if you can, you should ensure that the weight of the effects left behind by your decision, tip the scales on the positive side, to all involved, more than the negative.

It is easy to think about what is positive for you. But in the end, it is a selfish, small-minded stance if that is your only consideration. Thinking about your impact to those around you is thinking bigger than yourself.

I challenge you… Think Big!

© POV Holdings, llc

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