Would a look back at what decisions we made be relevant to the decisions we make in the future?
In retrospect is a term used wisely. Most of us feel wiser and mature, when we look back at the past. The decisions we have made, the people we have chosen to be with, the career moves we have made, all of it in a throwback often can make us feel that if only we had been wiser, smarter, more experienced, we may have done things differently. Could that somehow help us make better decisions in the future?
Letters to younger self
Life is no time machine and we continue to learn, experiment and acquire different levels of maturity as we go along. Sometimes, the decisions have helped us reach the stars and at other times, well, things could have been better. But honestly, if we could have given advice to our younger selves, would we have made decisions that would have given us a better outcome in the present? And beyond that, could looking back in retrospect help us in the future – with the career choices we make, the empowerment routes we choose?
Former New York Times Columnist Ellyn Spragins, who authored What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self says that when writing a letter to your past self, you can turn it into an exercise relevant for your life – whether past or present or even the future. She says that we are always narrating stories from our past to ourselves and there are of course two versions; one which is public and loaded with our achievements and accomplishments and the other private, one that stores the bruises and the heart breaks but both she feels, are equally beneficial.
Learnings gleaned from past
In Ellyn’s book, which was followed by a series of sequels, she has invited many celebrities and outstanding personalities such as Queen Noor of Jordan, Madeleine Albright and Maya Angelou to identify a moment in time from their past which then they could share with others for its wisdom and the lesson it teaches.
They did write about various struggles; from dealing with a bad boss to choosing jobs, from asserting yourself to dealing with guilt over work-family balance. But the exercise in itself was refreshing for the gleanings and the insights it offered as a lesson taken in retrospect.
Ellyn says she sought an honest, authentic estimate of a trip down the memory lane as an exercise worth taking. Of course there were expectations, bias and the relevance of the time but on the whole, it served as an exercise that helped the participants carry the lessons into the future.
More importantly, writing those letters to themselves enabled them to make connections with the past, remember the lessons and learn from that experience. Particular focus was on making the right career choices. If things had been different, would you have made the career move the same way? What learnings can we glean from the past? Would it help us make better, more refined decisions in the future?
Retrospect therapeutic exercise
For most, the exercise was one that humanized and validated their experiences in a way they had not thought of before. But how does it connect with a career, with the choices we are often called upon to make in the thick of life, in the middle of chaos that is the norm for some of us?
Looking back is also a therapeutic exercise, especially for those who sometimes can be unforgiving on themselves for the choices they have made, whether in relation to life or work. For an example, 20 years ago, a technology-based business or a career would have not meant much, at least not on the same plane it is today.
Twenty years ago, no one would have thought of promoting or advertising primarily on a digital platform. Twenty years ago, no one would have thought of marketing goods on social media. Technology has added that amazing dimension to our lives, as aspect most of us would not have thought of all those years ago.
But then, life and work evolves. We do not remain where we are – we make decisions based on our insights from the past and our plans for the future. To ensure our perspective is right, the letters we write to our younger selves can prove, if done right, to be a relevant and a powerful gesture that will fuel our future.
(Nayomini Weerasooriya, a senior journalist, writer and a PR professional, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)