Don’t Look Back in Envy

In recent times, I’ve come to realise that while there are plenty of pros to looking backwards (you can check out if you’re being followed by some weirdo, for example), there are a lot more cons (you’re more likely to run into things. A lot more likely. Bruises are in your very near future.). And while this applies to everyday moments such as walking down the street, it also applies to less prosaic situations such as how far we’ve come as people.

For example:

Have you ever discovered a plan you’d totally forgotten about? Despite the fact it was quite detailed and you’d written a whole bunch of notes on it and were totally planning to do something about it in that mystical time known as ‘tomorrow’?*

This happened to me the other day.  There I was, innocently setting up a folder for this blog on Drive when I stumbled across a similar folder for a blog that never got started. I’d written up a plan; I had goals; I’d even brainstormed several pages of blog post ideas. It was quite unlike me in many ways – my normal approach to exciting new ideas is to imagine how amazing they’ll be, then convince myself I’ll never be able to live up to my own expectations, at which point I wander off and make myself a consoling cup of tea.

This forgotten blog would have been a lot of fun but the whole concept was based around a topic that doesn’t resonate with me any more.  It’ll never get started, thus all of those ideas have gone to waste.

Hot on the heels of regret came another feeling: envy. Why was the old me so much better at coming up with ideas? Why was the old me so much funnier? I almost wished I hadn’t found the folder because it seemed to be doing nothing more than making me feel inadequate in the face of my former self.

And that is completely crazy.  It’s not even a case of comparing apples with apples; it’s more like comparing a ripe apple with the flower that set it.  Yes, the apple flower might look fresher or more full of promise but it’s all the same apple.

This is the dark side of retrospection – the evil twin of nostalgia. What starts off as an innocent detour into our sun-drenched past can escalate into a full-blown pity fest if we’re not careful.  In the blink of an eye, you can go from remembering the good old times when Google Reader still existed to writing a list of all the ways our old self was better:

  • Old you was a million times better at everything. (In my case, Old Me was better at wearing heels and pretending they weren’t stupidly uncomfortable, although I’m kind of glad I’m not good at that any more.)
  • Old you has already peaked, so what’s the point? (It’s just a shame I didn’t realise I was living through Old Me’s glory days of amazingness at the time.)
  • Old you was full of brilliant ideas that are way better than your current ones. (Or is Current Me just too lazy to come up with new ones?)

When it gets like this, there’s one important thing we all have to remember: Old You is still there.

Think you’ll never write a paragraph with the same silly wit as the old you? It’s not true, because old you is trapped inside current you, beating you around the head with a novelty croquet mallet in the hopes that you’ll eventually notice she’s there.

For every time you think you’ll never be as good a writer/painter/deep sea diver (delete where appropriate) as the old you was, there should be a voice in your head reminding you that, actually, that was you. You were that good. In fact, you can go ahead and take the pressure right off: you don’t need to be as good as that because you’ve already done it. Game over. You won. It’s time for something different (and possibly a well-deserved cuppa in honour of old you).

Looking back is a good thing, provided we ration any time required on wallowing.  A backwards glance allows us to see how far we’ve come and when you’re as bad at starting things as I am, evidence of even the tiniest step forward can act as powerful motivation to continue.  Wallowing, however, is thinly-disguised procrastination. As a true proficient in the ways of procrastinating, I know this well. It’s easier to sit around, bemoaning the fact that you’ll never be awesome again than to have a go at proving yourself wrong.

The fact is, we’re actually better than our old selves in many ways. We’ve learnt more. We’ve lived more. We’ve enjoyed more types of tea than our old selves even knew existed (this could just be me, of course). Our old selves have built an amazing foundation and it’s really up to our current selves to get to work on building on it.

So Old Me came up with a fun plan for a quirky blog? Good news! Old Me is under contract to Current Me, which means I can exploit her for my own purposes. In fact, it’s lucky Old Me never got started on that blog because it would have ridiculously sad to bid farewell to it when my tastes changed.

What I really want to do now is become the old me the future me is going to look back on and wish she was.**

 
* Also commonly known as ‘when I have time’, which we all know is a place that does not exist in the twenty-first century.
** This is not as confusing as you might think.

9 thoughts on “Don’t Look Back in Envy

  1. Aah, the joys of looking into the past. I love this. It’s actually something I’ve been contemplating a lot today. And I keep trying to remind myself of the adage that “the past is a foreign country”…although I’m not sure that that fits with this theme. The mystical time known as tomorrow may expose the answer…after a nap (I blame jet lag 😉 ).

    1. In my case, the past is a foreign country with lots of apples, apparently. It’s so true, though. Everything was different about us then – the people we knew, the things we believed, the job we had – but that doesn’t necessarily mean we were better. It’s probably that glow of nostalgia, casting itself over everything and concealing the less amazing aspects.

      Here’s hoping you shake off the jetlag and find an answer to all of this. 😀

  2. “My normal approach to exciting new ideas is to imagine how amazing they’ll be, then convince myself I’ll never be able to live up to my own expectations, at which point I wander off and make myself a consoling cup of tea.”

    Are we the same person? Really, though, this post resonates with me–for a long time, I spent most of my time wishing that I could be as cool and creative as Old Me was. I’m trying to get over my wallowing and replace it with doing. It’s kind of starting to work 😉

    1. It’s so good to know I’m not the only one sabotaging my own attempts to be awesome. Why do we even do this? It bewilders me when I look back and realise what I’m doing, but at least I get a nice cup of tea out of it all. If we could work out why some of us are inclined that way, we’d really be on to something!

      It’s incredibly tempting to wallow and it requires a lot of hard work to resist the urge so you should be well proud of yourself for doing that. Keep it up! I’ll be using you as an example for myself whenever I’m tempted to bemoan how amazing I used to be instead of getting stuck into my next project.

  3. This is sooooo me at the moment (well actually ever since I left Tokyo 8 years ago…). Really struggling to get motivated to do anything but I don’t know if it’s the “old me” envy or just the fact that I have had three months away… either way, need to get the butt into gear. A novelty croquet mallet may be just what I need.

    1. It’s possible we all need a novelty croquet mallet to hand for occasions such as this. Good luck with getting back into gear – I imagine it would be quite difficult to do that after a break in your regular routine.

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