Monday, July 12, 2010

How looking back can help you move forward

I'm downsizing my life.

In order to do this, you have to be "in the mood".

Tonight, I was in the mood to get started.

I'm purging a lot of the stuff I've accumulated during my 11 years in this house. Tonight, it was to start going through a dilapidated file cabinet that is bursting at the seams. And while I felt some satisfaction at the mounds of papers in the trash, I discovered something else as well.

I've come a long way.

That file cabinet was basically the story of my life. It housed, among other things, my childhood writings - short stories I penned in grade school, some marked with "You should be a writer when you grow up!" from an inspirational teacher in the 6th grade. A column I wrote for the Observer Newspaper while still in high school. Marketing plans I toiled over while in college - one on Harley Davidson motorcycles of all things. Job acceptance letters from every position I've held. Newsletters I wrote and edited in Milwaukee. "Design" projects I created - cards, flyers, ads - using clip art and that old "cut and paste" layout method. The business plan I wrote when I started my freelance service back in 1991. The layout pages for the cookbook I made for Christmas gifts when I was strapped for cash.

Then there were letters and cards: mounds of them from the two soldiers I corresponded with during Operation Desert Storm. I wondered where those two soldiers are now, and if they returned back to the states safely. Dozens of cards from an old best friend. Mortgage papers from my first house. Divorce papers from my first husband. Pictures of my babies that took me back to those trying yet elusive toddler years.

All this got me to thinking. We spend so much time looking forward to where we need to go that we forget to look back at where we've been. I remembered where I was when I wrote those Observer columns - in high school, with not a care in the world. I remembered the joy I felt when I received those job acceptance letters, and the stress I felt when I struggled to start my own business the first time around. I remembered the overwhelming feeling of buying a new house, and the sorrow during my divorce. I remembered what it was like to be a new mom, capturing every moment on film, and the hours I spent doing creative projects for friends and family.

I wore many different hats, was good at some and sucked at others, but looking back I am amazed at what I accomplished and the lessons I learned (the hard way) along the way. And I thought to myself, I'm really no further ahead now than I was then. Sure, I have plenty of life lessons in my back pocket, but it's still my same life. I still struggle to find work, and feel anxiety owning a home. I still take tons of photos of my babies, now at the stage where they HATE that Mom takes their picture. My creative projects are all on a disk, or a hard drive, or a USB. No paper trail here anymore.

As I perused all of this, that popular song by REO Speedwagon was echoing in my brain: "Roll with the Changes" - sort of apropos, since I'm a writer and all: "So if you're tired of the same old story, oh, turn some pages. I'll be here when you are ready... to roll with the changes."

I invite you to take some time to reflect on your life - what you've done and what you haven't, great things you've accomplished and horrible mistakes you've made. We all have them. See if you can apply them to your life NOW, and how looking back might help you move forward with more wisdom, more insight, and a sense of appreciation for how far you've actually come. Hindsight may be 20/20, but the process of downsizing can make you see things even more clearly.


  1. Don't throw too much away. Save some things for your grandchildren and great grand-children to read. Even if it's just a single box. Doesn't take up too much space and its not like you have to feed it. Great article!

  2. Oh, Amy, I can relate to this! It's good to take time to remember where we've been, to celebrate successes and to remember what we don't EVER want to do again. Nothing like a bulging file cabinet to take us there. Thanks for sharing.


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