Why ‘don’t look back’ is the worst advice ever: The power of reflection to propel us forward.

Don’t look back.

Have you ever received that advice? I think a lot of times it’s given in the context of walking away from a painful situation as in a messy divorce or a crappy job, but what I’ve learned is that nothing we experience in life is either all good or all bad. It’s just a question of what we take from it as we’re moving forward.

I have lately had the chance to spend time walking, both literally and figuratively, down memory lane. I visited with a life-long friend and reminisced about my childhood. I reconnected with someone who I started my career with over 25 years ago. And, now, the holidays are upon us. They always make me wistful, thinking of Thanksgivings and Christmases past. In other words, I’ve done a lot of looking back. In a way, it has been like taking a tour of my life to this point.

I also returned to the city of my birth and located the home my parents lived in when I was born. I used a stack of old photos that my parents took in the late 60s and early 70s as my guide. I returned to those places and imagined what it must have been like for my parents, newly married, far away from their homes and families, and welcoming a baby (me!) into their lives. I could feel the love, the love they had for each other and the love they had for me. It was like looking into a crystal ball and seeing myself in the past. It was quite the experience!

Reflection is a key element of growth and moving forward. For me, periods of intense, long-view reflection almost always precede the beginning of a new phase, the next chapter. Taking time to look back is what actually allows me to cross the existential boundary between what was and what will be. It is good to look back even if some of it producing pangs of discomfort, pain, or even embarrassment. It’s important to acknowledge all of our phases and stages of development as being part and parcel of who we are today. It’s all valid. It’s all worthy. Because all of it has contributed to the person I am today and the person I am going to be when I wake up tomorrow.

***

I’ve been traveling again. This time to the south pacific, Oahu, Hawai’i. While there, I had the opportunity to hike the Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail. The All Trails app grades it as “hard”, and I agree! A 1,600 foot ascent over 2.5 miles following a narrow ridge with steep drop-offs on both sides, a shorter distance but a much more difficult incline than my Camino experience. However, the internal, emotional experience was quite similar. There were moments when I wanted to stop. Several sections were so vertical, and the trail in such poor condition due to recent rain, that ropes were needed to safely climb higher towards the summit.

What kept me going? Taking time to stop and take in the view, taking time to reflect on how far I had come and using that as inspiration to carry on. And, oh my, was it worth it. The further I trekked, the higher I climbed, the better the view. The perspective changed from each vantage point. With the completion of each new (and difficult) section, I could see more and more of the rich landscape surrounding me.

The further I went the more difficult the trail became but the greater the reward when I stopped to look back, and, thank goodness, I did. Oh, what I would’ve missed if I didn’t! The summit was but a moment. The real joy in this journey was in the periods of rest and reflection. This. This is life. Stopping periodically to look back, to reflect on how far we’ve come, is good. It is healthy. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it can be used to propel us forward.

My advice? Take time to reflect…and carry on, Malia

7 thoughts on “Why ‘don’t look back’ is the worst advice ever: The power of reflection to propel us forward.

  1. caitlynnegrace

    I never got the don’t look back thing because I hardly shared my grief with anyone, but I got enough of the move on – which basically meant to move into the lane people had designated for me.

    There are some voices we just don’t need in our lives. However well meaning they position themselves to be, their pearls of wisdom aren’t for us. I’m in a better place now than before because I learned to cut off and even cut out some of those voices.

    In the ensuing silence, I finally heard God’s voice. It His wisdom that has brought me thus far.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. maliadunn

      Yes, “the lane people had designated for me”. I’m done with that! I’m all over the road….without blinkers! The Bible speaks frequently to scales covering people’s eyes and their stopped up ears. I never really understood those descriptions but now I do. I used to be one of them. My eyes were covered. My ears were stopped up. No more. I can hear Him now 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. caitlynnegrace

        So it was (and sometimes still is) with me too. But I hear Him a lot better when I’m out near Nature. A spot of gardening today really opened my ears to something. I can only imagine what that arduous ascent up the Hawaii hiking trail did for you in terms of closeness to God!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. bereavedandbeingasingleparent

    I’m so pleased you did these trips. You still have so much living to do. I tried to not reflect initially. Too much pain. Too much anger. Need to focus on son. But gradually that changed. It’s been such a huge part of my life – why hide from it. I just love this post so much. Thank you for bringing a smile this evening. Gary.

    Liked by 1 person

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