You Can Never Get Back Yesterday

How I’m decreasing my missed opportunities: recommitting to the promises I make myself.

When I was sixteen we were standing in a dense crowd outside the Duomo in Florence, waiting for the flight of the mechanical pigeon which signals the arrival of a Holy Ghost. Suddenly I spied a girl, the most beautiful I had ever seen, and started elbowing my way through the crowd in her direction. “Don’t be a juggins,” said my mother, “you will see dozens as pretty as her before you leave Italy.” I made the mistake of believing her.

This passage from David Ogilvy’s autobiography,Blood, Brains, & Beer is a gut-punch every time I read it. I really can’t think of anything as tragic as a missed opportunity.

There was young David, standing in Florence, the city that hosts Michelangelo’s own David, a towering marble reservoir of human confidence and ability. Young David’s mind wipes away the surrounding crowd of bodies. Their faces blur into unimportant white ovals — because he wants just one. It belongs to a girl — the most beautiful he’s ever seen — the greatest known to him. At that moment, he “elbows” towards her, the center of the universe that closing space between them — every tragic inch. Then his mother’s words:There’s always another opportunity. And he stops. And the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen is lost to him forever.

You can never get back yesterday.

Whether I’m fifteen and at a water park talking myself out of approaching the cutest girl I’ve ever seen, or twenty-four staring down at my daily To-Do-List thinking “Meh, tomorrow”, it’s absolutely heart-breaking if you think about it. There are definitely times to procrastinate, but people do it way too much. I know I do.

Last spring, with this quote in mind among others, I began to make daily To-Do-Lists before I went to bed each night or as soon as I woke up in the morning. Keeping in mind my semi-fragile self-discipline, I started by purposefully listing lots of easy To-Do’s, things like knock out 25 push-ups, read Book That I Love for 30 minutes, and do a load of laundry.

The momentum I generated from completing these simple tasks helped to fuel me for the not-so-easy and even dreaded ones. When I complete all the listed items for three days in a row, I reward myself with extra free time on the weekends (Usually I work weekends).
I save all of my To-Do Lists. I rarely reread them, but when I do it serves as a good reminder for how much I’ve accomplished these past months. (I also recommend Wunderlist, which is a great free app, but I prefer good old-fashion pen and paper)

Lately though I’ve been cheating. In part, I think it’s because I’ve been focusing on several new projects like this site and a book, which take up a lot of my time and energy. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — I’m realigning my attention to my priorities, but there have been more and more undone To-Do list entries each week — including priority ones. It’s true a few skips here and there are harmless but a pattern is developing. This is a problem.

So, with young David’s tragic missed opportunity in mind, and an awareness of my loss of productive momentum, I’m recommitting to myself. I need to recognize what is actually possible for me to get done in a day and then focus on those tasks wholeheartedly.

Starting today, October 18th, if I can keep 90% of my promises to myself through the rest of 2013, I’ll treat myself. Maybe I’ll take a weekend vacation to somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit, or buy a computer or a fitted suit. I haven’t decided yet.

The point is this: I can never get yesterday back so I need to make better use of today.

I love to read and share what I’ve read. If you’re interested you can read along with me here: