Now versus then

The power of learning from the past rather than dwelling on it (or ignoring it altogether)

I wish I could explain this without it sounding convoluted, and this is not a direct quote, but just believe me when I say that Thomas Jefferson gave me some sage advice this past weekend:

The greatest wisdom of the future will be found in the clutches of the past.

These powerful words resonate in my head still, as I try to work them out. How the heck can I apply this to my life? To be honest, I’m still not sure — and I may not ever be — but the very effort to figure it out will surely get me farther than I could have ever imagined.

The greatest wisdom of the future

There are several TV shows I could point you to that play upon the idea of time travel — of changing the past or throwing someone back into it. Too many of those shows have been canceled or cut short. Alcatraz. Time After Time. These several attempts, and thus, failures, show our desire as humans to understand more about the mystifying past. Even shows like Agent Carter, embedded within the well-loved Marvel universe, fell short in ratings (But not in my own personal love, mind you. I cried when that show was canceled).

We try to prepare for the future by only looking forward. We forget what got us to where we are today. We are too focused on where we are going to remember where we have been. We ignore the greatest resource for our future’s success, pushing it aside as a has-been and nothing more.

Will be found in the clutches of the past

Look. I run a company with my 1950s Smith-Corona typewriter. It sits on my desk next to my iMac and underneath my John Carter posters and figurines. A bookshelf nearby covets my most treasured books, enclosed in glass to shield them from dust. I’m about as modern vintage as you can get. I embrace the past, and I try to learn from it. Sometimes I forget to allow myself the time to get lost in it. Some days, I’m too caught up in the present to remind myself of the past. On those days, I drift to sleep, unfulfilled.

The fact is the reason why so many choose not to focus on the past is because it is too painful. I can’t blame them. So many terrible things have happened in the course of what is now the past. But perhaps the most terrifying thing is what will happen if we do not learn from those lessons — what will happen if we do not treat today as if it will soon become our yesterday. A well-known Chinese proverb says it best:

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years go. The second best time is now.

We must remember that, although we cannot change the past that we have now, we can curate our future’s past. We have the power to shape our future, and therefore our past. I hope that we only learn from our experiences while we’re planning.

Oh, and if you ever see Thomas Jefferson in Colonial Williamsburg, tell him Allegra says hello.


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