Why do we feel the need to devalue past experiences in order to give our current situations worth?
So often, I have found myself moving onto the next stage in my life feeling SO GLAD that (insert anything prior) was behind me. Of course, all of our experiences with any longevity have both positive and negative aspects to them. But is it the negative ones that have a lasting impact on our opinions of those experiences?
A new job. It makes sense. When things are going well for us, we are motivated to perform at our potential in order to propel ourselves to a status that we aspire to. When things become too stagnant or we are deeply unhappy, we in turn become complacent. Our job performance suffers, and so does our potential for happiness in that job that once may have fulfilled us. It isn’t long before we say the words out loud, “It’s time to move on.”
I once had a new colleague who preemptively stated that her threshold was approximately three years in any given role before she knew it was time to move on. I remember thinking to myself that it was an interesting way to approach what could otherwise be a very emotional, time and energy consuming process. And how mindful to know that about one’s self!
Still, in the throes of her eventual growing disdain for her new job I regularly heard the lamenting of how awful the conditions were and very little of the positive aspects. There WERE laughs, I was a part of them. There were most definitely incredible successes and many stellar experiences, although to hear it after the fact you would have thought that this person worked in purgatory.
The end of a relationship. A much more delicate transition is found at the stages of a relationship when it is absolutely over. Moving beyond the eventual (or not) processing and acceptance of the end, you find the perspective which lingers on, jading the memory of everything that once was.
Again, most people have very little positive worth to attribute to the previous experience, because frankly, it ended for valid reasons. The feelings that are involved in the dissolution of a relationship often include despair, denial, jealousy, confusion, etc. It seems only therapeutic that we use these emotions to help to propel us into healthy stages of healing.
In some stages of these emotions, we may romanticize the prior relationship by choosing to remember it as more positive than it truly was. However, I have seen many lengthy relationships end with both parties committing absolute genocide of their shared memories, saving the ones that were the worst for any future recollections.
Again, why are we so frequently unable to bring some of the positive experience with us through the healing? Does it make it so much easier to create a clean break by devaluing the length of time that we were wholeheartedly involved in the relationship? Can something not be over and still have been beautiful and worth our heartache?
Moving. Recently I overheard someone explaining where they lived, but also referring to where they had just moved from with an emphasis on, “I got out of there as fast as I could.” I suppose there are valid reasons for being loud and proud of a new zip code, but it left me thinking that the statement devalued the experience and opinion of others who remain there.
In a recent cross country move of my own I found people on each end of the move eager to hear about the horrible reasons that we fled. In truth, we had stories that spanned the spectrum of reasons why a family might move, and yet people only wanted to extract the breakup version. This was what really got me started on paying attention to how I, personally, reflect the value of my experiences. I realized that I was doing the same and it had almost become habitual.
A new stage in life. I remember being a new college student approaching the world with the fresh knowledge learned in a semester and a huge dose of ego, certain that my new-found knowledge outweighed anyone else’s uninformed opinion.
These days I thank God that social media wasn’t around at that time to immortalize some of my ignorance and lack of perspective.
It wasn’t long before I was IN the WORKPLACE as a full-fledged adult, making my way to THE TOP! Of course, so were millions of other people around me, but I laughed at the college me for her lack of experience and her naivety.
Fast forward about fifteen years and a couple of career changes later, and I’m happier to reflect on my growth as a professional these days than lament over the horrible jobs that I endured to get me to where I am today. I could tell some horror stories, but it doesn’t do me or anyone else any good. Yes, there has been growth due to positive and negative experiences, but the emphasis now is on being mindful of that and some days IT TAKES A LOT OF WORK to maintain that mindfulness.
“You will never know true love until you’ve had a child. Until you are a parent, you just can’t/won’t understand.”
I really dislike comments like these, because not all people choose to marry, couple, or have children. Their choices do not reflect a deficit in their happiness, because happiness is relative to our experiences. Many people do, however, look back at their days before having children as being something less in value or importance than it is once they have become parents.
While our job as parents may be important and rewarding, it’s all relative…
In my opinion, it’s living through the experiences of my child that gives me such a strong connection to the memories of my youth. I remember things more vividly when reminded by my son’s laughter and even his tears. I reflect upon times before he came along and see them as the perfect road map for the journey that brought me to where I am at this very minute. And, oh! The sleep from that memory borders experiences of a divine nature. Had I chosen to not have children, my happiness would be weighed on a different scale, completely independent from this variable.
I’ve been there.
I’ve made the same decisions to emotionally dissolve an experience in order to move on to the next with a clearer head. But in an effort to be more mindful of the importance of being present, I focus on the magnitude of this very moment.
Granted, it’s the negative that lends credence to the positive. We couldn’t fully appreciate the blissfully happy experiences if we didn’t know the depth of great sorrow. Perhaps it’s the yin and yang pattern to the universe, where opposing forces are actually complimentary. We take the good and bad together, as a choice or NOT, in order to attempt to find some balance.
In a few years I hope to have made it a habit of looking back, with a fond recollection of where I have been.
Starting by being happy… Right here, right now.