Thought #2: Hindsight Is Not Always 20/20

If you’ve never seen the featured image for this post, let me be the first to introduce you to Sankofa, an Adinkra symbol originating from west Africa.

Sankofa is commonly depicted as a bird with its head turned back to retrieve an egg off its back and means “return and get it”. It is supposed to symbolize the importance of reflecting on the past to build a successful future – there is an intense movie with the same name that I highly recommend you watch.

I run the risk of exposing myself by admitting this – even though I have a strong suspicion that many of you reading this post might do the same yourselves – but I have a tendency to look back and critique my choices or try to imagine what my life might look like had I made different decisions.

College, more specifically my undergraduate career, is one such experience in my life that I’ve thought many times about doing all over again.

If I could go back to my senior year of high school knowing what I know now, I’ve thought that I would apply for more scholarships; I’ve thought that I would never sign a promissory note for a private student loan; I’ve thought about staying in California and never moving to Pennsylvania, and I’ve thought that I would stay home and save on tuition by going to a U.C. and major in computer science, so I could get a fancy tech job in San Francisco.

The point is it’s easy to look back and think about what you “shoulda, coulda, or woulda” done had you known what you know now. The problem, however, is that looking back with this kind of an attitude misses the spirit of Sankofa and doesn’t improve your current situation.

With the new year fresh upon us, I have some suggestions on how to reflect more constructively on the past for a happier and more productive 2016.

1. Learn from the Past

Reflecting on the past can be a powerful thing – if done correctly. Dwelling on the past is not the right way to reflect. The better way is to learn from the past.

It is so easy to get wrapped up in the lifestyle that you ‘should’ve’ had, had you turned left instead of right, went up rather than down, or decided to go rather than stay; however, the reality is that time moves forward and there are rarely, if ever, any second chances or ‘redos’.

Still, there is a lot to learn from the choices that we’ve made. It’s useful to know the emotional impetus for our choices (e.g. were our choices driven by fear, insecurity, lack of confidence, etc.) because those emotions are likely to continue to dictate our future decisions if not acknowledged and dealt with.

When reflecting on a ‘bad’ decision, it’s far more productive to ask, “Why did I make that decision?” rather than asking, “How would things be right now had I chose differently?” The first question prompts greater self-awareness and personal exploration, which is always a good use of energy, while the second question transports you to the realms of disappointment and regret, which generally leads to frustration and anger – ain’t nobody got time for that!

2. Live in the Present

Living in the present means expressing gratitude. It’s easy to miss the blessings and opportunities in life when we are more focused on what we could have done differently.

Changing even the smallest aspect of the past has the potential of changing everything about our current realities. If I would’ve never moved to Pennsylvania, I wouldn’t have the support network that I have today. Some of my closest and most enduring friendships were established during my stint out of the California – no amount of money is worth sacrificing these relationships.

Accept that life can be fickle and the struggle can get real, but remember that our struggles are what make us stronger, and our mistakes are what make us smarter – we just have to be willing to learn from them.

Take stock of the experiences you’ve had, the people you’ve met, as well as the critical life-lessons you’ve learned about yourself along the way and be grateful for them. Changing your frame of mind and training your brain to consider how you’re blessed rather than how life has let you down is the first step towards increased happiness and greater success in the future.

3. Plan Forward

While you can’t alter the past, you do have a lot more control over where you’re headed in the future. This is why it is so important to plan for the future given what you’ve learned about yourself from the past.

I mentioned that I ‘should’ve’ majored in computer science and be working as a programmer and enjoying all the wealth that has flooded into the Bay Area in the past couple of years; however, saying I ‘should’ve’ doesn’t really change the reality that I ‘didn’t’ and I am not.

Replace ‘should’ve’ with ‘will’ and powerful things will start to happen. Saying, “I will become a computer programmer,” or “I will do [insert what you would like to do here],” transfers the power back into your hands and activates your unconscious mind.

Whenever we decide to do or accomplish anything, our subconscious mind starts working overtime to figure out how to bring our dreams and aspirations to fruition. Practicing life planning is a way to engage in dialogue with your subconscious mind.

Create a vision board, or draft a 5-year plan or future resume and cover letter. The format is far less important than the exercise of drafting a road map for yourself that can guide you towards your goals. When you can say what you want and have a plan for how you are going to get it, suddenly the stars begin to align, and the universe starts to bend to your will. Before you know it, you’re a computer scientist or [insert your dream or aspiration here], and you’re no longer looking back and reflecting on all things you’d like to change about your life.

Enjoy this “Thought”? Remember to like and leave a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Also, please subscribe to my blog on my website and get notified of new posts.

Thought #1: Conquer The Fear of Completion

Lately, I feel as though I have just been sitting by on the sidelines watching as my friends and family take charge of their lives, one after the other, and graduate.

Please don’t let me be misunderstood, the accomplishments of my loved ones are huge sources of pride and inspiration for me; however, watching them push forward with their lives puts my recent struggle to take charge of my own situation into focus.

For my entire life, being a student has been a major source of identity and purpose for me. As my graduate program drew to a close and student loans payment notices began to flood my mailbox, I have really had a hard time grappling with the question “Now What?”

Since advancing to candidacy in my graduate program, I have been stuck on my culminating project, and I even started to feel stifled at my longtime employer.

Naturally, I did what people do in difficult situations: I ran!

Or, I tried to at least. I resigned from my job and signed up to teach English in Saudi Arabia, and I was ready to leave it all behind. Obviously, this is not a blog about my life in the middle east, but it is a blog about the pains of growing older.

In some ways, nothing has really changed since my failed attempt to flee the country; my culminating project is still incomplete, and my student loan debtors continue with their demands for money. There is one critical difference though; now I understand why I was “stuck in a rut” the first time around – I never dealt with the root cause for my block: fear of completion.

I believe tons of people will live their whole lives and never experience the fear of completion; however, my intuition tells me that tons of people might be grappling with this particular fear right now.

For my first blog post ever, and my first “thought” of 2016, I want to shed some light on the fear of completion and share some tips on how to overcome fear for a fearless 2016.

The Fear of Completion is a real thing y’all!

From my inquiry, I have found that the fear of completion is real and, in action, tends to look a lot like procrastination. The following are some common reasons why even the best of us experience difficulty finishing things that we start.

The Pursuit of Perfection

This may sound slightly counter-intuitive, but the pursuit of perfection might be holding you back. When you are a perfectionist, it is easy to get bogged down by the minutia of a task, lose your momentum, and never see the task through to completion. For example, imagine a student that spends hours crafting the perfect introduction to their term paper. They read and scrutinize each sentence making small changes until they can barely stand to look at their paper anymore.

By the time this student nearly faints from exhaustion, they are frustrated because they have lost several hours, and the rest of the paper still needs to be written – plus there are still typos!

The reality is that perfection is the myth. Trying to be perfect is exhausting and absolutely hinders one’s ability to produce.

An Aversion to Criticism

Similar to the pursuit of perfection, an aversion to criticism might be holding you back as well. Perfectionists obsess so much over their work because it’s embarrassing to share something you work hard on and have another point out all its flaws.

A lot of the time, completing a project is submitting your work to another for critique. Being told, “your presentation needs to be more focused,” or, “I am not sure how this paragraph relates to your thesis,” can feel like a personal assault on your confidence and challenge your sense of competence.

Again, the reality is that perfection is a myth and receiving critique is not a bad thing. Everyone can benefit from a little improvement.

Loss of Excitement

If you are gamer, you probably know the excitement of purchasing the latest platform game. Initially, you might be completely obsessed with advancing through all of the levels and completing the game.

For a number of reasons, you lose interest in the game before reaching the conclusion. Maybe the game was more challenging than you anticipated, or you acquired a new game and became engrossed in that game instead. Whatever the reason, you lose excitement and never finish the game.

Like with games, loss of excitement is a hindrance to completing projects. You might lose interest after knit-picking your project in the pursuit of perfection; you might have dragged your feet on submitting your work to a supervisor for critique, and gradually loss excitement in completing the project over time.

There are numerous reasons we lose excitement in projects; however, it is important to get excited about your project again.

Tips to Get ‘Er Done

While the fear of completion is a real and crippling thing, it doesn’t need to dictate your life. The following are two things you can do in 2016 to conquer the fear of completion.

Let It Go

In the words of Princess Elsa: Let it go!

That’s right, to finish that elusive project just let it all go and have faith that your best is good enough. If you have been stuck in a rut for a while, focus on producing anything, perfect or not, and before you know it your project will be done – and it will probably be better than you think.

The truth of the matter is most things in real-life are graded pass or fail, which means there is a 50% chance of passing if you submit something and a 100% chance of failing if you don’t submit anything. Elementary statistics suggests that it’s worth it to just complete the task

Regulate those perfectionist tendencies and embrace the imperfect human, which is pretty extraordinary already.

Monitor Your Progress

Watching your savings account grow feels so good because you can see the progress. Same concept applies to completing a task. Being able to monitor how a project is progressing is extremely motivating.

To overcome the fear of completion and complete tasks, you need to get motivated, which is why you should first assess and celebrate the progress you have made already then actively monitor your progress moving forward – consider to-do lists or posters.

If you monitor your progress, the fear of completion will gradually be replaced with excitement as you notice your project moving forward and the finish-line drawing nearer.

Enjoy this “Thought”? Remember to like and leave a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Also, please subscribe to my blog on my website and get notified of new posts.