175. The Power of the Past

I was thinking this morning, as I sometimes do, with a vague nostalgia about the time I lived in the second largest city of the country. Over 20 years ago …

We lived three young people in a shared apartment and the days went by with me working in an after school club and then in the evening the two of us sometimes went to the cinema and to events about comics and movies.

It was a strangely laid back, optimistic and fuzzy time, and I think in hindsight it feels better than it was because I think of it as being young without much responsibility or much to care about, and that … is sometimes an alluring time to want to return to.

But, as always, there is a catch.

Sure, those were happy carefree times in many ways. But now – 20 years after – I have a great many things in my life that I did not have then. And I am not talking about material things.

For a side from a larger credit account in the bank and a student loan I am almost as rich – or as poor – as I was back then. I have not been able to earn money at any significant level, mostly because half the time since 1995 I was a student or I was ill or I was traveling, but also because I chose to look for very specific jobs that felt compatible with my creative interests and idealism.

Needless to say, those jobs don’t grow on trees.

But I digress … for I wanted to say that I have so much in my life today that I wish I had had back then. I have so much in fact that that makes my age as well as my receding hair line worth it.

I have wisdom.

Yeah, I know that’s perhaps an old fashioned word, but really – you don’t have more wisdom than your 20 year younger self? Are you really not much smarter, wiser, experienced in so many good ways?

If not, you may want to take a serious look at what you are using your time for – or how you think about the things you use your time for: What you actively try to learn from them.

Things I’m wise about today that I wasn’t  – at all – wise about when I was 21:

– love and relationships – ‘what it takes to make it work’

– the world – and why it sometimes doesn’t work when there is so much injustice and misery but also what you can do about it, personally, however faint a contribution that fees like

– why it is okay that things chance very slowly – speaking of the world

– my own inner demons, what they look like and how to tame them

– what I am skilled at, what I want and don’t want to work with – what I am prepared to forgo, say, in terms of financial wealth to have a wealth of choice or creativity in my working situation

– what the world really looks and feels like – out there – since I have traveled so much more than that first, blue-eyed cross-USA-trek in car and bus

Those are just some of the things I feel much wiser about. I feel I could write a very long list. I feel I could feel it out with all sorts of smart stuff – lessons from life that you should take heed of and yadada. But I won’t.

My point here isn’t to make you feel that I am particularly wise compared to you or make you feel bad about not having become wiser in this or that category of life even if you are my current age (41) or older.

My point is to make you answer the question for yourself – if you need to answer it: Isn’t it a good thing, after all, to have become wiser?

Surely, you are wiser with regard to some things on life than you were 20 years ago?! And I’m not talking about cynicism, like: ‘All politicians are creeps’ or ‘I’m never gonna get a dream job’.

That’s not wisdom but prejudice based on some depressive thoughts about yourself and your situation that you should really start changing. And if you can’t do it alone – get help. A coach, mentor, psychiatrist – whatever works for you!

Wisdom is always positive.

It is not always painless, but it’s end result is positive. The conclusion of wisdom is something like:

“Yeah, it’s really tough being in a committed relationship, much tougher than I thought – but when I do this or that it works. And it is worth it.”

You can exchange “relationship” with many other relations in your life. Most people my age would probably put “children” in that place in the sentence and get some of the same conclusions. It’s tough, but worth it. And it can be made to work if you do x, y and z depending on your situation. And thinking about this – when it works – makes you smile. Despite the scars. That’s wisdom.

The reason we sometimes are drawn to think of especially younger years with nostalgic warmth only is our great sense of loss as time pass by – that it is irreplaceable and that it goes too fast and that – maybe – we have wasted a lot of it. Maybe we are in a job we don’t like or a relationship gone sour and it just goes on and we feel life slipping by.

That’s not a good excuse for nostalgia – that’s a call to action. Not to hide in the past but to use its experiences to become clear about how you want to change the present – now.

What was it you dreamt of in the past about your job that you want now, but don’t have? Connect with that feeling again and use it to motivate you to act. To believe it is still possible. Use the past that way.

Not: ‘Back when I was younger I dreamed of becoming a movie star and it was so nice just to dream about that’. That may feel good, but it’s like peeing in your pants to keep warm.

Not: ‘Back when I was younger I used to dream of … x … but  now I feel it is impossible’. That may feel perversely good, because it allows you to wallow in bitterness, maybe grumble quite a lot when other people can hear it or tell them this or that when you have had a drink or two.

It doesn’t work.

If you don’t feel you have wisdom, then ask for it. Ask your self – your mind – brain – soul – whatever you believe in – to give it to you. To make use of.

Write a note an put under your pillow:

“Dear wisdom/mind/brain/higher self/inspiration/etc

Back when I was 20 I dreamed about becoming an artist and now I am stuck in a dead end job. What do I do to begin to make a living from art?”

The brain, mind, soul or whatever works remarkably in the same way no matter what you believe it is. If you ask it a question long enough it will answer. Not while you brood and grumble and strain but when you let go. Ask you question, write it down, then let go. Go to sleep. Watch a movie. Take a walk.

Then at some point … you will get a hunch. A memory. A feeling. An inspiration.

Some thought related to what you have to do will emerge. And you can explore it. Maybe act upon it. Or at least take the next step until you feel empowered enough to act.

That’s wisdom in action.

You see, you wisdom is deep inside you. Everybody knows something from all the experiences they have and can use it to make wiser choices next time.

It’s not just smarts, although it is related. Smarts are more bound to specific, isolated events – like ‘don’t drive this or that road if you want to get safely home’. Like: ‘don’t apply for this or that job unless you know this or that person in the business’.

Smarts – intelligence – it relates to scenes in your life. Wisdom is about writing the next chapter.

Wisdom informs questions like ‘what career shall I choose to become happy’? Or ‘how can I combine my love for art with making a living?’

The answers may surprise you. Wisdom may tell you that you no longer need to make a living from art but you can be okay with just dedicating some more spare time to it, instead of watching TV or hanging out with friends you don’t care about but feel obligated for some reason to see.

I had that experience with my art. I did a lot of drawing when I was 20. When I lived in Aarhus. I wanted to be an artist.

My wisdom has taught me that I simply don’t have the patience to become a comic book artist, like I wanted back then, but that I can live with just drawing now and then – single drawings – if it is for some other purpose, like my live-talks. Illustrations for a book maybe. Or a game.

And that also means I am free to seek income from elsewhere, because I don’t have to draw 70 hours a week to make a living. I can do something else.

So wisdom here is a composite of my experience with what works and what doesn’t work with regard to earning money from art. Of my insight into my own motivations and desires about the kind of art I want to do now as opposed to earlier. And what I am prepared to sacrifice to do it. And it’s rounded off by an acceptance of this situation and seeing that it is, all things considered … good.

I would have become crazy as a comic book artist. Drawing 8 hours per day. I would have hated being so bound to that – and to produce for a market that I wouldn’t always have had a heart in.

I would also, given the knowledge I have now, earned too little compared to other income streams, unless I got a real lucky break.

And I love the process of delving on particular drawings and sometimes drawing loose and sketchy and not inking at all. But I couldn’t see that that love for a long time drow my art because I was afraid that I might have foregone a really important career – by choosing not to become a comic book artist, even though I had the talent.

There is also the time factor. It is not impossible, but starting from scratch trying to work my way up – to compete – in, yes, the comic book market which I dreamed of competing in when I was 20 … that would take a heck of an effort now. And I’ve got other interests, other relations, other responsibilities than I had back then. I can’t just see myself finding 8 hours a day to draw now. Maybe I could when I was 20 but not now.

Wisdom is about realizing all of these things and then putting them together to reach a conclusion that you can live with and even feel good about.

Because it releases you to be able to do something else than live in the past.

How do you feel wiser today than you did 10 – 20 – 30 – or more – years ago?

Allow yourself to see that wisdom, appreciate it and use it. Then you will feel that the time you have ‘lost’ wasn’t only ‘lost’.

Yes, the time of younger days is past now. But in a strange way it has come back, because while you may struggle with some ‘ghosts of the past’ still – maybe always – through your life journey … there will also be much wisdom to harvest and feel good about.

And it will help you to deal with the ghosts that are still there. Or any other unwelcome visitors.

Your power today stems from the past, but you have to look for it and appreciate it. Don’t just use the past as a hiding place or some place to feel perversely bitter about.

Use it to remind yourself of the power that you do have. It’s not about hair-loss, a bigger belly or a divorce or a failed business or the number on your birth certificate.

It’s about something much more important and powerful: What you now know about life that you can and will use to make a positive difference today and in the future.

Wisdom.

What’s yours?

 

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