How your past can ruin your future

March 7, 2018

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine was driving his car on the highway and as he was negotiating a turn, he happened to look at the rear view mirror. He was shocked to see a large truck hurtling down the road in his direction at breakneck speed. My friend was quick to respond – he swerved sharply to his left, allowing the truck to pass. The truck sped past him and met a tree quite violently – turns out that its brakes had failed. The rear view mirror turned out to be my friend’s savior.

Even in normal circumstances, a car’s rear view mirror is very useful. It informs us if it is safe to slow down, turn or overtake. We are now so much dependent on the rear view mirror that it is difficult to even imagine driving without it.

A rear view mirror can be a great metaphor. In life, the equivalent of looking at the rear view mirror is looking back at the past events in our life.

We certainly have reasons to look into our past. We have strong connections with events in the past. All the people we are associated with today joined us sometime in the past. We know that our voyage to the present passed through several ports of call in the past. Many of those ports of call gave us reasons to be excited and happy while others could have been the cause for some upsets and disappointments.

While there are good reasons to look at the rear view mirror, looking at it for too long while driving forward can lead to disastrous consequences. Similarly in life, dwelling on the past for too long can have an adverse impact on the present and future.

However, some of us are caught in a time warp. On the one hand, there are some of us who keep extolling the virtues of the Golden Age of the past, and that the present is crumbling while the future is going to the dogs. There are others who carry strong grievances from the past into the present and project that into the future. They are complaining of how, if things had been different in the past, their present and future would look so different. This is like mentally manipulating the images you see in a car’s rear view mirror as if it would help.

I am of the view that either way, it actually makes little difference. Life is moving forward and cannot be rewound. We cannot step into the same river twice – the river is never the same in the next instant. We can certainly learn from the past, use that to inform the present and influence the future. Actually, there is merit in not considering the past at all when living the present and planning for the future. In this way, every day is a brand new day with zero baggage. This is, of course, easier said than done.

In my case, on occasions when I have taken significant turns in life, I have certainly looked at the rear view mirror before taking the turn but after the turn, I have thrown away the rear view mirror so that I can focus on the present and build my future. As a skydiver, there is no way you can climb back into the plane after leaping off it.

Let us keep the past where it belongs – in the past. Let it not be a cause for regret or a refuge to escape into.

It is important to make peace with our past. It is what it is.

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  • Hemalatha Radhakrishnan says:

    Personally I feel it is difficult to move on set backing the rear view mirror. Definitely after reading this I felt it is not impossible to step in furure with keeping aside the rear view mirror.

  • Murthy SN says:

    Great perspective and well written sir 👍👍👍While what we are today is to a great extent a function of what we have done or not done in the past, it is always possible to create a completely new and exhilarating brand new future. Our past should not hold us to ransom our new future. We can always dip into the past only if it is useful and needed

  • Jagadeesh Maiya says:

    Well written Ramanan! Keep writing

    “We cannot step into the same river twice – the river is never the same in the next instant. ”

    And even we are not the same when we step the second time!

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