Is Our Nostalgia Holding Us Back?

Nostalgia is a funny thing. It came up the other day in an eclectically charming cafe over brussel sprouts and sangria as I was catching up with a dear friend. We were chatting about the usual stuff—her job, my plans for the summer, and the men in our lives when we stumbled onto the topic of the men of our pasts.

While I had recently found myself in the type of discussion with an ex that reminds you of all the reasons you broke up (and how drastically your emotional well-being has since improved), someone she hadn’t expected to hear from (let alone see) again had reached out to let her know he would be in the city and wanted to catch up.

We’ll call him the potential Mr. Big to her Carrie Bradshaw. (If you don’t get the reference, just think of him as the on-again-off-again guy you should always say no to, but never do). It was one of those situations in that, despite her better judgement, she couldn’t help but remember everything they used to have and her nostalgia got the better of her. Needless to say, it provided ample fodder for the conversation.

This got me thinking about the disconnect between not only past and present, but between the way things actually were versus how we remember them, and the idea that our nostalgia might be holding us back.

I’ve recently spent a good bit of time dwelling in the past while I try to figure out the future, and it’s left me feeling irritably insufficient. The thing about looking backwards is that when you cobble it all together, it’s easy to gloss over all the little imperfections.

Blame it on my taurean stubbornness, but once I’ve set my mind on something I’m very good at manifesting its existence. When I reminisce, it seems as if I was just floating effortlessly through life although, of course, it was never that simple. And annoyingly, try as I might, I can’t quite recapture that happy-go-lucky attitude I once had about the future, or the way I used to feel as if I could do no wrong. Even my determination to force whatever I want into existence has not yet mastered the art of seamlessly recreating the past during the present. (Sadly, I think I’m going to have to let those sparkly pink-suited, circus-performing dreams go).

It happens to all of us, that occasional slip into the rut of fixating on the past as a way to avoid the future. However, looking backwards is not necessarily a detrimental thing when it comes to growing forwards. We should use our nostalgia to decide what we want in our future instead of as an excuse to live in the past. We should also remember to ask ourselves if it is only nostalgia holding us back or an unwillingness to acknowledge that while things may look different now, there are reasons why our past never made it to our present.

Do you miss that part of your life because you had the time to be creative? Then know that you should prioritize being able to get back to your art in the future. Do you miss that job because it allowed you to be outside with animals? Understand that you’ll need to find a hobby that provides similar perks.  

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It’s tempting to slip off into the triumphs of yesterday when today is just so damn challenging (let alone the thought of tomorrow), but if we spend our whole lives pining for what used to be, how can we really be happy with where we are now?

While we will always have our fond memories, I think it’s important that they remain as such. The present only ever seems perfect when it’s in the past, and it would be a disservice to ourselves not to focus on creating an enthrallingly uncharted future.


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