Everyone knows the old quote about those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it right? While the sentiment is close did you know that apparently that isn’t the actual quote? Thanks to a admittedly slapdash Google search the quote is most likely attributed to writer and philosopher George Santayana. In its original form it read, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We tend to think of history in terms of epic wars and scandals, but the original line resonates more with me personally. I realized today that I’ve been repeating certain patterns of thinking, feeling, and reacting that aren’t true to “me”. I’ve felt the cognitive dissonance of it for a while now without being able to put a finger on it; little frayings at the edges vs a giant hole in the tapestry of life.
Let me tell you a brief story you may not know. A long time ago in a land far away (both physically and mentally), I came to the realization that I didn’t much like myself. I had almost always let life define me and set my boundaries and my limits, to tell me what was possible, proper, and right. I didn’t buck the system and went with the accepted wisdom of my peers with very few exceptions. It took a fairly dramatic life event to shake me out of that thinking and become an active participant in my own story. I fixed my many health problems, took positive steps in determining my own career goals and path, and eventually immigrated to the California. That’s not to say that my life became smooth sailing by doing so- far from it- but I began to make my own mistakes instead of everyone else’s. And I learned.
I tell you that story to tell you this one. Fast forward back to today when I recognized that to a degree I had given up control of my life again. It wasn’t some dramatic thing; it was a game of inches and months and years, tiny failures and exhaustion. I forgot my past. I had stopped writing, both online and offline. I carried a notebook everywhere and it was blank. My website was less updated than usual and I had all but quit photography. I was watching way more TV instead of listening to music, or reading, or playing video games. I spent too much time on social media chasing likes or short lived internet ‘fame’ and not enough exercising and developing myself. I continually found ways to distract myself from the fact that I had given up on myself. I think it’s more than fair to say that an overwhelmingly large part of it was directly attributable to mind-numbing levels of professional stress along with multiple personal traumas over a two year span. I can still remember at one point talking to a colleague and saying “I just need ONE aspect of my life to go right right now” …and of course it didn’t. By the end, it led to massive burnout and and an almost five month ‘reset period’ to get back in a semi-functional state. At least now I no longer feel like I’m stuck in first gear all the time and I am able to recognize what I went through even if I couldn’t while I was knee deep in it. In a nutshell I’ve had my little pity party where I felt sorry for myself and I have no more excuses. There is almost no aspect of my life that’s not within my control and it’s my choice what I pour energy into.
My first step is to sharply curtail most social media use. My Twitter account is a shell and never gets read and frankly Facebook isn’t too far behind. Though I’ve always been pretty selective about who I stay connected to on there, lately all it seems to be is memes or internet links. People don’t create content there or seem to have meaningful engagement; so while I’m content to use it as a way to keep up with distant friends and family that’s likely as far as it will ever go. As a strong photographer hobbyist Instagram has far more attraction and value though I’ve unfollowed most brand-type accounts or puppy themed ones. Mostly.
My second step is to focus more on things that make me happy. Believe it or not, I freaking LOVE going to the gym. I never realized how strongly I missed it and how important it was to me. It’s one of the few hobbies that I don’t really multitask through along with reading, writing, and going to the movies. I need that focused head space more than I knew.
Finally it comes down to outlook. It’s so easy for us to spend emotional currency without thinking about the value in it. I stopped hoarding mine and it left me, in my opinion, a lesser person who was more worried about chasing the good opinions of others than my own.
So I’m paying attention to history tonight as I sit in my hotel room in San Francisco staring at Coit Tower out the window. Back when I did this in 2008 I had three quotes that I jokingly used as guideposts towards making good decisions. Today two of them still work, so I’m starting back with them again.
- The important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become. – Charles DuBois
- The expedient thing and the right thing are seldom the same thing. – Chinese fortune cookie.
- Ask your mom. – Another Chinese fortune cookie
Miss you mom. Thanks for believing in me and encouraging me all these years.