Remember — the Importance of Looking Back

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I’m sitting on a couch in sunny Los Angeles in a house that does not belong to me. It belongs to my grandmother. I have so many memories in this room: playing legos on the floor. Watching Jeopardy every night over a small bowl of orange sherbet. That time a cousin’s boyfriend stepped on my train set and broke the bridge support (I’m still working on forgiving that guy).

I have so many memories here, and I’m learning how important that is. As Stacia and I ended our year and thought about beginning a new year, we spent time remembering. We began doing a year-end review a few years ago. It wasn’t anything official or extensive, but it was a moment to reflect back and look forward. Every year it feels like it grows in importance for me.

When we began, it was just something we did because it seemed like a good thing to do. I began because I felt like I should have some goals for the new year. Now it feels like something we have to do— not out of obligation but in a “I really need this” way. More than setting goals, I’ve found that remembering is where the real benefit lies for me.

I need to remember. I need to look back. I need to mark where I have come from and where I am going.

I could attribute the growing importance of this tradition for us to many things: more years under our belts, more wisdom, more complicated lives, etc. But the biggest reason, I believe, is because I am pursuing work that is deeply connected to who I am and how I have been formed.

This work matters to me.

Helping you bring more of who you are and what you do to the world matters to me. Helping you understand your desire for impact and meaning in work matters to me. And because it matters so much, it is hard.

The things that matter the most are the ones that take emotional work.

There are days when I doubt everything. It feels like nothing is happening, no one cares, and nothing is changing.

I have big dreams for how I want to help people— I called this site the Meaning Movement for a reason. I want this to be a movement of people toward work that matters. Yet every blog post I write, every time I speak, every conversation I have, and every article I publish is just one tiny-junior-micro-mini-bitty-small-nano-baby-teensy step in that direction.

I see where I want to go and it is hundreds of miles from here (feel free to substitute kilometers if that matters to you). Because of the size of my hopes, dreams, and desires, it can feel like a millimeter of movement in is too small to actually matter.

Which is what leads me then to doubt everything: why am I doing this? Does it even matter? Who do I think I can actually do this? And on and on and on.

It’s hard to hope for something that matters deeply.

It is painfully hard. With every step you must carry the possibility that you won’t make it. And the bigger the hope — the deeper your desire — the heavier the weight.

And this is why I believe in remembering, because it gives me the chance to tell myself a different story.

I can take a moment to see the facts in a different order and to look back along the path that I’ve walked and see how far I’ve come. While the landscape ahead is mostly unknown and the distance ahead is too great to count, I can look back and see that I have come this far and that I’m doing something.

The path behind is known, and there are markers along the way: a new blog, a book launched, articles published, features written, and many one-on-one conversations. I can look back at these and see, though there is much ahead, there is also much behind. I can let that story fight against the other stories that I tell myself in my darkest moments.

It feels like the New Year has come at just the right time for me. I need to remember.

I need to remind myself of the better story — not the one of never making it and never succeeding, but the story of how far I’ve come.

As I sit and write, I’m remembering more than just this last year. I know that the boy who watched Jeopardy over sherbet— the one with the legos and broken train set— is sitting here too. I remember him as well. And I remember that sometimes he felt scared and often overwhelmed. And I do too. Then I remember that we have come a long way and have many markers along the path to celebrate.

Every small step I take is a step that gives him hope and brings some solace to the hurts that he’s suffered along the way. I remember that, and I know that the work that I do here and the hopes that I carry for how I can help you are also are about him. This is important to remember.

Starting a New Year is both an opportunity to create something new and an opportunity to remember the your past. How you remember shapes how you hope. The stories that you tell yourself about the work you’ve done and the path you’ve traveled thus far shape the hope for what’s ahead. Remembering where you have been is an opportunity to tell yourself a kinder and better story.

In the comments, what are your rhythms as you start a new year? When and how do you remember best? I’d love to hear your thoughts: click here to comment.

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  1. Reading this felt so good Dan. Thank you for articulating so well the fears and doubts we all encounter in our daily lives. How quickly we make resolutions, promises, and grandiose hopes that this year will be different, better, and what we’ve been hoping for, only to skip over remembering what was. I had chalked 2013 down as a pretty horrible year, riddled with heartache and failure and was ready to put it in the past and forget about it. It wasn’t till I sat down with Lindy to look at the photo book she was creating that I was reminded of the goodness that existed in this year I was so ready to dispose of. She has been beautifully documenting our years of marriage, vacations, and important events through photobooks that she pours get heart, soul, and time into. It’s been such a great way to reflect and celebrate. I’m so greatful for this rhythm she brings to our lives.
    Thanks again for the insight and wisdom Dan.

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