We all want to become enlightened. The older we get, the more likely we are to remember our younger days with a sense of embarrassment . The warnings from our elders start to come true that one day you’ll look back and regret certain things you did before you knew better.
I’m no exception. I spent a great amount of my youth playing a character. Borrowing from Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels, and other wrestling bad guys who seemed to command respect by thumbing their nose at the squeaky clean heroes, I became someone I thought everyone wanted to see. In many ways, I was right. I turned heads and got a reaction with the outrageous things I said and did. Even as it happened, I was aware that my behaviour didn’t make me the protagonist in the movie of my life, but that was sort of the point. I was the bad guy and I loved every minute of it.
High school was more fun because of this approach and by the time I got to college, I was so deep into this manufactured persona that I unsure of who I even was anymore. My main goal was to be “in your face.” I stood by the fact that I didn’t back down and said what I felt needed to be said…even if it didn’t really need to be said and I didn’t really believe it. I head-butted walls, shattered relationships, and took my life into my own hands on an almost nightly basis – and I’m not just speaking metaphorically either.
As was bound to happen, life marched on. Friends grew up, passed away, moved, or just became distant memories. With each passing year, I moved further away from the trash-talking frat boy who hid behind a character in hopes of tricking others into liking him and started to become the person I am today. By doing so, though, I developed a self-awareness in hindsight. Actually, self-awareness might be the wrong word because I had become self-aware of a self I no longer was and the view when I looked back wasn’t a pretty sight.
That’s a tough pill to swallow when it comes. I reminisced on almost every aspect of my life from a new enlightened point of view and none of it was good. Suddenly the funny stories about people I insulted weren’t funny anymore. Ex-girlfriends I should have treated better, discarded friends I could have made more of an effort with, and others left behind all swirled through my head taking turns beating me for the sins I wilfully committed. I spent a long time coming to grips with the decisions I had made and why I made them. I spent a lot of time thinking about regret.
The irony was that, at this point, I thought I was done. This was it. I had reached the final level of self-evolution. Enlightened as I was, there was nowhere further to go. I had been a horrible person, needed to repent, and that was the end of the story.
It wasn’t though. As before, time moved ahead and more truths started to become apparent. I realized that I wasn’t the only one dealing with this seemingly unique regret. The fact that my elders warned me about these days should have been a red flag that this self-realization wasn’t just my own. Everyone goes through it in some form. It’s part of growing up and coming into your own as an adult. It’s the foundation of who you are and the basis for the person you become.
When I began to openly admit to some of my past indiscretions, I was surprised to see others who didn’t remember me the same way I did. As my own personal judge, jury, and executioner, I had over exaggerated how bad those memories were. Just as I had ignored all the bad things about my actions as they happened, I was ignoring all the good things about them now in retrospect.
That’s not to say that there aren’t people who I probably owe an apology to or shameful days I would rather not think about. However they don’t define me and aren’t the only moments from the years before I became oh so enlightened. They’re simply a part of who I am and a part of what made me who I’ve become.
I’m sure there are things I’m doing now that I’ll look back on in ten years and wince at. Ten years after that, I’m sure it will happen again and so on. In the end, though, without the mistakes we make, we wouldn’t know to avoid them later. Life is full of lessons and the most important ones are the ones you teach yourself. I know that now and I’m glad I do.
So next time you think about a day gone by that you wish you could undo, don’t beat yourself up for being human. Forgive yourself. Then, after that, thank yourself. You deserve it. The negatives of yesterday are a big part of what makes your positives of today.