One of the most repeated and argued over notions during the years following 2008 with regards to the economic crises was the concept that the current administration was dealing with what the previous administration had left them (I promise you this is not a political article, just hang in there a few more sentences). The blue team had said something about them not creating the mess but trying to deal with what “The Other Ones” had created with their policies and legislation. The red team had said…well you know what? I don’t really remember. I usually tune out when stupid comments are being made.
The point is, is that we all know the frustration of being left a mess to clean up that was made by somebody else. In the household it’s someone not taking a pen out of their pocket and now the whole load of laundry is sitting in the washer with a blue tint to it. In the military it’s someone not cleaning the rifle that gets turned over for duty and having it jam when a firefight breaks out. In the office it’s a lazy employee known for mediocre work that is tasked on a project that you are responsible for. It’s the babysitter waiting until the night before to let you know she has jury duty. It’s the new boyfriend dealing with his girl’s emotional damage left by the abusive ex-boyfriend. You can go on and on with the examples of other people’s actions (or better yet inactions) that then leaves us footing the bill. We are never going to be able to stop these external influences from affecting us of course, but what about the messes we leave ourselves?
“Well now hold on there. I don’t leave messes for myself. I always check my pockets before putting clothes in the laundry. I always clean the gun before turnover and I always give 110% and carry my own weight when working with others. Sure we have all made mistakes in the past but today I am grown and have learned from those mistakes.” This would be my initial reaction so don’t try and pretend like it isn’t yours. It’s interesting though if you think about the way you thought about yourself as you grew up. When I was 10 years old I protested like a revolutionary freedom fighter about how important it was for me to stay up and watch a late movie on a school night. When I was 16 working my first real job I would say “I’m not ten anymore, I have a job and a car now so why do I need a curfew?” When I was 21 I would talk about how dumb and immature I was in high school. When I was 26 I thought back on how stupid it was to get hammered at the bar and make a fool of myself at 21. At every age I had ever been I looked back on my younger self and thought how clueless and how naive I was, but in that moment I was at the peak of my intellectual growth. Only to find out years later how once again I was actually not as competent as I imagined myself.
It makes sense though when you break it down. Nobody wants to think negatively about themselves because it makes us feel bad. Just read my post titled “We are all a walking chemistry lab that forgot we are the ones wearing the labcoat.” Thinking bad makes us feel bad so why don’t we look at ourselves as being responsible and the best we have ever been so that we feel good? We all like feeling good. But if we acknowledge the fact that yes, we have always seen ourselves as naïve in the past from the present then it only goes to say that we will then see the same in ourselves at the future when reflecting upon the present. This leaves me to one conclusion. We are all dumb and naïve right now.
I like to think of there being multiple versions of ourselves (I used the word personalities in the title, but that was just for dramatic effect). In a literal sense, there are physically different versions of you throughout your life. You eat food which is made up of molecules that gets absorbed into your blood stream and you breathe oxygen in to allow the chemical reaction that burns those molecules for energy and to make new molecules, and proteins, and cells. Your skin cells multiply, grow and then die; flake off while being replaced by new ones. Your hair grows and gets cut and more is made again. Your skin gets cut open and bleeds and then you make more blood cells to replace those lost. You are physically not made up of what you were years before. In a psychological sense, there is a past version of you who you look back on with sympathy, knowing that he or she has no idea what he or she is doing. There is the present version of you which only lasts a fraction of a second technically but which to our perception is continuous our whole lives. The future version of you is really a mystery since they haven’t been created yet but it is the ‘present you’ who is that creator. The ‘future you’ must live with the choices ‘present you’ has made today. The ‘past you’ who thinks it’s a good idea to take that 3rd shot of the night; makes the ‘present you’ hung over the next day. The ‘present you’ who thought it was a good idea to join the army after watching a bunch of Rambo movies; then leaves the ‘future you’ running mile after mile in boot camp.
There is no way for us to know what the ‘future you’ will want. This is impossible and is definitely not what I am saying here. What I mean is that the ‘future you’ must live with your present choices so why not set them up good? Why not give them as many opportunities as you can? Convicts spending life behind bars regret being stuck in prison due to the mistakes made by their younger selves. Moments of passion leading to foolish actions by someone who thought they knew it all. Most people make foolish choices driven by ego or shame and the reluctance to say “I need help” or “I can’t do it by myself”. That same person some years later realizes that it’s okay to need someone, but by then it is almost always too late. Our reluctance to realize we may not be as developed and capable as we think we are often limits our opportunities in the future. It limits what we will have to work with when our present self gets there.
So since we know that some time down the road we are going to look back on today and realize that we didn’t have it all figured out then why don’t we just skip all that other stuff and do it right the first time? Instead of wishing for a time machine to go back and make the right decisions why don’t we just make the right decisions now? Sounds easy but I know how much harder it is to just ‘do it’. There are, however, ways to make sure that while in the moment we make good logical decisions instead of riding our emotional train to whatever station it takes us. We need to control our emotions. When we have disagreements with that coworker, instead of allowing our anger to drive us to more and more arguments, let’s just let that anger go and work together. Instead of running from a problem that we are too embarrassed to resolve, let’s just let that humiliation go and get it over with. Instead of coming up with excuses when we mess up, let’s just let it go and say we’re sorry. When we regulate the emotions that are driving us, by our awareness of the fact that we are young and naïve and not as perfect as we think we are, then we handle all situations better. This is how we set up our future selves with a world of opportunities. We have more people in our lives willing to help us. We have more experience to work past issues in the future. We have fewer messes for someone else to clean up.