Holland Sentinel, Published Articles

My Take: Valuable lessons to be learned from the past

Originally Published in the Holland Sentinel By Thomas D. Mullens

Jan. 23, 2016 at 2:01 AM

Holland, Mich.

January is a time of cold weather, gray skies, frequent snow and taking down Christmas decorations. Originally, the month was named for “Janus,” the Roman god with two faces; one looking forward into the future and the other looking backward into the past. While we may be excited about the prospects of a new year, it may also be valuable to reflect on the past.

Though a quirk of social media I recently became acquainted with a young woman who lives in the Philippines. I had posted some observations on the site of a respected author and psychologist, and the next day I received a message from a 23-year-old woman who received her nursing degree at the University of Luzon, but cannot find work and is “doing absolutely nothing” with her life. She wrote: “When you were 23 years old, what exactly were you doing in your life? Did you ever feel lost? How did you know that being a therapist is the one truly for you? Looking back 20 years ago in your life, did you have any regrets? What lessons have you learned in your life that every 20-something should know?”

I had to admit that at 23, I was completely lost, too diet to lose weight quickly. I worked in a grocery store because I couldn’t find work in my field, and I had no real direction in my life. I also had to admit that I wouldn’t become a practicing therapist until my 40s. Yet she got me thinking, “What would have been helpful to know at 23?” What helpful advice could my 56-year-old self give my 23-year-old self, based on what I have learned so far? After some reflection, I decided that I would want 23-year-old Tom to know the following:

• Listen to your heart and give it equal importance to your head. If your heart is not fully into something, whether it’s a job or a relationship or romance; then it’s probably not right for you and you should consider an alternative.

• Life is short, so don’t miss it. I worked with a patient once who was still grieving the girlfriend who left him decades before and he spent his years mourning a life that could never be his. Our days go by faster than we could have possibly imagined in our 20s, so treasure them all.

• You will make all of your significant decisions based on incomplete information. Your life is not a chessboard, no matter how much we want it to be. When faced with making a difficult decision, we do the best that we can with the information available, but we cannot predict all of the possible results. So do your homework, consult your heart, say a prayer and then choose.

• Very few of your choices are permanent. If the path you have chosen is painful or not true to your heart, then choose another path. In my travels, I have met fewer than 10 people who knew what they wanted to do at 23 and then did it. Most of us take the twisting and frequently confusing path through our lives. Most likely you will choose several paths before you leave this planet, too.

• Change is inevitable. Some of it you will like and some of it you will not. We cannot change or control other people, either — so do everyone a favor and stop trying.

• There is no “one and only person for me.” This is a myth perpetuated by greeting card companies and writers of pop songs. You will be attracted to several people over the years, and many of them would be a good match for you.• Continue to be brave. Struggles and challenges are part of being on this planet, and so we will continue to have both good days and bad days. As Brene Brown stated in one of her books, bravery is something that we learn by practicing it every single day of our lives, and it never gets easier.

• You will have some regrets. A person with no regrets is a person who never tried anything new or different. However, all my decisions, the good ones and the bad ones, have led me to this place where I am now.Perhaps someday I will have the chance to reflect on the things that my 76-year-old self would want to share with my 56-year-old self.

— Thomas Mullens is a practicing counselor in Holland and can be reached through thomasmullenscounseling.com.