The world is full of people trying to reclaim their youth with fast cars, miracle pills, hair plugs, and trophy wives. The question is why? Yes, I know about all the aches and pains of middle age. Believe me, I know. But that aside, why would anyone ever want to be that young and dumb again?
Wait, I bet I know what this is all about. It’s about resurrecting your passion for life. The blind faith and optimism of youth. The thrill of discovering things for the first time. The inspiration of unbridled imagination. The chance to return to a time before all your hopes and dreams were squashed by cold hard reality.
Okay, I can wrap my arms around that. The only problem is you can’t. Actually you can, but not that way. Not by looking back, putting your faith in miracles, or buying superficial things. That’s just not how reality works. In fact, I can tell you with 100% certainty that none of that stuff will work. It’ll just make you sad and depressed.
That’s because the problem isn’t external. It’s inside you. Sure, I can sort of point the way. It isn’t rocket science, you know. But it is hard work. And guess who gets to do all the heavy lifting? Not me, that’s for sure.
Let’s start with the truth. If you think you need to go back, that means you’re not happy with who you are or where life has taken you. It means things didn’t work out the way you expected or planned. Or maybe there were some choices you made that you’d do differently if you had a second chance.
Well, the only way to do that is a simple two-step process that anyone can do, but most don’t. It is simple, but it isn’t easy.
First, you’ve got to own your situation and everything that led up to it. You’ve got to make peace with the past. If you’re angry or harbor resentment against anyone else – your parents, your bosses, your spouse, your kids, the politicians, the 1% – fess up now. Face it. If you’re jealous of what others have that you don’t, same thing. Admit it and face how you feel.
That’s important because you’re going to have to let all of that go. No, I don’t want you to burry it or ignore it. I want you to face it and realize what a complete bunch of BS it all is. You’re just acting like a spoiled child who never grew up. You have no right to expect anything to turn out differently than it has because it was your life to make and this is what you made of it. You and nobody else.
The truth is that bad things happen to all of us, but happiness and fulfillment go to those who understand that, pick themselves up, dust themselves off, learn from their mistakes – that’s right, their mistakes – and try again. And again. And again.
Yes, I know it isn’t easy. I’ve been there myself. If you need help with that part, then get some. But until you own your situation, you simply can’t go forward and you certainly can’t go backward.
The second part of the process is quite a bit more straightforward and doesn’t really involve peeling any onions or shrinking your brain. The real reason you shouldn’t want to go back is because you’ve already sailed across those waters and burned the boats. That’s right, they’re gone. And it’s just as well. Why go back when you can go forward?
After all, you’re much smarter now. We all are. We learn from experience. We gain confidence from our successes, however small and seemingly inconsequential. And we gain wisdom and strength from our failures, however terrible and traumatic. You are not the same person you were, the person you seek to go back to.
The truth is you’re actually in much better shape to face the unknown, the uncertainties of life, than when you were young.
Now let’s talk about what can hold you back from going forward with renewed passion and vigor. The first thing is what we already talked about, all that bitterness and anger against others. The blame game. That’s why owning your situation and putting all that behind you is so critical. It will hold you back.
The second is fear. Fear of what? Most people don’t even know. They just find excuses not to take risks. That’s why you have to face your fear. Take a long hard look in the mirror and ask yourself, what’s the worst that can happen? Whatever answer you get, let me tell you, it isn’t worse than doing nothing.
Nothing’s worse than living a life full of regret and knowing you didn’t do everything you could do to change it. Trust me, you don’t want to get old that way. It only gets worse from here. That’s why doing nothing is the only thing to fear, the worst thing that can happen.
The last thing that can hold you back is that you have no idea what to do next or how to proceed.
That’s actually the good news. Join the club. Nobody knows the answer to that. Nobody ever does. Besides, isn’t that what you were looking for to begin with? You wanted to go back. Well, this is what it’s like to be young: lost, confused, insecure, unsure what path to take. Welcome to the fountain of youth.
The only difference is you’re smarter and wiser now. More comfortable in your own skin. And the Internet makes it so easy to search for whatever it is that turns you on and gets you excited. So follow your dreams. Find your passion. Happiness and fulfillment will follow. If not, at least you’ll live easier knowing you tried. It’s never too late.
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Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive and author of "Real Leaders Don't Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur." Learn more, contact Tobak or follow his new blog at stevetobak.com. Any opinions expressed are those of the columnist.