On Nostalgia…

It’s no secret… we have the tendency to live either in the past or the future, seldom in the present. Everyone reminds us constantly that we should enjoy the current moment, or at least be mindful of it. Many of our books and movies point to the same message. We nod and agree, then we go back to re-imagining how good it was and envisioning how good it’s going to be.

We miss old friends, and search for new ones. We reminisce about the days when we were younger, and tell ourselves they were much better days.

As I inch towards the end of my 20s, more and more people are getting back in touch. People I once knew and lost touch with are trying to form a connection back to me, and I tend to welcome them back with open arms and a question: “why now?” Often, they are armed with a question in response: “what happened?”

Life is what happens when you’re busy reflecting on the past and making plans for the future.

Why are we nostalgic, and why does this feeling increase as we age?

Have you ever agreed to go for a coffee with an old friend, and found yourself sitting awkwardly with a complete stranger?

How can we miss people that don’t exist anymore?

One theory is: we don’t. We look on the past and assume our nostalgia is being triggered for love of someone. The girl we spent every waking moment with throughout junior high school. The guy who left funny notes in our locker. The teacher who helped us finally see the light. The kids we split a car with at prom. Perhaps we are completely missing the point. The nostalgia is triggered for love of who we were in those moments. That is what we miss most.

Yes, other people were often a significant part of who we were. After all, show me who your friends are and I’ll show you who you are. But reconnecting with these people most likely won’t fill the void or rekindle the fire of a past moment… only you can do that by re-igniting the energy that stemmed from you at that moment.

How we feel at any moment is extremely subjective. A lot of the feeling is triggered by what’s inside us, irrespective of what’s going on outside. Nostalgia is an admission that something about us has changed significantly, and it’s something we cherished deeply. Perhaps that’s what we should reconnect with.

Nostalgia is like a warning sign that we are falling out of touch with ourselves. This does not mean we should not get back in touch with others, but we certainly should not assume that they can help us rekindle the flame inside us. Only we can do that.

Another theory is that we tend to look favourably on the past with rose-tinted glasses, and no longer remember the entire picture. Have you ever experienced the phenomenon of looking at an old photo and thinking “oh! I was so much better looking then!” only to recall that, on the very same day that photo was taken, you said the same thing about an even older photo? We don’t tend to see the beauty in present moments. Our view is often clouded by worries and anxieties. However, when we look back on the past, we filter out the things that went wrong. We don’t remember that we were heartbroken when we took that photo with a beaming smile. We don’t remember that we had just done badly on an exam. We only remember what we want to remember.

And so… we are nostalgic.

The phenomenon of selective memory is arguably to blame for our conviction that the traffic is so much worse now than five years ago. This is the privilege of retrospect.

Five years from today, given more days by God’s grace, you will look back on today with nostalgia. You wouldn’t believe the number of times an old Facebook post that I wrote gave me a future wake up call and reminded me of what I always knew: that the present will inevitably become the past, and that I will miss it fiercely. If this is the truth… why not miss today… today? Make the most of it.

You only have the moment for a moment.

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Selective Memory…

Have you ever gotten back in touch with someone who, like a blast from the past, triggers a chain reaction of emotions? I think we can probably all relate to that.

Have you ever been unable to specifically put your finger on what actually happened? How did you meet this person? Where did you go? What did you talk about? How did you part ways? You recall the feeling, but not the occurrences.

The world always goes around full circle for me. Having lived a relatively international life, I would expect the opposite: that what (and who) goes around is unlikely to come back around. Contrary to my expectation, the world really is a very small place. While this is oftentimes an amazing realization, what really stumps me is the fact that my memory fails me so often.

In grade 11, as my parents loaded the car to go to the airport once again, I hugged my friends goodbye one at a time and told them that I loved them and would keep in touch. My parents, witnessing my distress, reminded me that it was the same drama last time… I would cry for a few days in the new and foreign place, and then I would get over it. My best friend’s dad at the time raised his finger in the air and, chuckling, noted: “Don’t worry, child. You will have a lot of trouble remembering all that has come to pass in your life. You might develop some issues (ya think???) but this is how our minds protect us.”

I’d like to say he was wrong because I remember what he said that day… but he was quite right.

I’ve come to the realization that memory really is inherently selective. Strings of emotion may survive the tide of time, but the details are blurred. How can we even say that what we believe happened, really happened?

This is not a fun topic for most people to explore. All of us want to be able to trust our memories. All of us want to believe that we at least know the full truth of our own lives, even if we have insufficient knowledge of the truths of the world. But, do we?

Human beings like being able to put things into a context; we like telling stories. We like categorizing segments of our lives… some choose time based categories (“when I was 5”), others choose phase based categories (“when I was into punk rock”), and others choose place based categories (“when I was in New York”). Whatever categorization strategy you use, you are indulging in an inherent human appreciation for storytelling. I suppose the root of this is that we recognize that memory holds the meaning of our lives… or, does it?

Have you ever told a story of something that happened when you were younger, only to be told by your mom that it wasn’t how it happened at all? Are you convinced you wore a pink dress to prom, but your mom insists it was white? Behold… the wonder of not one, but two, selective memories.

How do we know what really happened? Did anything really happen, or is the collective human memory nothing more than a jigsaw puzzle of fabrications desperate to fit into the pattern?

Perhaps the answers to my questions will never truly be known. If memory is indeed so selective that years blur into one consistent emotion, then how can anyone claim to be objective? We can’t. However, I do believe it’s important for us to be aware of our historic biases and selections when we are trying to map out a truth. This opens up so many doors to the possibility that everything we know, and everything we are, can be challenged. If we accept this, we embark on the path to enlightenment – I think! I’ll let you know when, and if, I ever figure it out.

In the meantime, join me in an experiment, and write a story to an old friend or family member about a meaningful time, at least 5 years ago, when they were present. Ask them to write the same story for you, including as much detail as possible. Compare.

Do the stories match?

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Communication…

As a teenager, I had a surprising fascination with the art of communication. At 14 years old, I was already reading books about body language, the hand shake, and active listening. I was especially interested in how meaning varies across cultures. The same gesture or mannerism that would be considered good behaviour in one culture may signify something rude or obnoxious in another. What a big, big world.

Over time, I’ve come to realize that my own body language, handshake, gestures, mannerisms, and listening skills have varied depending on what I was personally going through. I no longer believe that I can follow a formula in a book because you can’t fake any of this… people can always tell. This is why you might meet someone who is sharp and has perfect body language, yet your gut tells you not to trust them. Even if their intentions are good, the forced behaviour comes across as orchestrated and fake.

Instead, there has to be a balance between understanding how behaviours are perceived by a dominant culture, and adapting them in such a way that reflects your inner self authentically. This makes all the difference between “hey, you’re super easy to talk to!” and “hmmm… she’s nice but, I don’t know, there’s something not quite right about her…”

Be yourself.

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On Feminism…

The feminist path was the path least trodden for a very long time and, consequently, walking it was arguably a nightmare for the brave women and men who were fighting for gender equality right from the beginning. Today, there is still a significant plight that feminists have to endure internationally, but I think the barriers and obstacles are a little bit different.

For women, one cannot speak of lifestyle design and generating luck without speaking of feminism. For the men who love them, the struggle becomes more and more apparent with time, and it becomes a shared struggle for the sake of that love.

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On Intergenerational Blame…

“Kids today are spoiled by participation trophies!”

“Oh! Old people! They can never think outside the box!”

“Millennials and their avocado toast! Of course they can’t afford housing!”

“The Baby Boomers ruined the earth and the economy for us!”

STOP. Wait a minute. Fill your cup, put some liquor in it.

It is so easy to blame, but the root of blame is ignorance.

The only pathway to true understanding is conversation, research, and asking all the right questions. Blaming a group of people for something you don’t like only hinders the process of understanding what really caused the problem. Then, good luck solving it!

Newsflash: a generation consists of A LOT of people. Think about yourself for a moment. Which generation were you born into? How many of the stereotyped characteristics of that generation actually apply to you? Are you another highly predictable number?

Don’t tell me, let me guess… you’re different!

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On Habits of Successful People…

When you hear yourself complaining about what appears to be a slow rise to success, I recommend immediately googling “habits of successful people” and really listening to the messages being shared on blogs and vlogs that are available, quite literally, at your fingertips. Are you engaging in these behaviours, or the opposite?

Here are a few that have worked well for me:

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On Dementors…

Have you ever almost given up on an ambition of yours just before you finally succeeded? Why were you ready to give up? Who or what got in the way? What would you have missed out on if you had given up?

When aiming towards a goal, some of us are slow and steady, while others charge ahead and bulldoze through everything irrelevant. Both ways work, depending on your personality and risk tolerance. However, one thing we all have in common is facing distractors (or being distractors for others) along the way, especially in the final mile.

You’ve heard that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step; I am here to tell you that it also ends with a pessimist with his nose to the sky 9 times out of 10. Even when you ignore the distractors and move on past the finish line, they remain unconvinced.

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