If you want to move forward, start by looking back

Everyone gets stuck sometimes. Whether it’s in a creative rut or in your career or during a work project, there are many times when you just don’t seem to be going anywhere. No attempt to move forward or get out of that funk seems to be working, either, causing frustration and anxiety, which makes it even harder to get away from it all. It’s exhausting

Sit down, my friend, and take a breather. Stop trying so hard to hustle or work more hours or force creativity. What if I told you that the secret to moving forward...was by looking back?

Now, before I get ahead of myself here, let me share a disclaimer. I am not an advocate of living in the past or trying to relive the memories of days gone. I’m all for sentimentality, but I firmly believe that you belong in the present. 

That being said, I think there’s power in taking a moment to look back.


Look back at your work.

Maybe I’m just a complete English nerd, but I have kept every single major writing piece I’ve ever written for class since sixth grade housed in a sparkly purple binder. I have a box of journals dated as early as late elementary school and endless pages of fan fiction in my closet, and Word documents in properly formatted MLA style from college tucked away in neatly labeled folders on my MacBook. Even more so, I have nearly four years of blog posts published in my various corners of the blogosphere documenting my post-college transitions and experiences. (Please tell me I’m not the only one who has done this!)

This means I have nearly fifteen years of MY own content at my fingertips. It’s not all good--believe me. Some of it is crap. Some of it literally has me rolling on the floor laughing. Some of it makes me tear up and some of it makes me smile from ear to ear. 

From time to time, I find myself going back and reading something from this vault of gems. Inevitably, it leads me to read another and then another. No matter the quality or the topic, I always end up finding the experience fascinating. Because I get to see, right in front of my eyes, where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.

Sometimes I’m a little embarrassed, but most of time I’m impressed and even amazed. I think to myself, You know what, maybe I do know how to write. or Hey! This was actually really clever! I can’t believe I made that.

The act of going back and rereading my work, whether it was published or not, never fails to inspire and encourage me. Whether it’s re-experiencing a particularly painful moment that illustrates my progress or rereading my senior Capstone on Jane Austen, I’m reminded that my work mattered. I’m reminded that it still matters and that I already have everything I need to make it happen.

Maybe your “work” isn’t a box of notebooks and a series of blog posts but rather a portfolio of art or graphic design or a tape of old performances or a journal about your internship. Whatever it is, it may hold just the thing you need to propel forward. So go take a walk down memory lane for a bit.

Look back at what gave you that spark.

The other day I was feeling really overwhelmed and my mind was cluttered, so I decided to take a walk. I recently discovered my new “spot” in the park nearby: a big rock precipice on top of a hill that looks over the trail and a little pond. It’s a great place for me to dangle my feet and just sit and watch and write. I went straight there with my Moleskine in tow. 

These days, I have felt kind of stuck myself. I recognize that I’m very much in a season of transition (surprise surprise--when are we not?) and writing about it has been the best way for me to process it all. As I started writing in my spot, I began thinking about the times when I felt like I truly shined. Times like...

  • Being President and Vice President of Membership of Kappa Delta at Westminster
  • Presenting seminars and webinars in my former job
  • Performing in band and on-stage for musical
  • Sharing my experiencing with others who can benefit from what I’ve already been through
  • Interviewing others on video and audio

I’ve always known I enjoyed these things, but intentionally calling them forth and writing them down was enlightening. I recognize that leading, speaking, connecting with others, and utilizing mediums like audio and video need to be in my future. These are the things that give me a spark and fill me up.

Reminding yourself of what gives you that spark shows you what you need to incorporate more of in the future. Perhaps this is the direction you’ve needed all along! Sometimes we get so caught up in what we don’t know that we forget the wealth of things we do know. So what do you know and what have you done that you want to share or do more of?

I encourage you to spend a little time looking back, reflecting, and then using that energy to take that next step forward. Maybe you won’t know where you’re going, but at least you’ll be on your way. 

What have you done that, by looking back, can help you move forward? I’d love to hear!