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Personal Finance FAQ

Don’t Relive the Past. Change the Future.

History …
In other words, don’t set up residence here.

“Not only is my short term memory horrible, but so is my short term memory.”
–Bill Murray

One of my favorite books that I read when I was a young adult was The Guns of the South (#aff) by Harry Turtledove. It was about an alternative, fantasy history where time travelers brought AK-47s to the Confederate Army. I thought it was an interesting, speculative read, and also got me to read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain and Fatherland (#aff) by Robert Harris.

All of them had one theme in common – what would happen if history played out differently than it did?

My fascination with alternative histories started with my second semester military science class at West Point. My professor was talking about the Battle of Britain and said that, effectively, the Luftwaffe had broken the RAF, but Hitler was unwilling to support Goering’s call for a final raid, as it would have been the Luftwaffe’s last roll of the dice. Had they continued, the RAF would have been destroyed, and Germany could have prepared for a land invasion of Britain unmolested by air attacks.

I wondered what life would have been like had Britain fallen. I suspect at some point, people would have risen up and overthrown the Nazi government or that Hitler, ever the erratic military strategist, would have made mistakes in Russia and exposed his rear to U.S. attacks.

Regardless, I sometimes like to ponder what might have been in all sorts of scenarios. What if I had stayed in the military? What if I didn’t go to West Point? What if I stayed in corporate America?

It’s easy to dwell on turning points in our lives and think about what might have been had we made different decisions. Dwell too long on the decisions that didn’t turn out right, and we turn into Marlon Brando’s character Terry in On The Waterfront (#aff) with that famous declaration…

What does dwelling on the past achieve?

Very little.

The old cliché says that in order to understand where you’re going, you have to know where you came from. That’s true, but knowing yourself and regretting or reliving old decisions doesn’t do anything for you. You can’t change the past.

Instead, change what you can.

You can change the present. You can change the future.

Take small steps. One change at a time.

Save more.

Be intentional.

Know your priorities.

Value time more than you value money.

Start that entrepreneurial venture you’ve been thinking about.

Tell your family you love them.

Don’t wonder what might have been.

Be in wonder of what might be.

And make it happen.

By

Jason Hull, CFP®, was the co-founder of Broadtree Partners, a firm that acquires $1-5MM EBITDA companies. He also was the co-founder of open source search consultancy OpenSource Connections, a premier Solr and ElasticSearch firm. He and his wife FIREd (financial independence retire early) at 46 and 45, respectively. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and a MBA from the University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business.

You can read more about him in the About Page.

4 replies on “Don’t Relive the Past. Change the Future.”

One of my favorite sayings is that forgiving yourself is simply giving up all hopes of a better yesterday. Looking backwards is fine, but we have an irrational hope of improving the past. I find it hard to get over that instinct, so my workaround is to try to avoid thinking about the past too much.

A quote I sometimes say goes like this: “I wear my past like a hat upon my head, to shield my eyes towards the future, as I walk in the present.”

It is there to help in our understanding of our current surroundings, and the places we need to go.

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