Have you ever had a moment, sitting alone in your room or staring out the window, when you found yourself thinking about where you used to be in life compared to where you are now? Perhaps recognizing what you’ve accomplished or how different your present circumstances have become? This is a practice called reflection and it is a healthy and common experience. Engaging in conscious reflection can provide clarity as to where we are coming from and where we’ll go next. Contemplating who we were then versus who we are now is at the heart of our growth and evolution as human beings.
As the end of the school year draws near, students may be spending more time than usual reflecting on events that have transpired and how these events have affected their lives. What growth has occurred and has it resulted in positive outcomes? Students might ask themselves, “Am I happy with who I am and where I am now compared to a year ago? Two years ago? Who am I now versus then?” These are the big questions and the answers can be complex. They’re worth exploring, however, due to the wealth of information and guidance they can provide. Although it’s wise not to dwell too much on the past, our stories can reveal a lot about where we’ve come from and how we’ve chosen to invest our time. These choices create the outcomes that we see in the present day. This is the basis for the Then and Now inquiry.
High school is a unique time in one’s life regarding the ratio of change to length of time, so much can happen in a fairly short period. With the constant social interactions, engagements, and activities there are many opportunities for alterations in personal affairs and circumstances. Let’s explore what these alterations might be as well as some suggestions on how to navigate your way through the wild ride from then to now.
Cha.. Cha.. Cha.. Changes!
High school can feel like one big whirlwind. Everything moves so fast! There is significant growth, development, and progress that is occurring in all facets of life: personally, emotionally, socially, and intellectually. Friendships, relationships, and home life can be tumultuous. It’s exciting, exhilarating, and terrifying all at once. It is not uncommon to look back at when you were a freshman and barely recognize yourself. Which is fairly impressive considering it’s only the difference of a few years or less.
An appropriate word to describe the high school years might be, “dense.” A lot of change is crammed into this four-year span! Not only is it a transformational time in your body; moving into adolescence, growing and developing physically, but also transitory in the understanding of yourself and how you fit (or don’t) into your surroundings. It is, in fact, often the attempt to find your place and to “fit in” somewhere that results in the frequent and numerous adjustments that occur in high school. It can be a struggle trying to figure it out. These adjustments can occur over any span of time, even a single month, or week.
Everything can change overnight in high school. What is it specifically is changing? Your preferences, interests, likes/dislikes, social groups, comprehension, beliefs, and how you choose to spend your time. You may stop and realize that your life and who you spend it with looked completely different just a few months ago. This is the nature of the formative years, you are quite literally “forming” and re-forming who you are.
Turn and Face the Strange
This kind of re-formation can be unsettling, as your experience may seem foreign and new- fangled. It’s not uncommon to feel uncomfortable through these adjustment periods. When you get a glimpse from then to now while in high school, you will be observing, to some degree, your transition from childhood to (semi) adulthood. As you approach new and strange territory there might be an element of fear or even grief involved. Entering high school can often feel like the end of childhood and this ending can be experienced as a loss. As enticing as some of the new found freedoms and events might be, you may look back longingly at when you were younger. There can be a grieving process for the times when things may have felt simpler. Suddenly, everything is shifting and complicated. One of the reasons anxiety is commonly experienced among teens is because of the extensive and intense changes that are occurring. How we deal with these can greatly affect our transitory years. A certain level of anxiety and stress is normal in any adjustment period. It’s important, however, to monitor the degree to which it’s affecting your life and talk to someone about it if it has reached a point of concern.
Time May Change Me, But I Can’t Trace Time
“It is not possible to go forward while looking back.”
–Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
If reflection is glancing back over your shoulder at the past, then regret would be turning, staring, and remaining stuck on it. There is no future in the past, it’s done, which is why it’s not an advisable place to hang out for too long. Similarly, regret is rarely a beneficial investment of time and energy. There is a difference, however, between regret and constructive consideration of how our past actions created our current circumstances. There is something to be said for looking back and recognizing choices and actions that you’d prefer not to repeat because they did not produce a desired outcome.
This acknowledgment is very different than dwelling and anguishing over choices already made. It’s also important to note that everything that has occurred and how it has transpired can’t be completely figured out no matter how much mental dissecting we do. Lost friendships, poor decisions, failed attempts, cannot always be solved. Sometimes we just need to let go, move on, and resolve to choose differently next time. Yet be wary of being too critical of yourself if you’re not able to let go so easily. Learning to live without regret but rather live, learn, and move forward is a life long process. You can choose to begin now, or at least give it some effort. On a more positive note, your reflections may bring feelings of gratitude and accomplishment. Maybe you love exactly where you are, wouldn’t change a thing, and want to keep going in the same direction. Fantastic! Well done. It’s not always easy or common to feel that we’ve gotten it “right.” It’s important to give ourselves credit when we do.
Overall, the key point to remember is that the only constant is change. Essentially, we’re always moving from then to now. Nothing in life is permanent; impermanence is the nature of life. Which is a wonderful thing because it means there is always HOPE for something better. So, yes, see where you’ve come from, but know that where you’ve been does not have to determine where you can go. Every single day, every moment, is an opportunity to do and act differently. If a recollection of then creates a feeling of dissatisfaction, know that you are free to change at any time in the now. The future awaits you and nothing you have done or haven’t done can limit your potential. As it’s often said, seize the moment; it’s always starting right now. Nothing can define you, not poor decisions or opportunities missed, because new decisions can always be made and new opportunities taken. Move onward to them! Whether it’s going onto college or into your sophomore year, it’s up to you who you will be now. Embrace the excitement of the possibilities and potential! Revel in your past, marvel at its beauty, the good and the bad, then look forward and get excited for the future and how you will create the greatest version of your life, your world, and yourself now.
Whitney Walker is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with extensive experience working with adults, teens, and children of all ages. She holds an MA in Counseling Psychology… View full profile