The Glorious Unfolding: Taking a lesson from our younger selves

glorious unfolding

By Mark Schaefer

I recently had an experience that shook me up a bit. Maybe it will shake you too.

A Wall Street Journal column by Sue Shellenbarger got me thinking about how I have grown as a person and why. It was not all good.

The article looked at how young adults handled a confrontation with their teenage hopes and dreams when they gathered for their 10-year high-school reunion.

After viewing a video “message to my future self” recorded more than a decade ago, the class members discovered that their teenage selves had underestimated the confidence and patience needed to pursue their goals.

Many of the adults longed for a chance to re-capture their youthful enthusiasm and provide guidance to their younger selves. 

I wondered, if I could go back in time and give my younger self some advice, what would it be? 

The impact on me

I recently had a similar “blast from the past” experience. I came across a cache of videos of myself at work and at home from the mid-1980s when I was a young buck just beginning my career. The person I am now compared to then is markedly different, and not all for the better.

The bright, young 20-something me was so “full of piss and vinegar” as they say, ready to take on anything.

What I have realized is that between then and now, my personality has been more radically impacted by the negatives in my life than the positives.

It dawned on me that every setback, every tragedy, and each disappointment in my life pounded, pounded, pounded away at that glorious optimistic life unfolding before me …

  • The corrupt boss who made me realize I had to be less trusting.
  • The unfaithful, addict ex-wife who taught me that devotion and love can be a lie.
  • The unethical employee who inserted a permanent sense of paranoia in my business world.
  • The spinal cord injury that made me approach adventurous sporting activities more cautiously.

Until I saw these videos, I had no idea this had happened to me. All of this built up so slowly over many years and then in one hour of watching videos I had this epiphany that my life view has been permanently altered by the cumulative evil in my life. That doesn’t seem fair. Evil should not be winning.

Straight jackets

It’s kind of like when you walk into a company and they have so many HR policy constraints because every time an employee did something wrong, they create a new rule to make sure it never happens again. So now all future employees have to live in a corporate straight jacket built on every mistake of the past.

I realized I had created this straight jacket too.

I guess if I could go back and give my younger self advice it would be, “To be human is to suffer. This will happen to you too. Fight through it Mark and don’t let the suffering make you forget who you are.”

I want to emphasize that I have no regets at all about how I have lived my life. I love my life and am proud of who I am. I have made mistakes but everybody does and my mistakes have always made me a better person because I do grow and learn.

So, it is time to grow and learn once again because I have learned something new. I long for that feeling of boundless optimism I saw in my 24-year-old blue eyes. Can I possibly re-capture a piece of that again?

The Glorious Unfolding

That was supposed to be the end of the blog post until I overheard a song that my wife (the good one) was playing in the next room just as I was finishing this up. It is a song from Steven Curtis Chapman and here are the words that were coming from the next room:

Take a rest from the fight
Don’t try to figure it out
Just listen to what I’m whispering to your heart
‘Cause I know this is not
Anything like you thought
The story of your life was gonna be
And it feels like the end has started closing in on you
But it’s just not true
There’s so much of the story that’s still yet to unfold

And this is going to be a glorious unfolding
Just you wait and see and you will be amazed
You’ve just got to believe the story is so far from over
So hold on to every promise God has made to us
And watch this glorious unfolding.

You know, I think this experience is the start of my own Glorious Unfolding. I cannot let the bad stuff win. My path might be unclear but I am determined that the unfolding will begin.

My story is far from over. Maybe it is just beginning.

How about you?

Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration: This photo of me was taken this summer by my friend Matt Ridings

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