Regret, Purpose and Connecting the Dots

December 15, 2021

Do you regret some of your past actions, decisions or experiences?

Maybe you made a fool of yourself at some point...said the wrong thing or you were too honest only to find out no one thinks like you. Maybe you loved and got hurt or took the “right” decision to discover it was anything but the right one. Or perhaps you hurt someone yourself...then picked the wrong career... Whatever it was, I am here to tell you today – reflect, don’t regret.

SteveJobs once said:
“You can only connect the dots looking back”.

When I first heard this in one of his speeches I wasn't impressed to say the least. I was frankly a little annoyed. "No kidding”! - I thought. It’s such an obvious statement and so not meaningful. How else can you connect the dots of your life but looking backwards? It’s logical!

The above was my mini internal rant. At the time, I didn't think anyone had the right to say something so cliché and I also didn't think Steve Jobs had the right to speak as if he was the “ultimate source of knowledge” just because he was instrumental in creating a successful product and company. My lack of understanding was apparent ... but not to me. Little did I know that it will all make sense very soon.

Allow me to tell you the story that made me change my perspective and see things clearly (... and differently).

What happened proved that it all, indeed, happens for a reason. We can only connect the dots looking back and sometimes, logic isn't your best advisor in that process.

I got home one night at around 1.00am after work. This was often my schedule at the time. I even had started going for “late night runs” at those odd hours - are neither mornings nor evenings. All this didn’t make me feel good but I was “successful” by the standards of the generation, society, my age and the industry I was in, so… that was that.

I went home this particular evening and got straight to bed. I couldn’t fall asleep soI lied with my eyes wide open, looking through the big, French windows of my tiny studio apartment at Lancaster Gate in London. I couldn’t decide if I was way too tired or feeling strangely energised so I just stood there. And that's when IT happened...

Without any conscious attempt to think, a flashback of memories appeared as a fast moving stream of dots in front of my mind’s eye. Distinct and clear, it was a process I had no control of. While I was seeing the movie of my life, I was able to think about separate things. In other words, it was an experience independent of my consciousness. I was afraid to move in fear I might spoil the moment. In fact, I remember thinking to myself “don’t move, you’ll interrupt it”. It was very physical and uncontrollable.

Desperately trying to catch up with the speed of all that was shown to me, I saw my past experiences and all lessons learnt linking together like a chain of inseparable pearls. Suddenly everything started making more than just perfect sense. An entire set of messy choices and happenings fell into the exact places they had to be! No exceptions. Seemingly distant and unrelated aspects glued to one another in harmony and for a purpose.

Just to give you an idea - my life has never been particularly ordered. At least that’s how it looks from the outside.

I was a kid who moved countries and schools without much of a pattern to that. Most travel birds I know actually had some sort of logic behind their relocations – my case wasn’t like that. Some were from diplomatic families moving from country to country studying in international school(s). Others were sent to a boarding school. Third wanted to experience cultures and learn languages.

I, on the other hand, had no such reasons. My parents simply had to move as they were looking for better jobs and a bit more income to support us. I had no particular ambitions to experience the world. All I knew was the neighbourhood I grew up in back in Bulgaria and I was fine with that little universe of mine that had its own hierarchy and rules.I studied to get good grades, looked forward to vacations and the biggest and most exciting things were happening within those boundaries.

Then we moved to Portugal. I got beaten at school. Learnt Portuguese with no intention of “expanding my horizons” but because it was a necessity. Stayed in class without being able to talk to anyone. My greatest joy was to go to the only café with a working computer in the small town we lived in and write e-mails to my friends back home.

Yet, that evening, in my bed I could see and feel all the lessons and meanings I had taken:

1/ Distance matters. It is difficult to maintain relationships and one has to work on that;
2/ The importance of being comfortable with yourself when you are the odd one out;
3/ The need and skills for adaptation;
4/ The experience of raw cultural differences made me realize how vital it is to DISrespect as well asto respect others;
5/ I also learnt to speak my mind and be my own supporter;
6/ To not differentiate between ages and hierarchies as I could see a child and a grown up often struggling the same way;
7/ As an outsider, I became an observer and evaluator, a hybrid between a child and a struggling grown up quickly.

Then we moved back to Bulgaria.
8/ betrayals and why people do them;
9/ the illusion of the concept ‘stability’ and ...
10/ the need to be and portray being comfortable with yourself– reinforced;
11/ the skill to be resilient and 12/ the habit of being ok alone – mastered;
13/ seeking approval from others faded away.

And we moved again – Hungary.
14/ the need to be free – adopted.
By that time I had developed 15/ courage and didn’t pay social opinion taxes;
16/ I became determined and began finding it difficult to let go if I wanted something.

Then another move.  
17/ Fell in love;
18/ My skills of being “ready” for anything vanished;
19/ Learnt what it means to belong to someone and something;
20/ Felt what it is like to have no control;
21/ Discovered sides of me I wasn’t familiar with.
22/ I lost myself completely.

And ... moved countries again. This time for him and myself.

23/ Started anew - my actual comfort zone by that time;
24/ Relationship endings;
25/ Emotional breakdowns while continuing to do everything I was supposed to (work, study, show up, etc.);
26/ Recognised some of my weakest points so I can improve them later.

That night in my bed, the movie in front of my eyes, lasting no more than 10 seconds, encapsulated all of the above and much more, making it meaningful and tied together. Around 1:00am I got a valuable revelation!

There was nothing unneeded in this journey. Not a single piece was useless or wrong. It also became clear  that the time it takes to learn a particular lesson was irrelevant. It didn't matter at all. A month, a year, seven or twelve - the lesson is still there and timed perfectly.

You can only connect the dots when you look back. Those snapshots I saw like a movie were breathtakingly profound. I wouldn’t have been where I am today without the past. Even if only one piece was missing - would it have been the same?

I shifted a little in my bed. I interrupted the magic stream and its light vanished just as quickly as it had appeared. The essence of this event, however, remained.

Every action, decision and detail in your past has it's purpose and importance.

Have faith, hope and trust what your heart tells you. (yes, that cliche, but from experience). It's easier said than done, I get that one-hundred-percent, but know that it will take you where you need to go.

Yours truly,

V.D.

 

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