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Welcome to this Navigate the Chaos blog post. To hire Michael for a keynote speech, workshop, or presentation be sure to visit the Contact page. You can also purchase a copy of the latest Navigate the Chaos collection and download the Google calendar for free.

How often does yesterday hold you back from tomorrow?

Today is October 13 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often does yesterday hold you back from tomorrow?” Author Steve Maraboli writes in Life, the Truth, and Being Free “Forget yesterday - it has already forgotten you.” But can you? Those who navigate the chaos often learn to let go of yesterday as they do not want anything to interfere with their present moment.

Charles F. Kettering was a prominent inventor and the head of research at General Motors for more than twenty-five years. In 1961 a collection of speeches by Kettering was published under the title “Prophet of Progress.” He spoke at a luncheon in his honor on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his development of the electric self-starter for automobiles and noted: “I have said I was pretty sure that man came from the crab family because we back into everything. We don’t go straight forward at all. I think it is time we turned around and faced the future with our backs to history. You can’t have a better tomorrow if you are thinking about yesterday all the time. If you want to back into history far enough to get some bearings, that is perfectly all right.”

Kettering’s comment ‘you can’t have a better tomorrow if you are thinking about yesterday all the time’ reminds me of the observation by author Robert H. Schuller “Always look at what you have left. Never look at what you have lost.” Today’s reflection challenges you to think about how often you think about yesterday today. If you catch yourself obsessing over yesterday, why do you think that is? What about yesterday are you holding onto? Why are you unable to let go?

Remind yourself of Newton’s Third Law of Motion that states “that for every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction. In other words, if object A exerts a force on object B, then object B also exerts an equal and opposite force on object A.” Thus, if you allow yesterday (A) to get in the way of today (B), then today (B) will naturally push back against yesterday (A). Such tension will only prevent you from making the necessary progress required to navigate the chaos.

In a study presented at the Society of Behavioral Medicine 32nd Annual Meeting and Scientific Sessions (April 30, 2011), Amy Owen, Ph.D, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, found people living with HIV who truly forgave someone who had hurt them in the past showed positive changes in their immune status. When we are in a state of unforgiveness, we hold on to the negative emotions that adversely affect the healing process.

Dr. Katherine Piderman, Ph.D., staff chaplain at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota wrote, “Forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. The act that hurt or offended you may always remain a part of your life, but forgiveness can lessen its grip on you and help you focus on other, positive parts of your life.” As Irish poet Oscar Wilde said, “Always forgive your enemies—nothing annoys them so much.”

One person who did not hold on to his yesterday was Shon Hopwood. He was a high school basketball standout, earning himself a scholarship to Midland University in Fremont, Nebraska. After Hopwood realized he was a mediocre talent in basketball, he became disillusioned and did not go to classes. After leaving school, Hopwood joined the United States Navy. He was stationed in the Persian Gulf. While in the Navy, Hopwood guarded warships with shoulder-mounted Stinger missiles. He almost died from acute pancreatitis in a Bahrain hospital, which prompted his discharge from the Navy.

Hopwood pled guilty on October 28, 1998, to robbing several banks in Nebraska. United States District Judge Richard G. Kopf sentenced Hopwood to 12 years, three months in prison followed by three years of supervised release. A 60 Minutes profile on Hopwood in 2017 told the story of how he discovered he had a brilliant mind for the law when he was serving time for armed bank robbery. He worked in the law library in prison and in an act of self-presentation to see if he could help his own case, Hopwood started studying the law.

While he never helped his own case, he did assist other prisoners. Hopwood would go on to be one of the most successful jailhouse lawyers ever—having had one of his cases argued before the U.S. Supreme Court while serving a 12-year sentence for armed bank robbery. Upon being released from prison, he worked full-time while finishing his undergraduate degree. He then got accepted into law school and built a resume as a legal scholar that includes being published in top law journals. He would eventually marry, start a family and in a tale of redemption as improbable as they come, landed a job teaching at Georgetown University’s School of Law. Hopwood could have easily let his yesterday get in the way of his tomorrow. Instead, he choose to move forward and learned to navigate the chaos with his yesterdays all but a memory.

  • How often does yesterday hold you back from tomorrow?

  • Are you more afraid of letting go of yesterday or the unknown of tomorrow?

  • Why are you denying yourself the ability to see the potential in tomorrow?

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