Are you standing in your future or in your past?

Are you standing in your future or in your past?

In 1899 Charles H. Duel, then Director of the U.S. Patent Office, said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

In 1895, Lord Kelvin, who was President of the Royal Society, said, “Heavier than air flying machines are impossible.”

In 1905, Grover Cleveland, then President of the United States, said, “Sensible and responsible women do not want to vote.”

In 1943, Thomas Watson, then Chairman of IBM, said, “There is a world market for about five computers.

We all say and think things every day that we sincerely believe to be true, even though they are not true at all.

When we think or say positive things, it could be motivating. Even though sometimes it could cause us to underestimate what it takes to turn these thoughts to reality. However, when we think or say negative things, it often limits our view of what is possible, and therefore, it disempowers us and kills endless great ideas and possibilities.

Our thoughts are not objective. We see things and form views based on our preconceived notions. We don’t believe or disbelieve what we see. We actually see and don’t see what we believe or disbelieve.

We seem to already know how good or bad the future is going to be, even though the future hasn’t happened yet.

For example, when people start a new project, I often hear them say things like “This is going to be hard” or “We can’t do it this way” or “It will never work here.”

These are all valid perspectives, but they are not facts or truths. And, if we get too attached to them, they often become self-fulfilling prophecies.

It’s as if we are driving toward our future, but without realizing it, we are looking into our rearview mirror. So, everything we see that seems to be in front of us is actually behind us. We think we are objectively working on our future, but we are actually stuck in our past. And, when the same type of issues that we incurred in the past keep reoccurring in similar ways, we blame others or the circumstances. We believe that “This is just the way it is” or “this is as good as it gets.”

If we were actually driving our car on the highway and we realized we were looking at our rearview mirror, rather than the road in front of us, we would immediately shift our view.

Could we do the same in real life?

If we stand in our future, without being distracted by our past, we could think, strategize, plan and navigate more freely and effectively toward our objectives and commitments. We would probably also avoid many of the hurdles and obstacles that impede our progress.

When giving advice to others who are dealing with a challenging situation, I often hear people say things like “Forget the past, discard it, pretend like it didn’t happen…“. I find that advice, both silly and unnecessary. First, it is impossible to forget our past, especially when we have memorable traumatic events in it. Second, it isn’t necessary to forget past events in order to move forward with freedom and confidence.

We all have the ability to proactively stand in our future while letting our past be, and leaving it alone. Unfortunately, most people tend to live in the opposite way – they stay fixated in their past and leave their future alone.

When people are stuck in their past, they tend to focus on the obstacles and reasons why things can’t be done or why something won’t work. When you try and enroll them in new ideas and possibilities, they often respond with “Yes, but… we can’t do this because… And, they usually refer to the people who are initiating new possibilities as naïve and/or unrealistic.

But people who stand in the future tend to be more optimistic and confident. I was coaching a group of managers from two functions in a well-known technology company who were working on improving their role definition and collaboration.  The dialogue quickly became extremely lively and flowing with ideas. People built continuously on each others’ thoughts and ideas by saying, “Yes and…we could also do this and that.” This is a typical dynamic when people stand in the future.

We don’t have to forget or discard our past in order to become rooted in our future. In fact, we should always honor, respect, and learn from past lessons. But we shouldn’t cross the line and become too attached to our past, it will limit our ability to think, create, and fulfill great things in our future.


Founder and President of Quantum Performance Inc., a management consulting firm specializing in generating total alignment and engagement in organizations.

His work has encompassed a broad range of industries including banking, telecommunications, manufacturing, entertainment, real estate, retail, startups and non-profits.

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