There’s a loving couple I know. They’ve been married for decades, have kids and rarely argue. Occasionally though, they do get into arguments — the wife getting angry at the husband for whatever reason and the argument intensifies and tempers flare, the wife usually brings up the past and all the regrets it holds. She talks of how things would’ve been different had her husband listened to her advice, of how things used to be, of how different decisions could’ve been made.
Listening to her, I start to realize a problem that most of us have. We dwell too often on the past, and focus on the what if’s and if only’s instead of our future and the possibilities that it holds. We talk about the past because it’s easy; it’s certain, unlike our future.
That’s where we often get stuck. We’re so lost in the failures of our past that we forget that new opportunities lie only within the present.
We can’t change the past; the past will always be just that — the past.
There’s a story about a Taiwanese-Japanese entrepreneur who made it during World War II. He had quite an eye for business; everything he invested in returned profits. Months after months, he expanded his businesses and eventually even landed a deal with the Japanese government to start manufacturing engine parts.
The future was optimistic. Until one day, he was arrested. Upon noticing missing inventory at one of his factories, he went to the police to ask for help. The police blamed him and arrested him and put him in a military prison where he was starved and tortured for 45 days.
By the time he had finally been released, the war had ended and his businesses destroyed.
He started over anyways, this time investing in real estate. He found success again and before long, decided to expand into the food industry. He started selling sea salt by evaporating sea water he’d pay the neighborhood kids to collect for him.
Business expanded as usually and the future was looking bright, until he was arrested again. The American soldiers stationed in Japan at the time had arrested him on the charge of tax evasion for money he had been paying kids to collect sea water for him. Despite not being found guilty yet, he was still held in prison, this time for years. By the time he was released and all charges had been dropped, he had already lost everything he once owned.
He moved on to start a bank; the bank failed. Business after business were created but all of them met with the same result: failure.
Most people at this point in his circumstances would have already given up. They would’ve chalked it up to a series of unfortunate events and convince themselves that they wont be able to succeed and spend the rest of their lives looking back, full of regrets wishing they had done something differently.
But this man didn’t. He refused to stay in the past. He persisted despite all his failures. Eventually in 1958, he found success again as the founder of Nissan Food Products Co., Ltd.
He’s known as the inventor of instant noodles, instant ramen, and cup noodles. His name? Momofuku Ando.
Imagine for a moment — what would’ve happened had Momofuku Ando focused on his past instead of the present and the future? Had he been stuck on any of his past failures, he would’ve never succeeded. The Nissan food company, instant noodles and all its variations may very well never have existed today.
It’s important to learn from our past mistakes — the experience and knowledge helps us overcome new obstacles, but it’s more important to know when to let go and stop focusing on the regrets of the past.
“It took 48 years of my life for me to come up with the idea of instant noodles. Each and every event in the past is connected to the present by invisible threads.” — Momofuku Ando
Don’t be blinded by the past; focus on the future and its opportunities.