Edwin Catmull has said, “Hindsight is not 20-20.” It’s a counterintuitive statement, but an accurate one as well. We tend to use our past experiences to guide our present decisions. It’s how the mind works. However, sometimes one experience, or a handful of them, can dictate the trajectory of our entire lives. When this happens hindsight becomes our enemy.
For starters, if we used a single negative experience to guide our decisions it’s very unlikely we’d try anything new. As children we don’t let these things bother as much. Infants and toddlers try over and over again to get something they want regardless of their initial failures.
However, as time passes this resilience is lost. We age and become more reserved, sometimes only trying something a single time and making the decision to never try it again because the results were not to our liking.
There’s a reason for all this. It only takes a child once to learn that a hot stove is something to be avoided, as it should. Except that not everything in life is out to burn us, and yet many of us live our lives as such. Trying anything new is usually difficult. However, that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.
Mark Twain said it eloquently when he stated:
We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it–and stop there lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again–and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.”
Hindsight has a way of dissuading us from taking chances. We make New Year’s resolutions in hopes of bettering ourselves, fail to accomplish these goals, and aim lower the following year. Eventually we devolve to a place where a single act has made us miss out on a plethora of experiences and opportunities.
The fault lies in taking a single experience, one act, and letting it control the course of our lives. A string of unhealthy romantic relationship makes us think that all men and women are bad. We’re denied a promotion and suddenly believe we aren’t any good at our jobs.
Hindsight is only as useful as the time and context through which it applies. Not all men and women are bad. Nor does being overlooked for a promotion indicate that you’re not any good at your job. It’s one result, at a singular moment. Period.
Sure we should learn from this single experience, try to find ways to ensure that next time our relationship succeeds, or we get that promotion, but never let a single moment control your whole life. Otherwise you risk missing out on some amazing opportunities.