Burning The Past (Literally)

by Rob Stam

The first half of 2017 was a bit monumental for my wife and me as it finally brought closure to the financial disaster we (I, if I’m being honest) created in the early 2000’s. I’m pretty transparent about my failures, but I do leave out some details. One topic I don’t write about often is how the IRS has held a signifiant lien over my head for the last 12 years. That lien meant no bank would loan us money. If my income crossed a certain threshold they would take it, or if I had assets of signifiant worth they would take those as well. In a nutshell, we have been financially handicapped for over a decade.

I won’t go into how I got there, who I want to blame for it, or the dozens of things along the way I wish I would have done differently. All I’m going to focus on is that it’s over.

As I write this at 7 a.m. on a Saturday, a group of friends are two hours away from helping us move. We bought a house last month, and this will be the first time we’ve owned a home since our pre-bankruptcy years. As we were packing to move over the last few weeks, I knew there were multiple boxes and plastic tubs in our storage room full of documents that would not be going with us. They were filled with nearly 15 years of paperwork that I had saved in case I had to reference back to any of it: Tax returns, mortgage documents from dozens of investment properties, lawsuits, settlements, financial records, etc.

We burned them all. We burned the mother loving hell out of them. And it felt awesome.

Why should you care? What does that have to do with you?

Because you—like me and everyone else—no matter how positive and optimistic we are, spend way too much time thinking about the one thing in our lives that we have the least amount of control over: our past.

At times I have found myself nearly paralyzed with regret and resentment over those years—unable to think clearly about the future, let alone do something about it today. Can you relate? Regardless of the events of your past—whether it’s been a breeze compared to mine or makes mine look like a joy ride—you need to learn to leave it where it belongs: in the past. The only thing to hang on to is wisdom you gained through your experiences.

Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” Your past helps you discover patterns about who you are—what circumstances shaped you, what people influenced you, how you like to spend your time, what you’re gifted at, what you need to avoid, etc. The value of the past is that it shows you how you got to where you are today. But that value is minimized every time you think about how you wish you could go back and change it instead of thinking about what you can do with it today.

As I scanned the content of those papers while dropping them on the flames, some made me want to cry, some made me angry, and some made me laugh. But they all represented moments and people that formed me into who I am today. And when the fire went out, all that was left was me and a pile of ashes. And that’s a perfect picture of how it should be. I am who I am. What was is in the past. And now I can do something with today.

What from your past do you need to turn into ashes so you can stand free of it, ready to move forward?