Monday, April 30, 2012


Why is it that we so often look back fondly on events that, while happening, were incredibly painful? I recently went on a backpacking trip with my very good friend Christopher. We mistakenly trekked a two-day hike in about seven hours, camped in a completely sketchy campground, all while toting 45 pound backpacks. We finished our trip tired, sore, mildly dehydrated, and completely worn out. During the many strenuous miles, we complained hard and thoroughly about how tired we were; how hungry we were; how much we wanted to find the lake and make camp; how much we missed our moms (sadly that is not a joke); how scared we were of coyotes; etc. Yet, even with so much pain inflicted, we're already fondly telling and retelling stories from our trip. We're planning our next trips as well, and still completely enthralled with backpacking. How did our mindset change from incredible discomfort to blissful reminiscing?

I think some of the joy comes from learning. Hindsight always brings such a sense of clarity that the moment itself never can. Looking back at our trip, there were a lot of learning moments. We discovered that waiting until dusk to make camp is not a good idea at all, packing way too many things that we really didn't need just served to weigh our bags down (there's a whole blog hiding in that point.) And perhaps most importantly, sleeping on a hill in a child-sized tent is something that I will absolutely never do again. (Actually I'm not sure why that happened at all...) Christopher and I came to grips with the fact that we are definitely NOT Bear Grylls, as much as we so dearly want to be. These lessons may not have been fun in the moment. In fact they were absolutely not fun. We woke up so incredibly sore and tired on our first morning that I honestly wasn't sure if I would ever walk correctly again, but now I can appreciate the small things that we learned. They will make us smarter and stronger backpackers on our future trips. Both of us are completely glad we went, and I wouldn't trade that trip for anything.

Another beautiful aspect of hindsight is the gift of separation; the ability to disassemble the experience and compartmentalize events into categories. I can look back at the fun times we had as a whole without having the physical burdens of hiking to accompany those joys. We can talk about finding and subsequently drinking out of a waterfall (okay it was more accurately a water trickle), the incredibly beautiful overlook we spent the afternoon at, talking for hours and hours about girls and music and life. Separating the pleasant from the unpleasant in the actual moment is difficult to say the least, but from hindsight's perspective, it can achieve deep clarity. The memories that we made will last forever, and the stories that we can tell are priceless. We enjoyed two beautiful days in God's nature, and they could never be replaced. The ability to hone in on those aspects of our trip is something so special about hindsight.

Here's the pivot point: how does hindsight help us in life? I was once of the persuasion that hindsight was merely for overly-optimistic people trying to ease the pain of their mistakes. You cannot change the past, and I saw no point in dwelling on things that I was not proud of. Looking back, that was an ignorant way of thinking. History, without examination and correction, is destined to repeat itself. If a race car driver is circumnavigating a track and goes through the first turn too fast, would he foolishly take the same turn at the same speed on his second lap? Of course not. Unless he was a terrible driver. Why then would we not examine the past and look for clues as to how to better prepare ourselves for the future in our own lives? Could we look at a mistake we've made, pinpoint the place where we deviated off-course, and prevent it from happening in the future? Absolutely. There is not doubt in my mind.It is obviously easier said than done; as are most things. Something that I tell people when they ask for advice on the guitar or with writing is this: make new mistakes. It sounds like a negative piece of advice at first, but it makes sense if you think about it. In making new mistakes, we learn new ways of combating the struggles that come our way; learn to be stronger in areas that we repeatedly fail in. Notice that the advice is not make new mistakes while still making old ones. The idea is to constantly grow and learn. It gives  me the mental image of laying a rail road track. You turn behind you, lay a cross tie and a portion of track, turn back around and move forward then repeat.

Life is a constantly-moving journey, and our pace must be slow when we're learning new things. Looking back on situations is necessary to see how far we've come. And just like Christopher and I looked back on our painful trip, we can also isolate the joyous moments and be glad that we experienced them. Hindsight can be a painful tool, but it it opens up a whole new world of learning if you control it well. Don't be afraid to look back and gain vital information for moving forward. It doesn't make you weak, it means that you're smart enough to use everything you can to succeed and thrive in the future.

Thank you all so much for taking a little time to read. You can follow me on Twitter at @matthewhillec, and my friend Christopher at @RobertMorley6. He is hilarious, poignant, and takes incredible pictures.

(By the way, this is where Christopher and I backpacked. It was beautiful.)


  1. Beautiful prose

  2. one thing i've learned in my life is that pain is always followed by beauty...not necessarily immediately following, but it comes. maybe it's the experience of pain that allows us to see the beauty in the first place. i don't know. i just know it never fails.

    1. I agree, and I've noticed the same thing. For me, it's just a constant reminder that God is in charge, and he love us enough to ease our pain.

    2. precisely. and, like Job, He loves us enough to allow the pain.