Intimidated by the Mistakes of the Past

On October 4, 2010, I made a choice to switch to a vegan diet due to health reasons and the recommendation of a dietician due to those reasons. It was a difficult choice, one that seemed almost impossible at the time.

On the first evening after the decision, I sat down to a final non-vegan supper with my family. As I ate the meal, I almost couldn’t imagine a diet without this stuff in it. No meat? No cheese? No milk? What good stuff would I eat?

I was intimidated by the mistakes of the past. I was so stuck on a set of personally damaging routines that I didn’t want to imagine life without them.

In January 2008, I hung up the phone after a phone conversation with my wife. On that phone conversation, I listened to my son repeatedly ask me when I was going to be home. I was on yet another work-related trip, you see. After I hung up the phone, I cried, because I felt like I was becoming the type of absent father I had always promised myself I wouldn’t become.

I knew I had to find another path in life, but the possibility of doing that scared me to my core. What would I do for income? Would I actually be good at being an increasingly important caregiver for my children? Would I have any self-respect without this job?

I was intimidated by the mistakes of the past. I was so stuck on a definition of what I should be professionally that I was damaging my relationship with my children, the one thing I promised myself I’d never do.

In April 2006, I stayed up through most of a very long night realizing that we were in a very, very deep financial hole. Simply put, we were spending more than we were bringing in and it was becoming unsustainable.

As I sat there, I tried to imagine a lifestyle where we didn’t spend as much as we were spending. I almost couldn’t conceive of it? Give up all of this stuff?

Again, I was intimidated by the mistakes of the past. I was so stuck on how my life had been for the past few years that I couldn’t bear to think of anything truly different from that pattern.

It is our routines and our ongoing mistakes that define us, in a way. Every one of us makes mistakes. The ones that repeat those mistakes, even when they see that those moves are in deep error, are the ones that wind up in deep trouble.

Most of the emails I receive from readers boil down to this very thing. They’re trapped by the mistakes and patterns of their past. They’ve done things a certain way for a long time and now they’re learning that this certain way doesn’t work, but the thought of abandoning that path and trying another one seems scary. It seems impossible to some.

It’s not.

You can make the changes in your life that you need to make.

If someone with a 500 DVD collection and a 200 video game collection can change his spending habits to buy perhaps five of either one in a year, then you can change your life.

If someone who practically couldn’t get through a meal without a healthy dose of meat and/or cheese can become vegan, you can make a big change in your life, too.

Yes, it’s hard. There is no real change in life that isn’t incredibly hard. We are all people of routines, whether we like it or not. Even those with a varied life do them within the context of routines.

Don’t be intimidated by the choices and mistakes of your past.

Just because you’ve always shopped for clothes at boutique shops doesn’t mean you can’t find a perfectly serviceable set of clothes at Goodwill.

Just because you’ve spent the last four years at a comfortable yet stressful job doesn’t mean you can’t quit and find something that doesn’t leave you eating antacids all day long.

Just because you’ve gained a lot of weight since college doesn’t mean you can’t practice some portion control, eat more vegetables, drink water, and start gently exercising via walks in the evening.

Just because you’ve bought five computer games a month for the past three years doesn’t mean you can’t spend your time actually playing these games instead of buying more of them.

Just because you’ve lost the person you thought was going to be the love of your life doesn’t mean you have to sit at home every single night waiting for nothing more than the next day to start.

Your past is your past. It’s full of mistakes. My past is full of a lot of them – the list above just scratches the surface of the idiotic things I’ve done and the idiotic things I continue to do.

Your past is not your present. Every moment, you have the opportunity to make a different choice. With every beverage you drink. With every meal you eat. With every moment you sit alone. With every time you consider a purchase. With every substance you consume. With every hour spent giving your energy and ideas to some soulless company that will spit you out at the first opportunity.

Change. Right now. And don’t look back.

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  1. Christine says:

    I absolutely loved this article. You are so very right. We get stuck in routines and often don’t realize that we have the capability to make positive changes in our lives.

    Thank you for your inspirational words!

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you, Trent! I needed that, especially this week. I have a serious case of the January blahs and I think fear is holding me back from something better.

    Onwards and upwards!

  3. Elaine Huckabay says:

    Perhaps the best blog article I have ever read, not just on this blog, but on all of the 25+ blogs I have read daily for the past 4-5 years.

  4. Michelle says:

    Is it being intimidated by mistakes of the past or being intimidated by the unknown of the future? I’m not initimiated by my past, but I can get complacent in it, because it’s known. I also don’t see the things from your past as mistakes, but choices. Eating meat was not necessarily a mistake, it was a choice. Focusing on your career was not a mistake, it was a choice. But then your values changed – health, family time – and you made new choices to reflect that. I think the only real “mistake” is never to evolve at all.

  5. Marsha says:

    Overspending to the point of a deep financial hole? Yeah, that’s a mistake for anybody.

    Eating meat? I don’t think that’s a mistake for everyone. If fact, I have to eat a high protein/high iron diet to maintain my health because of a hereditary illness. Red meat is good for me, and I like it. It would be a mistake for me to give it up.

  6. Todd says:

    Nice post Trent!

  7. cynthia says:

    what a great post. thanks for sharing.

  8. Lisa says:

    Great post Trent! I’ve actually been vegan for 8 years. I used to be overweight and unhealthy and now I am a size 4 and rarely ever get sick! It gets easier, I promise :) Good luck and congratulations on the big change.

  9. kjc says:

    Rather than “intimidated,” perhaps “controlled” would be a better choice.

  10. Amanda says:

    Can u share vegan recipes and $ saving tips?

    I’m vegan and most of your cheap summer meals were useless to me.

  11. mary m says:

    good one Trent.

  12. Greg says:

    Great post. The New Year is always a time to look forward. Unfortunately the baggage of the past often weighs us down. Negative self talk keeps us from reaching our full potential. Once we realize we can’t change the past I think we will succeed in the future. I think it is very important to develop an “I-Can” attitude.

    ps: I’ve been vegetarian for many years (only one in my family)

  13. Melissa says:

    Best post of yours I have seen. Love it!

  14. Squirrelers says:

    This is a really good post, Trent. Very wise words here, not just for personal finance, but applicable throughout life.

    The past is just that – past. Learn from it, but live for today and plan for the future. I’m a reflective person, and do relish great times and experiences from the past, but it’s wise to not be burdened by the opposite experiences. It’s a new year, and every day is a new day.

  15. Karla says:

    I second Amanda’s request – I’d like to eat more vegan meals (for health and $ savings reasons) but have difficulty finding recipes that look appealing and give a good balance of nutrients

  16. KarenB says:

    Great Post. My husband and I are mostly vegetarian now too and try to eat meals with lots of fruit and veg and not processed food. I would love to see some of the recipes your family makes now that you are vegan. We both come from meat and potato families and it is hard to change that mindset.
    Thanks for the reminder that you can’t change the past – only the present, with your eye on the future. Thanks for the boost!

  17. Karen says:

    Trent, this post should be read by everyone in the world! It is awesome and profound. You are fortunate to have learned at a young age that the only limitations we have in life are the ones we impose on ourselves… the barriers in our mind, if you will. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us; it is what you were meant to do. Regarding veganism, two appliances you may find helpful are the Spirooli (check out therawfoodworld.com) and a pressure cooker. We replaced our crock pot with a pressure cooker and love the change–plain old vegetables suddenly taste great without any added salt.

  18. joyce says:

    Trent, this is why we read your posts! You are a voice of reason in a harried, scary world. Thank you for your daily motivation. God bless you and your family.

  19. Kelly Hembree says:

    Thanks for this post Trent. I went to a vegan diet only on December 27th after reading about a woman who cured her ulcerative colitis by doing just that. I have severe ulcerative colitis (pancolitis) and my meds are super expensive and I felt bad 80% of the time. In only 11 days, I feel wonderful. I don’t want to sleep 12 hours at a time and I have had no symptoms from my U.C. Truly amazing, to say the least. I don’t miss a thing either!!! I am currently reading “The China Study” by Thomas M. Campbell II. You should check it out. I wish the best of luck to you and like the others, I hope that you post some vegan recipes.

  20. Jake says:

    Excellent post, Trent. Thank you so much for reminding us that staying in the rut for fear of the unknown or because of the burdens of the past is not a wise move.

    Awesome post!

  21. JJ says:

    Very nice, Trent!

    JJ

  22. Cynthia says:

    This post left me feeling energized and motivated to continue on a personal goal that I have been hesistant on. One choice at a time. Thank You!

  23. Monica says:

    Excellent post, Trent. Thank you!

  24. Vanessa says:

    I agree with #10kjc. I’m a bit confused by the use of “intimidated” in this context. But I do get the general point you were trying to make.

  25. Another Katie says:

    @Karla – I recommend you check out Veganomicon. I’m not even vegetarian, but I really like this cookbook. It has a variety of lentil, quinoa, chickpea, bean and tofu recipes, so you can get your needed protein. I checked it out from my local library twice before I got tired of having to return it and get on a wating list, so I made the decision to buy it. The recipes are tasty and the ingredients are generally easy to find. The authors have writen some other vegan cookbooks, including some baking books. I bet those ones are good too.

  26. Diane says:

    Good post! We all did and will continue to do “idiotic” things. So what? We are flawed human beings; we are not angels. We can only make the best decision at any given moment with the knowledge and understanding we have at that moment. Practice self compassion. Forgive yourself and move on. As long as you are committed to increasing your knowledge and being open to hear other points of view, you will evolve and make better decisions. I agree with Cynthia – One choice at a time.

    I also follow a plant based diet (Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman MD) due to health issues that would not resolve. A few excellent on-line resources for more mainstream plant based recipes are: the Fat Free Vegan blog, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine website (PCRM), PCRM’s – the Cancer Project website (think of it as cancer prevention). On the Cancer Project website, under resources is a informational booklet called the “Cancer Survivor’s Guide”. You can download it for free. Half of the book is a very good collection of recipes.

  27. Kathy says:

    Great article. I’m not ready to become a vegetarian/vegan, but I am looking to turn to a mostly plant based diet. It’s a slow process and I’m not going to go full boar into it because then I know I won’t stick with it.

    We are all creatures of habit. Changing habits is difficult, especially when you are older and set in your ways. But it can be done.

  28. eaufraiche says:

    this is your finest post, Trent, hands down!

    congrats on your vegan lifestyle. you’ve no doubt discovered the very powerful websites on vegan/health – dr mcdougall’s, dr esselstyn’s, dr campbell’s…. right? great forum community on dr mcdougall’s…!

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