Every year about now, no matter how often I’ve read it or watched the various movie versions, A Christmas Carol renews my faith in how profoundly we can alter our future by what we set in motion today.
In his classic, published 171 years ago this week, Charles Dickens teaches us that no one is too far gone to make whatever changes are necessary to become the kind of person he is meant to be. As we watch Scrooge transform from a scraping, clawing, ruthless miser into a compassionate human being, we know that the same magnitude of change is possible for us, whatever our challenges might be. To be sure, Scrooge has help from some ghostly friends, but they can’t change him. He has to change himself. That’s the point. The good news for the rest of us is that we can do the same.
Fortunately, most of us aren’t as hopelessly lost as Scrooge was at the beginning of the story. But we all crave change. We all want to improve our job, our relationships, our health, our society, our bank account, or to accomplish whatever we find ourselves wishing we could do. We long to change our lives and our world for the better. But sometimes we don’t know how to get started.
That’s where A Christmas Carol can make a difference. The story shows us how to change simply by looking at where we’ve come from, where we are now, and most importantly, where we’ll end up if we don’t change. That’s the kind of jolt that can strike brain. I learned that the hard way.
The Gift of Hindsight
When I was in college, I decided I was going to become a writer. But for the next decade I barely wrote a thing. Then one afternoon, while I was sitting in an easy chair daydreaming, I had one of those life-changing revelations that takes a baseball bat to the side of your head:
Ten years ago, if I had decided to write just a single paragraph a day, every day, I would have completed three books by now.
I was stunned. In that pathetic moment I suddenly realized just how much time I had wasted without lifting a finger to pursue my dream of being a writer. I felt as if I were standing on the bank of a river watching ten years of my life float by without me. All because I hadn’t had enough sense to write even a single paragraph a day. What kind of idiot was I?
Before I could answer that, a new thought presented itself, like a sunbeam punching its way through a thundercloud:
You’re missing the point. This is a wake-up call, it’s not Judgment Day. At least not yet.
And that’s when I understood. Life isn’t about regretting the past, it’s about not regretting the future. If your life hasn’t been all you’ve wanted it to be to this point, then why not turn that hindsight into foresight, and unlock the key to a better future?
Hallelujah! I had been handed the secret of the universe. I felt as light as a feather, as giddy as a schoolboy. I was delighted, elated, overjoyed.
I was also terrified. What if I couldn’t change? What if I couldn’t muster even the minimal effort necessary to write just a little bit every day? I hadn’t done it in the past, so why would I think I could do it in the future?
Right on cue, my thoughts leaped ten years into that future, and it was as bleak as could be. I saw myself wringing my hands in frustration because I still hadn’t written a thing. I was miserable, wretched, a failure still tormented by regret, and ten years older in the bargain. And I knew that I would remain a failure until my dying day. I knew that I would struggle through life without the joy of accomplishment, without fulfillment, without happiness, without…
That did it. I’d had enough. I was a changed man. As surely as I knew my own name, I knew that I would never let such a future take place. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, I had looked upon the Ghost of Things Yet To Come, and it scared the daylights out of me. Like Scrooge on Christmas morning, I had been given a second chance, and I knew I would make the most of it. The next decade was going to see a very different Keith Ellis than the decade that had just passed.
And it did. I became a writer, then a published writer, then a best-selling writer, just as I had always hoped. But far more importantly, I learned one of the most important lessons of my life:
We are all wise in hindsight. The secret to making our dreams come true is to turn the gift of hindsight into foresight, and use our past to empower our future. If we begin doing today what we regret not having done yesterday, then we will set in motion a far more fulfilling tomorrow.
Just ask Scrooge.
If you have the urge to become a writer, you might want to check out these courses on writing, on lynda.com
Keith Ellis is a bestselling author, eLearning specialist, online training mentor, and management training consultant. He is the author of the bestselling thriller NO SECRETS, as well as THE MAGIC LAMP, the classic book about goal setting for people who hate setting goals, He serves as Head of Federal Training and eLearning for lynda.com.