In case you’re not familiar with the term Glory Days, here’s a few lyrics from a Bruce Springsteen song of the same name:
I had a friend was a big baseball player
Back in high school
He could throw that speedball by you
Make you look like a fool boy
Saw him the other night at this roadside bar
I was walking in, he was walking out
We went back inside sat down had a few drinks
But all he kept talking about was
Glory days well they’ll pass you by
Glory days in the wink of a young girl’s eye
Glory days, glory days
All of us have personal histories, and there is a danger that comes with living in the past if we regard those experiences as better than the present. Voicing wistful regard for the Good Old Days is a form of emotional compensation, especially when life in the present isn’t exactly glorious. Lord knows not every moment of life is perfect.
We do not need to regard the past as either our ultimate level of achievement nor our enemy and something to be avoided. It is possible to learn important things about ourselves by taking a measured look at how things took place in days gone by––and learn from them.
Over the course of a lifetime
It is true that while we change as people over the course of a lifetime, an internal narrative forms within us. We believe certain things about ourselves depending on how we interpret events from the past.
For example, on an athletic level, I came to believe that I was not good at running in the heat following what seemed like a case of heat prostration in the wake of a steeplechase event during national meet held in high temperatures and humidity. Years later I ran on another hot day, I ran exceptionally well in a 10-mile road race. That led me to question the narrative I’d created in my head about that hot-weather race. Piecing together the events of the day, I suddenly recalled that we’d gone out to dinner at a Pizza Hut that night and had eaten an entire medium pizza on my own. Two hours later I got extremely sick and threw up twenty-seven times overnight. My roommate counted.
It was food poisoning, not heat that nearly killed me that night.
Dwelling on the past
An obsession with the Glory Days can happen with love and relationships as well. For a time after breaking up with a college girl that I really thought loved, I blamed myself for letting it happen. Then one day I was going through my running journal from that period and noticed a long series of comments over the period of a year and realized that in many respects, she’d been playing me against other men all along. It’s much too easy to vex and blame ourselves over the confusing world of love, family and friendships.
Well there’s a girl that lives up the block
Back in school she could turn all the boys’ heads
Sometimes on a Friday I’ll stop by
And have a few drinks after she put her kids to bed
Her and her husband Bobby well they split up
I guess it’s two years gone by now
We just sit around talking about the old times
She says when she feels like crying
She starts laughing thinking about
Glory days well they’ll pass you by
It matters what we’ve done in the past, because we really can learn from it. At the same time, I’ll admit that in this blog and others I mine quite a bit of material from the past, some of it from my so-called Glory Days. I believe that if you’re analytical rather than just wistful, the past reveals much valuable insight about who you really were, and who you are today.
Getting through it
In that spirit, I’ll share an anecdote that shows how much we can learn about ourselves from even the smallest incidents, good and bad.
During my junior year in college I competed well enough to land in the Top Five for most of the season. That meant I was a steady contributor to the team’s success. But when it came time for the conference meet, I experienced a first real bout with depression.
Earlier that summer, I’d worked in a job that was such a negative, physically and mentally unhealthy situation that it essentially caused a post-traumatic stress reaction. In combination with other events in life at the time, my brain and body were in a bad way. All that season I’d consistently run under 26:30 for five miles. Then I had a race where I ran 27:40 and was 14th man. I came back to run well again at 26:15 against a tough University of LaCrosse team, and was sixth man. But my moods were up and down. At conference, my nightmare of all races took place.
That late October afternoon proved dark and dismal. My mood was beyond dark as well. Nor did my body not want to cooperate in any way, shape or form. People that have never experienced a profound depressive episode might find it hard to understand how difficult it can be to perform in that state, but it’s as close to a living nightmare as I’ve ever experienced. You know those dreams where you’re trying to run faster and can’t? I lived that shit.
I ran 28:48, the worst race in my entire life. That put me in 25th place overall. I’d placed ninth in conference as a freshman and sophomore. I’d place ninth again as a senior.
For many years, I allowed that single race to define my impression of that entire year of my life. What I’d forgotten along the way is that two weeks later at nationals I bounced back to race as our fifth man for a team that took eighth place in the country. The conditions were horrible, with on a course covered in 4″ of snow. Yet despite the horrid results of my depressive day at conference, I bounced back to help the team achieve something worthwhile. It set the stage for future success. That next year as a senior I ran second man for most of the year and helped lead the team to second place in the nation.
As I’ve aged and learned so much about life, and myself, it is those comebacks and periods of perseverance that mean more to me. Life is filled with more of those moments than most of us care to admit. We have to tune out the doubts, make up our minds to get through it, and find a way to make things right again. I encourage you to take a harder look at how you’ve defined yourself. Sometimes the hard truths produce more self-forgiveness than you might think.
That’s where the past can help us most. “I’ve done it before. I can do it again.”