You’ve heard the saying before:
Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.
It’s attributed to the writer/philosopher Georges Santayana. Originally wrote went like this:
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
It’s survived the test of time because it’s wise. And true. But there’s something in the phrase that bugs us: what if part of the history you’re talking about was, to coin a phrase, totally awesome? In that case, you’d want to repeat it.
You wouldn’t be doomed to repeat it.
You’d be happy to repeat it.
But this post isn’t about history, the subject, it’s about your history. Your recent personal history. It’s about the school year you just finished. Which, if you’re like most teens in the U.S., took up the last nine months of your life.
Here’s our point: it’s May. Your school year is almost over. The biggest things on your plate right now are studying for exams, putting the final touches on projects, and trying to come up with cool things to do over the summer. Maybe you’re graduating. If so – that’s huge, and congratulations. Graduating is a big deal.
But that’s all future stuff.
We want to focus on the moment. And to get the most out of this moment, we want you to do as our opening quote suggests. We want you to examine your past. Specifically, this school year.
Take some time to look back over the past nine months, think about what happened, and decide whether it was good, bad, or just meh. We understand it may be hard to remember exactly what happened.
Everyone forgets. Not just old people. For instance, do you remember what you had for lunch today? Do you remember if you had lunch today?
Some days are like that. They all have twenty-four hours, but seriously, sometimes you get to the end of the evening, think back on what you did when you first woke up, and think,
“That was this morning? Wow. Seems like days ago.”
Here’s something that as a teenager, you might not know yet: the same thing happens with weeks, months, and years.
You live them, but somehow – poof! They manage to disappear from memory.
Right now, for example.
Think back to the first day of school. It seems like ages ago. But it was less than a year ago. It wasn’t ages ago. If you take a moment, you’ll remember it.
Take that moment now.
There’s an official name for what we want you to do next: it’s called a debrief. That’s right. Debrief as in what soldiers and spies do after the action. They sit down with superior offices and answer pointed, difficult questions about what happened and why. A good debrief has two goals:
- To find out what went right, what went wrong, and identify any lingering, unresolved questions or issues.
- To take information from the debrief and act on it.
You might say that a good debrief really has three goals, the third being to avoid making the same mistakes – if there were any – in the future.
In other words, they debrief so they can do better next time.
That’s what we want for you: if you had a good year, we want you to identify what wen right, so you can repeat it. If you had a bad year, we want you to identify what went wrong, so you can be sure not to repeat it.
So, how can make sure you have another good year and avoid having another bad year?
How to Debrief Effectively
This is not the easiest thing to do, because in this case, we’re asking you to debrief yourself. There’s no boss asking the questions – just you and your thoughts. There’s no reason to sugarcoat things either, because no one else has to know about your debrief – not even your parents. This is a self-contained, self-managing, and self-monitoring thing. It’s all about you, so there’s no chance of getting embarrassed or looking bad. This is only about learning and moving forward.
Set aside some time – about half an hour will do – and get ready to give yourself the third degree.
Here we go.
What did you do this year?
Helpful hint: get a calendar, go back to August or September, and go through the year one month at a time. Your school calendar might help. They list special events, sports schedules, and all that. Once you have your calendar, start at the beginning of the year and run it back.
What did you like about this year?
Helpful hint: this is just for you. What went well could mean you made new friends or finally got a date with that person you’ve had your eye on since middle school. It doesn’t have to be the stuff adults would ask about, like grades or extracurricular activities. It absolutely can be, if that stuff is meaningful to you, but it doesn’t have to be.
What did you not like about this year?
Helpful hint: again, it’s all about you. If your mom loved the fact you took two semesters of AP history and got an A and a B, great – but if you hated every moment of that experience, take note. You’re the expert. You get to decide what you liked and didn’t like.
How could you have done to avoid the things that went wrong?
Helpful hint: think creatively for this one. For example: if there was a night you went out with friends, got drunk, got busted, and got grounded, clearly the way you could have avoided it was not drinking. Another way to avoid it would have been to go out with different people, or to not have gone out at all. Right? When you think of how you could have avoided things or what you could have done differently, think in the macro as well as the micro – meaning big picture as well as the daily detail.
How can you repeat the things that went well?
Helpful hint: you can’t redo the past obviously. What we mean this: if you got good grades this year, and you want to get good grades again next year, think back and determine how yo got the grades you did. Was it a tutor? A study group where you actually – gasp – studied? Or maybe it wasn’t grades. Maybe you played a sport, got in really good shape, and felt like a total beast. How did that happen? Pushups every night? Running and weightlifting every morning? Spend enough time with your calendar to remember the details. Identify what made you successful, and then make plans to repeat those things next year.
Next Year: You Decide How It Goes
Excellent, terrible, or somewhere in between, please understand that what happened last year is done. If it all went to pieces and you barely made it, then this a golden opportunity to figure out what went wrong, when it went wrong, and why it went wrong. Take what you learn and plan corrective action so it doesn’t happen again. If you had an amazing year, you’d be naïve to think it will just happen again by magic. You can increase your chances of repeating a good year by remembering everything that went into making it good. Focus on daily details. While those things are easy to forget, they usually have more to do with success than most people realize.
We’ll end with a new take on the adage we opened with:
Those who study the good parts of their past will be blessed to repeat them.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.