Growing backwards

Dear Reader,

This week’s podcast we explored the word “retrograde”.

The inspiration came from the skies and a long-standing fear of a season of time. For those who believe that the way the stars and the heavens move impacts what happens on  Earth, we are in Mercury Retrograde.

For those who know of it, it is a couple of weeks of chaos nearly every quarter or so. It impacts communication and travel and machinery. Things shouldn’t begin during this period and people are warned to not sign contracts. I know that for me, at the beginning of every year, all Mercury retrograde periods and blocked off in my calendar.  I do not begin new creative pieces during this time and use it just for revisions, which is perfect since I’m in revisions for my current project.

Yes, Mercury retrograde for some of us is real. We treat it with the same caution as a hot plate. However, that’s not the retrograde I’m talking about. 

The word retrograde means moving backward. Reverting to something from your past. Relearning a lesson that perhaps you thought you already learned. 

I asked my social media friends about this word. This seemed to trigger some thoughts. 

For one friend, she said her retrograde is as if she’s “picking up pieces that she never got or that she let slip away.”

Another social media friend said that during her period of retrograde she felt as if “she was dropped down a hole”.

It seems inevitable, that as humans we sometimes fall back into habits or thoughts or practices that no longer serve us. We are creatures of habit after all. It takes the better part of a month to break a habit, in theory, but if you don’t get to the root of why the habit was established, then it’s only a matter of time before the old habit returns. 

So do we ever say goodbye to our old habits, old thoughts, old ways? Does that mean that we are not capable of change or that change is fleeting? 

This week, I caught myself retrograding. You may have heard me call this year the foundation year, the year where I create and learn practices to set the foundation for years to come.  To make it easier, let’s quote Zora Neale Hurston here, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” For me, this is an answer year. 

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” Zora Neal Hurston

However, this week I caught myself doing something I hadn’t really done all year and acting ridiculous as if I didn’t know better. I did. I did know better and thus I felt like I hadn’t learned anything in the past couple of years. You’re probably curious as to what it was. I can assure you it wasn’t life-altering in the grander scheme of things but it was something that didn’t make feel great. It made me feel like I was back at square one. 

I have more to learn. So much more. That was the lesson of that retrograde. 

Sometimes, moving backward feels like standing still. While everyone is moving on with their lives of delight and fun, you are, indeed, not. There is little delight. There is definitely not fun. It sometimes feels as if you’re being punished as if you didn’t do your homework on time and so you’re stuck inside doing math problems while everyone else is on the jungle gym. 

If that doesn’t sound like a recipe for anxiety, I don’t know what is. Just the image of that is making me anxious. But the idea of moving backward or standing still can be anxiety-inducing, most especially when one compares themselves to others. 

Have you ever compared your life to a friend’s life? Maybe they have reached a level of success in their life while you’re still trying to do the very basic things. They may have become engaged, purchased a new home, got a big promotion at work. Maybe they are able to move in circles differently than you, more at ease.

And it’s not that you’re jealous. The emotion is more internalized. You are wondering what is wrong with you? How come they figured it out and you are on the sidelines. Add to that the fact that life is now lived on social media where we document the best part of our lives and, yes, moving backward can make it seem like the walls are closing in. 

This reminds me of one of my favorite under-rated shows. Being Erica was a Canadian television series that focused on a woman in her early 30s who doesn’t quite have her life together. She’s working a dead-end job while her friends and sister are living amazing lives — great jobs, great relationships, new adventures — while she peeked in college. For a while, I was Erica and the world was passing me by. 

In an article in British Glamour, 29 percent of women between the ages of 18 to 24 years old suffer from anxiety.  States-side, 40 million Americans have an anxiety disorder of some kind like generalized anxiety disorder, OCD, or PTSD. What may be triggering this?  Worry and stress are for sure the big ones, especially if you’re worried about how you’re not like everyone else, or how you’re not where you’re supposed to be. This is usually dictated by social or cultural norms. 

This is the fear of missing out, or fomo, as the kids say.

I have felt this may times in my life, more times than I care to admit. The anxiety from this is real. Whether it is fuel or fodder to make life big changes or whether it is crippling, the anxiety is the same just used differently. 

But let me offer some relief to all this. A switch of the lens. Maybe we’re looking at this all wrong. Perhaps we need to think about how retrograde could be a good thing, how backsliding or fear of missing out is something we need to feel once in a while. 

Remember how earlier I mentioned about my retrograde, my slip into a habit I wanted to obliterate? I felt bad but I also knew why. And yes, I was disappointed in myself but I knew that it was a stumble, not a complete fall. I know that I’ll have to get back into the habit and identify what triggered my regression. It’s steps. It’s small questions to chip away at the big answers. It’s going backward, not starting over. 

Soren Kierkegaard said that “life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”  Life then requires reflection, even when you mess up and return to something you’ve long abandoned.  

“life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”

Soren Kierkegaard

And reflection is how one learns. Guys, retrograde is about learning or relearning what you truly know. Retrograde is a test, a mid-term, a multiple-choice test and you are given points not if you don’t repeat the same mistake but if you learned from the repetition and came out on the other side different. 

In narrative writing that is called the Hero’s journey when the hero goes through tests and tribulations and comes out the other side of things changed. Forever different. Growth has happened. The sky is just a different shade of blue, not brighter or dark but just different. 

What retrograde is trying to teach us to be our own heroes and sheros. Let’s try to do that the best we can. 

Take care of yourselves,


P.S. Show notes for this episode can be seen here.

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