As we prepare for gradual reopening of restaurants and other business that have been locked down during our recent health crisis, we are using the word after more and more. “After the number of cases decreases,” or “After May ___” we can open, we can do business or we can go out again.

“After” looks to the past for permission to host the future. Is that really what I want?

There is another word that I like better. I like using the word “next.” Using the word next speaks to my intention to do something almost unrelated to what has happened in the past. It is forward looking rather than driving from the rearview mirror.

But we need to learn from what has happened, you say. Of course, we do. The problem with learning from the past (so far) is we are deciding things on the fly without data and calling it learning from the past. Drawing conclusions while you are still in the middle of an experience is tentative, at best. I’ve noticed a particular phrase during many of the news conferences in answer to almost any question, “We’ll see,” the President says. In other words, you may be right or I may be right but time will tell. It’s one thing to take a reading and make a minor adjustment. It’s another thing to proclaim success or failure when you still have half of the task in front of you.

I don’t mean to suggest that looking back is wrong. In fact, right or wrong, looking back happens before we know it. “I don’t want to get hurt like that again,” we say as we begin a new relationship. I trusted someone too much and got burned so I’m withholding some of my trust this time. Let me know how that works for you.

Looking forward speaks from our values and goals rather than our rebound. I’m going to move forward, help a local mom-and-pop store get back on their feet by buying something there instead of online. I value my freedom to shop and the existence of small business. These values may have historical experiences involved in them, but those reasons are more hidden than when we say, “after.” Using our collective experience is better than reacting to one bad experience and rearranging our whole life around it.

Relationships are particularly vulnerable to rearview mirror decisions. Invariably, we try to prevent past hurts with future changes. I would suggest that removing all hurt from relationships will also remove most of the joy and love. Risk is part of the equation and disappointment lurks at almost every turn. A better strategy is to make sure the ground where you stand is as certain as the step you prepare to take. Don’t run ahead of the other person hoping they will follow. Take one step and wait for them to take it with you. When you have taken one step together, think about another step. It’s more forward looking than relying on “after” or “last time” for reassurance. It asks for accountability constantly instead of moving forward without any response from the other person. Those responses are the readings I was talking about earlier. Rather than withhold your trust in a relationship, expect it to be earned.

Our perspective reveals our priorities and goals. As you consider the month of May, set some goals and move toward them. Don’t look at April more than you look at May. It’s time for next instead of after.

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