Published on November 6th, 2015 | by Day Merrill


How Good Were Those Good Old Days?

Do you get sentimental over images of out dated objects like 8-track tapes and Brownie Star flash cameras or descriptions of simpler times with stay-at-home Moms welcoming school kids with freshly baked cookies?  Many of us recall “the good old days” from the perspective of a trending obsession: nostalgia.

Nostalgia lets us reflect on childhood and adolescence through a lens ofsimplicity, innocence and beauty. With Kodachrome clarity, nostalgia magnifies and celebrates what we remember (or misremember) about those days.

So how good (or not) was the past? True, back in the 1950’s, someone (male), would have found it easier to get and keep a job in manufacturing, even without a high school diploma.  Over time, he and his wife could have bought a house and raised a family on a single income. That’s the idealized past we haul out like a faded snapshot whenever we’re dissatisfied with the present.

But let’s look at how other members of the shipyard/auto plant/factory worker’s family fared back in the day. The wife usually stayed home; beyond convincing her husband to “let” her work, she was restricted to the“Help Wanted‒Female”section of the classifieds. Even with a job, she couldn’t take out a loan or get a credit card in her own (married) name. Dependent on her husband, she had no legal claim on his earnings, much less recourse against marital rape.

People of colour earned 40% less than white workers and were excluded from the post-war suburbs being built for white (but not Jewish) families.  Retirees had less economic security, with more than 25% living below the poverty line. If you were a healthy kid, life was good, but disabled children were regularly banished to institutions like the Asylum for Idiotic Youth.

The disparity between what I (mis)remembered about those days and reality became clear when I saw the first episode of Mad Men. All the 1960’s clothes and furniture, cars were familiar, but I had been blissfully unaware of the systematic sexism, racism, anti-Semitism and general intolerance the series exposed. A recent Financial Post story on the end of Mad Men warns of the danger of “trying to revisit past glories, either personally, professionally, or politically,” noting the power of nostalgia to motivate us to “rally behind the symbols of a past that never existed.”

At a personal level, many of us spend time revering an idealized past. Nostalgia is now so prevalent that the past we seek to recapture is often seconds v. decades past. Facebook and Instagram let us freeze and share moments while they’re still unfolding. I coach clients to track evolving trends in their fields vs. waiting for the economy to get back to “normal.”  Even politics is not immune to nostalgia, as demonstrated by the Tea Party in the US, Russians who long for the good old Soviet days and ISIS followers pining for an Islam that never was. Here in Canada, the nostalgic ideal is what the National Post author calls “Diefenbaker-era Canada filtered through the gauze of white, anglo Canada’s post-Imperial longings.”

As Mad Men’s Don Draper notes, nostalgia‒literally the pain from an old wound‒ is “a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.” Rather than focusing on times gone by or trying to capture every instant of today, we’d be better off to heed the words of the late Bil Keane, cartoonist of the newspaper comic The Family Circus: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, which is why we call it the present.” Be here now!

Day Merrill
Day Merrill, MALS
Career Management Coach
President, 2BDetermined Inc.


About the Author

Day Merrill

A career services professional with expertise in coaching, training and consulting, Day Merrill founded 2BDetermined Inc. to help individuals; teams and organizations increase workplace effectiveness and satisfaction. Day worked for a number of human capital management firms in Canada and the U.S., Her first career was secondary school teacher/administrator. Day holds a B.A. from Connecticut College, a Master of Arts from Wesleyan University and is a graduate of Coach U’s professional coaching program. She is active in the International Coach Federation, the Association of Career Professionals and the Human Resources Professional Association, teaching Organizational Behaviour in the CHRP program. Day is a certified Inside Out Development Coach, serves as Career Coach for the Executive MBA program at Western University’s Ivey Business School and is on the faculty of Women With Vision—Training, Coaching & Mentoring Institute.

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