I’ve spent the last few years of my life in a constant state of change.
From a divorce and relocation to a layoff and new career, I’ve had people enter and leave my life more noticeably than ever before. I’ve never been one to embrace change, but somewhere in all the upheaval I began to find my “sea legs,” so to speak, and stopped being tossed around by life.
I’ve learned to roll with the changes, but sometimes I still struggle. With all of the change in my life, how do I decide who to keep and who to let go? Or, what thoughts and ideas have long outstayed their welcome, and what new ones should be welcomed in?
I’ve tried to be philosophical about letting go, but the truth is, it’s a struggle for me. My knee-jerk reaction is to hold on. It always has been, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.
That’s what I’m talking about. How we’ve been doesn’t have to be how we are.
We don’t have to follow the patterns that have been set for us or make the same choices just because we have before. Sure, it can be ridiculously hard to change direction, and God knows that there is always a price to pay for doing so. Usually, someone somewhere has something to say about it—most likely an unwelcome, unsupportive “something,” meant to put a damper on the lives we’ve chosen to live.
And, hey, maybe if lots of voices are saying the same thing to us, we should hear them. We should listen and process it to make sure it’s not something we need to hear and we’re just avoiding. But, if the feedback we’re getting comes from someone else’s ideas about how we should be living based on how they are living, that’s a different thing altogether.
We need to live authentic lives that bring us joy and make our time on this planet meaningful. These lives should enrich us but also give back to others in some way. If we’re pursuing our joy and bringing harm to none, we’re probably on the right path.
But, when we struggle with letting go, we often carry around people, thoughts, and ideas better left behind. We hold on out of a sense of loyalty or simply because we don’t know how to extricate ourselves from people or situations. We worry about hurting feelings or how other people will react to the change. And, sometimes we worry about failing—about trying and finding out we were wrong. We worry about losing something we’ll miss and never finding anything worth looking for.
We worry. Our time is wasted in worry—slowly draining our lives away.
Some people come into our lives for a reason. It’s not usually the reason we think of first. Some break us to make us stronger. Or teach us something we wouldn’t have learned otherwise. Or show us that we’re capable of love. Or guide us in a new direction. Some people come and then go again. A rare few stay for the long haul, loyal to the end.
It’s easy to think that one type is more valuable than the other. We value the ones that stay and the loves that last. But aren’t the others just as valuable? Aren’t the lessons learned just as important?
It seems to me that there is a universal struggle to let go. How do we hold on to the lessons but let go of the attachment to the people and situations that brought them about? How do we decide what should go and what should stay?
Every moment of our lives presents us with a choice. There’s likely an infinite number of paths in front of us, and we can feel the heaviness of choosing and choosing again. What we hold on to can make our lives better or weigh us down. Sometimes it even changes the choices that we make. I look at my life and see the unexpected arc of it and how each choice led to another.
Every list will be different. I’m under no illusion that what holds value for me is the same for anyone else. But here’s my list for holding on. And one for letting go. May it be of benefit.
My children, tight. The memories and precious moments of my daily life. The people who support my dreams and encourage my joy. The freedom that comes with being my most authentic self. Small acts of kindness. Large acts of kindness. Love, in all its forms. Unconditional love most of all. Friends who are fierce and loyal. Those around us who give support rather than judgment. The lessons learned, even from the most brutal of circumstances. My dreams, always. My sense of adventure. My resilience. A keen sense of humor. My ability to learn. My willingness to seek truth.
Everything I thought I knew. Everything the world told me that I was or should be. The plans I put on calendars. The boxes of my life I thought should be checked off by now. All the voices saying I probably couldn’t, or probably shouldn’t, or never would. The outlined lives of those who lived before me. The fear of living a life outside the lines. Love so weak I feel that I am starving. Of days spent wasted, dying to be seen. Work that slowly wears away at my soul. The weight of others’ expectations. Everything that no longer serves me.
Our lives are filled with change, and many of us learn to adapt—to embrace new ideas. To be better than what we knew before. To release our hold on the labels that have defined us in order to find ones that better suit our souls.
I wonder what our world would look like if we carried love and kindness around as labels like we do our political or religious affiliations. I wonder if we would be better if we stopped defining ourselves by our careers, and instead, defined ourselves by the quality of the relationships we have with other human beings. But, we cannot do that as long as we let what used to define us continue to do so after we know better.
We’re evolving all the time. The only choice that remains is how we’ll evolve. What will we choose to hold on to and what will we choose to release?
Author: Crystal Jackson
Image: Oakley Foxtrot/Flickr
Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman
Social Editor: Sara Karparnen