Imagine you’re a backpacker traveling the world. One day, you might be in the romantic streets of Switzerland, or perhaps you just left the bustling corners of Tokyo.
With your arms gripped onto the bag straps in front of you, on you go. And as you go, imagine getting several things and stuffing your backpack with them.
Now, your backpack is too heavy to be swung comfortably around your shoulders. It's burdensome, but you’re attached to the contents in the bag.
So, instead of emptying it out, you opt to drag the backpack around instead.
But now, the ache in your back grows as the weight of the bag slows you down and you grow weary. So weary, that you begin to wonder if the beautiful turquoise waters in, say, Jamaica, are worth seeing after all.
In this superficial analogy, the past is the backpack we’re dragging around. It's lighter for some and heavier for others. Past memories are intricate and deep, and oftentimes, we can’t just drop them like items out of a backpack even when we would like to.
Loss, trauma, heartbreak, failure: These are harrowing experiences that shape us and become the loudest echoes of our past.
Letting go of these experiences can be especially difficult because over time they become a part of us, entangled into our identities. And the more we are reminded of these hardships, the more our choices begin to be influenced by them.
Letting go forces us to change some aspects of ourselves and that change can be scary. After all, uncertainty is scary — it's much more comfortable to stay put and not take any chances.
Personally, I’ve had my own struggles with letting go and moving onward. Approximately 3 years ago, I was in a relationship that I valued deeply and believed would last a lifetime.
It was heartbreaking to see it deteriorate instead. I thought about it constantly and I became hesitant to form connections with other people for fear that history would repeat itself. But in the end, all this did was isolate me from others, and I became gravely depressed.
It took more than a year until I started making attempts to form new connections and improve the ones I already had. As I did this, my depression gradually subsided and I realized the only thing that fear had done for me was hold me back.
We can let our fear of letting go be a stumbling block or a stepping stone. But to do so requires healing. If you choose to make it a stepping stone, hopefully you’ll find some beneficial advice here.
First, you must acknowledge the past. Whatever it may be, confront it as best you can. Do not allow it to loom over you like a monster you’re fleeing from. Remember: It happened, but it's no longer happening.
Ignoring or suppressing it will only lead to it disrupting certain aspects of your life you most likely won’t even be aware about. So if there are any necessary actions to be taken, take them.
Do you need to have a conversation with someone you are in strife with to set yourself at ease? Is there something you need to get off your chest? Speaking about the past, whether that be with friends or a therapist, is a good way to release whatever emotions you’re hoarding from that experience. Releasing these emotions are the first step to letting go.
Then, ask yourself: "What can I take away from this experience?"
Regardless of how negative that situation may have been, think of the positives. Is there something to be learned? Instead of dwelling on what could've been or what was, think of what can come. What can you get out of the situation that will be of benefit to you in the future? What you can do to tailor that distressing experience into something empowering?
You may have to look hard sometimes, but surely there are benefits. For example, although you might've been dumped by someone you saw yourself spending the rest of your life with, at least now you can devote that time spent with them actively pursuing that professional career you want.
Dwell on the positives, no matter how little they may seem. It will help you way more than being stuck on the negatives or "what-ifs" ever will.
Finally, strive to live in the present. The present is more important than the past, so make it your focus. The past is gone but the present is here. Occupy yourself with activities you enjoy and make new memories that you will be happy to look back on. Oftentimes, we can’t help but ruminate on the possibilities. But the truth is that it gets us nowhere.
Ultimately, we can't change the past — we can only control our actions in the present. So dedicate your time to pursuing your desires and creating that future you would like to see.
Think of yourself as a backpacker traveling the world: Bring along what will be useful, and leave behind any weight that will only make your journey more strenuous. Travel smart and travel light!