“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.”
Over the past 2 years I’ve spent a lot of time saying goodbye. While building new relationships are a benefit of a nomadic lifestyle, they are also the biggest casualty Who would have thought? My travels, and the constant forming of relationships have taught me to hone one very special skill.
The art of letting go.
The goodbyes are heartbreaking. The world is indescribably vast and those of us who go out and explore it soon realize just how many incredible people populate it. I have countless friends I’ll never see again. But that’s life. I wouldn’t trade the heartbreaking goodbyes for the memories made. That’s the beautiful part. The memories don’t diminish in value simply because that person isn’t a mainstay in your life.
Life is a constant weaving of relationships and experiences. These two things above all else are what give life purpose. They are what we look back on and remember and if we’ve done it properly, they will give us the most joy.
Anyone who’s lived a day on earth knows that not all experiences are good. We in the “motivational” community spin bad experiences as “lessons”. I’m sure you’ve been told something along the lines of “yeah, you shouldn’t have done that, you lost, but don’t lose the lesson that’s the important part,” after you’ve made a poor decision- e.g. my rationalization of my current Melbourne trip. We tell each other, and our selves, this to keep us from getting discouraged; so that we keep trying.
Well maybe we should start looking at relationships in the same light. When people look back on their lives they constantly point to life events (experiences) that served as turning points in their life. If we look at relationships and want to be happier, then it’s time we face this honest truth:
Not all relationships are good for us. Not all the people in our lives belong there.
I’m using the word “relationships” because is the general umbrella all human interaction falls under. Friendships, romances, family, coworkers, that girl you just met on the bus, etc. are all relationships.
A little background,
Originally I sat down to write specifically on friendship. I had been going through different stuff with a few friends when I realized their presence in my life was draining me. Being around them was putting me in bad moods for no reason. I would snap at people with little provocation. I wasn’t having fun in any social situations (very unlike me). In short, I was becoming the last person you’d want at your birthday party. My mood was in large part a reflection of my current situation and how I felt about my surroundings. But more on that in a minute.
I had sat down to write on friendship and was a paragraph in when I got a message from a girl I know asking if I ever take suggestions on blog topics. The answer to her -and to anyone else curious about that- is an enthusiastic yes! (I can’t guarantee it’ll be any good but I can promise to give it a shot to the best of my limited ability.)
Anyway, after swearing me to secrecy and me promising to never reveal her name under pain of death, she told me she had found out that her ex boyfriend had been cheating on her the entire last year they were together. Lately, he had been trying to get back with her even though he had a new girlfriend. Though she had completely moved on, she didn’t know how to handle the situation. Should she give him another chance? Should she try and be friends? Should she cut him out and ignore him completely (which is something she claims to struggle with)? Or should she just wait and see what happened naturally? She asked me for advice. She asked me to write on relationships and how to determine which course of action to pursue. She even told me how my blogs help to give her direction when she’s feeling and she valued my insight. I won’t lie, that didn’t hurt my ego at all.
I don’t know if it was fate, coincidence, god, sheer luck, or what. But she decided to ask at the exact moment when I was already having ideas about relationships swirling around in my mind.
So here it is.
This is how I view relationships and their place in my life.
When are they worth fighting for? When is it best to cut my losses? How much, if at all, others people’s opinions should matter. How do I keep faith in humanity even if I’ve been screwed over (and some people think this makes me a hopeless romantic)? How do I make sure my relationships and my goals align? Most importantly, understanding not only how, but when to let go.
I’m fully aware there is no universally accepted answer for these questions. I’m telling you how I go about dealing with them. You’re as welcome to agree and utilize my advice as you are to hate me for having wasted your time by reading any of this post. Completely your call.
First you have to understand that every relationship has an impact on your life. Just like every choice you make matters, so does who you spend your time with. This point was driven home to me a few weeks ago as I was watching this TED talk. Scott Dinsmore, the speaker, quoted Jim Rohn saying “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” That message became crystal clear: who you spend your time with matters. What you are around, you become. People go back and forth on the impact on nature vs. nurture all the time. We may get our potential from our genes but our success at utilizing that potential is heavily influenced by our environment.
I can name different times throughout my life when my actions (accomplishments) were directly correlated to those around me. Peer pressure is real, but it gets a bad rap. Yes, there are times it’s caused me to have an extra drink (or two), but it has also been motivational in pushing me towards a set of goals.
In college, I was surrounded by tons of people smarter than myself. To look around was to see my friends studying, getting jobs/internships, and getting into grad school. My overly competitive nature kicked in, and peer pressure (and the desire to not be left behind) motivated me to keep up. I found myself studying more, having more intelligent discussions, and applying for internships originally thought to be outside my reach. Looking back I realize my environment made me better. It pushed me, which was what I needed.
My college days are over. The beauty of Rohn’s question though is that I can apply it to my life at any point. I began to analyze my current situation. Who are the 5 people I spend the most time with? Was I okay being the average of them? Were the people I was around the most truly helping me to become who I want to be?
The short answer- no.
This wasn’t my friends fault. It’s not their responsibility to make sure my life is heading in the right direction. It’s mine alone. People are who they are. At our core we think of ourselves and our own desires and there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, if you don’t look out for yourself who will?
Understanding the truth is essential to being able to take action in your life. I had put myself in a situation that, for me, was broken. We want to blame others for where we are in life because we don’t want to take ownership. After all, responsibility is a scary thing. But that’s shit. You can’t blame others for where you are in life because in the end that responsibility is yours whether you want it or not.
The good news? You don’t have to do it completely by yourself. If you’re smart you’ll surround yourself with the best people you can. My advice is to find people who are motivated, caring, intelligent, passionate, and fun. One of my favorite quotes of all time is:
“Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and thinkers, but most of all, surround yourself with those who see greatness within you, even when you don’t see it yourself.”
Does that describe most of your current relationships? Is that describing the people you spend your most valuable asset (time) with? Do they build you up and help you to become better or do they drain you with worry, false promises, and put you in situations you’d rather avoid? When you talk to them do they actually listen or are you simply giving them a break in their monologue? Do they look you in the eye or are they always on their phone? Do they value your time and opinion? Do any of your core values or goals align?
If you answered no more often than yes then it may be time to let go of certain relationships. I once read ‘if you’re not losing friends then you’re not growing up.’ Honestly, I don’t know how true that is. I know it’s not something to base your life on, but at the same time it’s a reality that two people growing together over a long period of time is rare. According to Fact Book, more than 90% of people claim to be no longer friends with someone they once called their best friend. Any long term relationship takes work and communication from both sides.
Note from my editor:
Just make sure you aren’t getting rid of relationships out of cognitive dissonance. I grew in my last job because I was forced together with a progressive set of mindsets. I would not have chosen. Conflict is good sometimes
Somerset Maugham wrote “we are not the same persons this year as we are last, nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person.”
That’s always helped me keep things in perspective. You need people in your life who not only allow you to change but encourage you and help you to.
Speaking of those people, I have one of the best friends in the entire world. We always joke that we’re each other’s longest relationship. True story, neither of us are easy to date for various reasons. I won’t bore you with all of Jordan’s ‘good qualities’ either. The one I value above everything else though is he has more confidence in me than I do in myself (which is saying something). Having trust and loyalty in a relationship while still having the freedom to make your own decisions is incredibly valuable. It’s great to know when I’m in a moment of uncertainty that I can go to him and he’ll reassure me by having irrational confidence in my abilities. His belief in me has gotten me through times when I started to second guess some of my choices. Perfect example- I told him I was going to teach English in the Czech Republic he just looked at me and said- ‘I don’t really get why you’re doing this, but since you’re you, you must have your reasons. Have fun, but try and hurry back so we can tear shit up.”
When one of the people you trust the most in the world gives you their blessing on a huge life decision it can’t help but reassure you.
The expectation of a relationship (of any kind) to have trust, honesty, respect, and accountability shouldn’t be limited to just your best friend or your significant other. It should be the standard you hold all of your relationships to. The toxic ones, the ones that don’t meet that standard, you have to let go of or at the very least minimize the exposure.
Let me be clear. I’m all for giving people second chances. Hell in some cases even third, fourth, and fifth ones. If a relationship really matters to you, try to make it work. Communicate and work through your problems. Explain to them what you’re feeling and why. People are terrible at reading minds. There’s a chance they have no idea they’re bothering you or you’re feeling the way you are. If you decide to go this route my only advice is this: when people show you who they are believe them the first time. If someone screws you over and you forgive them don’t be surprised or offended when it happens again. You made the choice to allow them back in knowing full well what type of person they were. Yes, people are capable of change but it’s rare. After you’ve expressed an issue with a person and they continue to act with a complete disregard for your feelings it’s best to just be done.
I made this mistake in a past relationship. I had been “dating” a girl, named Kelsey, for a bit and at first it was really intense. Slowly that faded and she just didn’t seem all that invested It seemed rather one sided. My ability to put words to any thought or feeling makes maintaining a meaningful romantic relationship difficult. I always expect the other person to be of a similar talent and most people just aren’t. At times I can’t tell if the girl isn’t interested or if she’s just having trouble expressing how she feels. I told her how I felt. Kelsey claimed the latter; told me she’d work on it and that she’d do better. She never did. She’d show glimpses here and there, but they were few and far between. We’d make plans and she’d blow me off. Repeatedly. In short, she treated me more like an option than a priority. Not my most suave hour. I stupidly gave her chance after chance hoping she’d change. Then I got mad at her because she didn’t, even though, she’d shown me time and time again the type of person she was. I won’t go into details, but I spent far more time and energy on her than I should have. I don’t regret the relationship but I do regret not believing who she was when she showed me. I could have saved myself a lot of time and a bit of heartache had I let go sooner.
So in order to help you avoid a similar situation I’ll repeat the advice:
When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.
At some point you have to let go of what you thought should have happened and live in what’s happening. People rarely change. They will let you down and hurt you. You can’t have expectations for how people should behave. They aren’t you. In similar circumstances they will act differently. Remember at the end of the day, people aren’t against you they are for themselves.
I’m an optimistic person. My friends jokingly call me a hopeless romantic. Whatever. I believe the best of people and put trust in them and in the rest of humanity. I’ve written before about how I believe at their very core most people are intrinsically good. Self-interested, perhaps, but good. Usually, when people hurt you, it’s because they believed they were choosing something that was better for themselves rather than choosing something that would hurt you. Sometimes people choose poorly. We all make mistakes and poor choices (which is why I believe in second chances). The truth is, everyone will let you down. Your job, however, is to figure out who’s worth suffering for. Will knowing that you’ll suffer at some point cause you to stop trusting people? Will it cause you to stop putting your heart on the line? For me, the answer is no. Hemingway wrote, ‘the best way to find out if you can trust someone is to trust them.’ It’s a bold and risky strategy to be sure. But it’s the one that offers the biggest reward. However, if you’re content going through life being suspicious of everyone you meet that’s your call. I know trusting someone is hard, especially after you’ve been f*cked over. My only advice on this is to remember that each person is different and not to hold the reasons for your scars against those trying to help you heal them.
If you’re okay with the disappointment then, by all means, continue on the same path with the person. But if you’re not and they won’t change it’s time to let go.
Letting something go is much easier said than done. Emotional attachment is a real thing. It’s a defining characteristic of being human. Our capacity for love and desire for intimacy is what makes us special. But they’re also the reason people have a difficult time cutting someone out of their life. I’m not one of them. To be fair, letting go of a friend is easier than letting go of a significant other.
For those who do struggle the thing you have to keep in mind is self-respect. You need to respect yourself enough to walk away from anyone or anything that doesn’t serve you, grow you, or make you happy. You have to truly believe that. You can’t relapse. If you do you give them affirmation that you’re not serious about your choice.
Letting go of someone is like dieting or any other example of will power. It’s all about discipline. At first it’s hard. You ‘need’ them- after all you’re still accustomed to their presence. Who are you going to text? Who are you going to stay in and watch Netflix with? Your mind will wonder to how they are or what they’re doing. Unless you have in super humanlike willower there’s no way to stop this. But you can minimize it. Out of sight out of mind is a real thing. To do that I recommend deleting them from your life. The easiest way is by cutting any social media connection, deleting their phone number, and getting rid of any keepsakes that remind you of them.
Here’s a video to show you how therapeutic it can be:
To some this may sound petty, but if you’re serious about letting go this helps you get over the feeling of “needing them.” In life, you can’t always choose what you keep but you can choose how you let it go. You don’t need to know what they’re up to or how they’re day was. Constant reminders make letting go more difficult. They’re NO longer part of your life. They no longer matter to you, that’s the entire point of letting go and cutting them out. You’re moving on and your future is full of independence.
If you run into them in real life don’t be a douche. Be civil. The opposite of love isn’t hate it’s indifference. By letting go of them you aren’t wishing them harm or ill-will, but simply releasing yourself from any emotional foothold they have on you. These footholds are what hold us back. Even if you want to move forward in your life you may have one foot on the breaks without realizing it. In order to be free, we must learn how to let go. Release the hurt. Release the fear. Refuse to entertain your old pain. The energy it takes to hang onto the past is holding you back from a new life.
It may take awhile, but eventually they fade into the past. The scars heal. You’ve moved on and survived the storm. Once you no longer feel your stomach lurch when seeing them or hearing their name if you want to add them back on social media you can (though I wouldn’t advise it, that idea has relapse-city written all over it). You may even get to a point where you accept who they are in a friendship capacity and understand that you two just weren’t compatible.
All relationships come down to compatibility. When people break up or stop hanging out there seems to always be blame to assign. Our society loves pointing the figure. Sometimes this is justified. After all, some break ups are a mess. Sometimes it’s complete bullshit and people part on good terms. The truth is some people just aren’t compatible. There are 7 billion people in the world. All with different personality types, dreams, and interests. Odds are you won’t get along with all of them.
This doesn’t mean that it’s someone’s fault, it just means that some personalities don’t mix, or that your goals weren’t shared. Hard truth, not everyone you meet is meant to be a major character in your life. Some are just passer bys. I’ve always hated having to explain to someone why a relationship ended. Firstly, it’s not really any of their business. More important though, is the fact you have to make choices that you feel are best for you. These choices can lead us away from people who we once thought the world of.
The most important piece of advice I have is for you this.
Remember that letting go is a necessary part of life. Even if you end up going separate ways, by no means are the times you had together trivialized or the memories you shared diminished. By firmly respecting your past, but choosing to move on, you are changing your aspirations for the future.
What you decide to hold onto molds your future. Like a tree on a mountain, we all grow in unexpectedly different ways. Recognize that sometimes that means growing apart. As Ally Condie wrote, “Growing apart doesn’t change the fact that for a long time we grew side by side; our roots will always be tangled. I’m glad for that.” Wish them no ill will as you continue on your own way.
Letting go of the relationships that belong in our past gives us empty space. You never knows who you may be making room for.