Just a few weeks ago, I turned twenty-one. Oftentimes, these milestone events are surrounded by a lot of hype, which in turn puts pressure on us to live up to that hype. I’ve never been a huge attention seeker on my birthday in the past, but this time I felt a little lonelier, mostly because everyone kept telling me how excited I should be. The actual day was so busy that I ended up spending a lot of time alone, just rushing through obligations and tasks that needed to be checked off my list. When things finally slowed down at the end of the night, I thought about how much things had changed since I turned eighteen—the last birthday that everyone told me was a big deal.
Each of us has a valuable past that should not be disregarded or trivialized. When our relationships with people who are important to us start to change, it can be easy to feel insecure and hard to let go. What happens when you struggle to connect with a close friend? When you lose touch with a mentor? When your family members feel too far away? It’s no secret that as we grow older, we each change in different ways. Our views of the world are challenged and shifted and we are shaped by the experiences we have and the people we meet. It can be hard to accept, let alone embrace, change.
In these three short years, a lot of people have come and gone in and out of my life. Sometimes loss is clear cut—I lost a man that I considered my second grandfather to cancer last summer. At the same time, I went through my first heartbreak with the guy I’d been dating for two and a half years. While these experiences were some of the toughest I’ve ever gone through, there are other types of loss that can be just as impacting, yet are more difficult to define than those labeled as “death” or “break-ups.”
For example, growing up, in general, comes with is its own type of loss. We can feel an almost painful nostalgia for “the way things used to be” and, especially as we move into emerging adulthood, can find ourselves wishing for simpler times. In addition, when we change, our friendships also change. It wouldn’t be healthy for us to be the exact same people from freshman year of college to senior year, or even years beyond that. We are wired to feel comfortable with consistency, but living a static life doesn’t even come close to living a full life. Developing differences between our friends doesn’t doom the friendship completely, it just might means that those times are fewer and farther in between, or perhaps come along by way of new and different activities and conversations. Loving people who are different from us in multiple ways is a good thing and by no means dooms us to a “friendship breakup,” as long as we learn how to adapt and respect those differences.
All of that being said, sometimes letting go is a defense mechanism, but that doesn’t mean it makes us weak—in fact being able to do so is true sign of strength. It’s not an easy way out, but merely a way for us to self-preserve and take control of our happiness. When we let go of the things that aren’t meant for us, we make room for those that are.
Life is so short that there really isn’t any time or space for the excessive number of “should’s” that we encounter on a daily basis. Learning to follow our inner light and to walk our own paths, as well as to act on our own desires and instincts is necessary to finding happiness. Too often, we are held back by the expectations that others have of us that we forget we are in charge of who we let have a place our lives. For that very reason, we must detach from anything that isn’t growing us in a positive way. We should also also remember that losing one thing can mean picking up something else that could be so much better.
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