THE BLOG

Looking To Make a Change? Leave the Past Behind

07/03/2012 04:31 EDT | Updated 09/02/2012 05:12 EDT

"Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending" - Maria Robinson

Letting go of the past is easier said than done. So many of us are hung up on our past -- on the love we felt we had but lost, on past behaviour that has created a certain pattern in our life that is unhealthy or the opportunity that we missed out on. But, we also know it's an unproductive space to dwell in... not only because it leads nowhere, but because it might actually hold you back from a better future. Maybe even from your destiny.

I was thinking about Nora Ephron last week, mourning the loss of this incredible writer, director and producer. Her movies are ones I can watch over and over and there's one theme in particular that struck me in many of them: In each one, the characters needed to let go of something so they could move on to a better future -- their happy ending.

Take Sleepless in Seattle. Tom Hanks' character was a grieving widower and Meg Ryan's was in one of those "safe" relationships. Making that decision to move on was not an easy one. Grief can be debilitating and there's guilt associated with moving on with your life after losing somebody. Similarly, it wasn't easy for Meg Ryan's character to quit a "safe" relationship, to take the chance that there's something more out there for her -- love. What the movie beautifully captured was both characters slowly getting to that place where they were ready to risk a new, and different, future.

Similarly, in You've Got Mail, both characters let go of relationships that just weren't working. And Meg Ryan's character also moved on from a failed business, letting go of her beloved book shop in order to forge a new career and relationship. The key to their future success -- and much more importantly -- happiness, was that very simple act of letting go of the past.

Well, at least it sounds simple... honour your past, respect all it taught you, but move on when it's time. But it's really not that easy for many of us. We get stuck in a loop, mulling over the past, what went wrong, romanticizing the things that were good or repeating the same mistakes expecting (hoping!) the outcome will be different this time, or the next time. If only we could make it so!

"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference" - Reinhold Niebuhr

The thing is, it takes courage to admit something's not working. It takes even more courage to admit that you sometimes can't force it to work. In our society, quitting is seen as such a negative. We say things like "never give up," "try, try again." But sometimes it really is a matter of being honest with yourself, acknowledging the truth of the situation (and being honest about what you really want) and giving yourself permission to try something different; to rewrite your script!

This isn't just about our relationships with others, this is about the relationship with ourselves. Our past can be like a full suitcase that's packed too tight -- full of past issues and hurt. It gets so heavy, we find it hard to lug around. It weighs us down so we no longer travel and experience beautiful destinations. What we need to do is unpack, discard some things, pack others away in there proper place in our closet and then set out on new adventures with a lighter load.

But why is this so hard?! Maybe it's not just the fear of quitting. Doing the same thing is also the safe and easy choice. It's easier to stay in a job you hate than look for a new one. Or to keep going in the relationship you're in than face the daunting prospect of dating, heartbreak and unrequited love! Even when your present misery is debilitating, there can be a strange comfort and familiarity to it. But, while that kind of misery is slowly eroding, the fear of doing something new, fixing old behaviour, and of actually trying is a more dramatic fear that can be paralyzing.

The thing is, what you're most afraid of is rarely the thing that happens to you. For me, embracing The Fear and moving on from the past is one of the bravest, most vital things we can do as humans. When I look back at my life to date, those are the moments I'm most proud of. And, you know what? They also far outweigh the failures or key learnings, as I like to call them. If I have a regret it's that I sometimes didn't move on sooner, once I recognized something wasn't working. But you have to allow your heart to catch up to your head sometimes, too.

The courage to take that leap of faith into a different future, even when you're feeling vulnerable and insecure, has not only shaped my character, but my life too. It really isn't always easy and there are times when we all latch on to the status quo and decide to coast for a bit. The thing is, the great moments in life, the ones that transform and empower, are the ones when we break free and move on.

Just like Nora Ephron's characters, it's those moments that define not the past you had, but the future you're moving towards and the person you're meant to become.