When It’s Time to Let Go: The Freedom of Accepting What Can’t Be Changed

Colors of happiness

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us.” ~Helen Keller

Years ago, a friend had a small party for her son’s fifth birthday. I was expecting to spend most of the party talking to the other adults. But that’s not what happened. Instead, at the insistence of my friend’s son, I spent most of the party entertaining him and the other children.

Occasionally, I would escape to the living room to talk to the other adults. But before long my friend’s son would emerge from his bedroom and drag me back to play with him and the other kids.

The truth is that I didn’t mind. In fact, I actually enjoyed the attention. And what happened at the birthday party has been the story of my life. Kids have always been drawn to me, and vice versa.

Children draw out parts of my personality that adults rarely see: my silly side, my creative side, my playful side. I’m an expert at improvising engaging games and activities for children. And of course, I always join in the fun!

And yet, despite the natural affinity that I have for children, for most of my adult life I’ve been indifferent to having my own kids. I’ve seen firsthand from family members and from friends how much responsibility children are. And the truth is that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take on that responsibility.

My feelings toward having children changed as I got older and entered my forties. I realized that I really did want to start a family and that having a child was my most important goal.

Unfortunately, I have reached a point where I seriously doubt that I will ever achieve my goal of having a child. My forty-seventh birthday is rapidly approaching. And my wife will soon turn thirty-nine.

Granted, we could still become parents. The truth, though, is that I have reservations about having a child at my age, knowing that I’d be responsible for caring for someone into at least my mid sixties. And I worry about what would happen to my child if I were to die when they were still young.

And so I am slowly accepting that I’ll never be a father, that I’ll never hold my child in my arms.

I’m accepting that I’ll never hear my child’s first words, never see them take their first steps.

I’m accepting that I’ll never get to take them to the park, never get to help them with their homework, never get to hold them when they’re going through a tough time.

Chances are, you’re in a position similar to me. Chances are you too need to accept that you’ll never achieve a particular goal or dream that was important to you.

Maybe you also need to accept that you’ll never have a child. 

Or perhaps you had a relationship end and you keep chasing after the other person even though they’ve made it clear that the relationship is over.

Or maybe there was a career goal that you haven’t been able to achieve due to a physical limitation.

Or perhaps your dream was something else entirely—a financial goal, or a travel goal, or a personal growth goal.

Whatever your situation is, I encourage you to consider what you have to gain from accepting that you may never be able to achieve your dream. Continuing to try to change situations that are outside of our control can lead to anger and bitterness, as well as wasted time and energy.

Meanwhile, learning to accept that we may not achieve some of our goals and dreams has the potential to bring us great freedom. Acceptance frees up our emotional energy and allows us to refocus our time and energy on dreams and goals that are still achievable.

We can and should do our best to go after our goals and dreams. But we need to do so in the spirit of understanding that we may never achieve them. The hard truth is that much of what happens in life is outside of our control, and all we can do is put forth our best effort.

Pursuing our dreams is important. But so is knowing when to step away from one dream and move on to another one.

If you’re ready to step away from one dream in order to free your heart to pursue a new dream, then here are several techniques that can help:

Have a letting go ceremony.

Schedule a time and place where you will hold a ceremony dedicated to accepting the end of your dream. This might involve lighting candles, saying prayers or meditating, or burning an object that symbolizes your dream. You might even invite certain family members or friends to participate in the ceremony with you.

Focus on gratitude.

Even though you weren’t able to achieve an important goal or dream, you still have much to be grateful for. Keep a regular gratitude journal and continually remind yourself of all the wonderful things in your life. Most importantly, focus your gratitude energy on all the new dreams and opportunities that you now have the time and energy to pursue.

Learn to be compassionate with yourself.

Often, when we’re unable to achieve something that’s important to us, we blame ourselves for our failures instead of understanding that much of what happens in life is outside of our control. Set aside a small amount of time every day for prayer or meditation. During this time, focus your energy both on accepting that you did the best you could under whatever circumstances you faced and that it’s time to let go of your dream.

Use a mantra.

Develop a mantra that you can silently repeat whenever you need to. For example, if you find yourself ruminating over your inability to achieve your dream, you can close your eyes and repeat a simple phrase such as: “I let go and accept.” The key is to use something simple that resonates with you personally.

Learning to accept that you won’t achieve your goal or dream takes time. If you’re committed to the path of acceptance, then be prepared to learn to accept over and over and over again. Meanwhile, the value of what you can gain from acceptance is immeasurable: peace of mind, an open heart, and renewed energy to pursue new goals and dreams.

I am learning to accept that I will never become a father. And new doors and new opportunities are opening up around me.

I suggest that you try the same with your goals and dreams that are now outside of your reach, instead of continuing to push against a closed door or holding onto the past. Accept, let go, and walk through one of the new doors that has opened up for you.

Photo by Camdiluv

About Ed Herzog

Ed Herzog is a life coach whose mission is to help people discover an authentic career path – one that allows them to use their talents and passions to make a positive contribution to the world. If you’re searching for an authentic career path, you can start today by downloading his FREE guide: 10 Powerful Questions For Discovering Your Life Purpose.

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