“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans” Allen Saunders (and John Lennon)
I think we all get an image in our head of what our ideal life will look like. While this vision is different for everyone, I suspect that one commonality is that for most us, life doesn’t turn out exactly like we planned it would.
When we’re younger, this ideal life is all about the possibilities. Since our life hasn’t really started yet, anything is not only possible, it is expected and assumed that it will work out.
We may have a vision of the things we want to do, places we want to go, and things we plan to achieve. It is probably a romanticized, glamorized, and idealized idea of adult life – and we can’t wait for it to begin.
And then reality sets in.
And as reality sets in, life may begin the butt-kicking that we all seem to get eventually. Not only do things not automatically happen as we’d hoped and dreamed they would, but it finally becomes obvious that the only way we’re going to get the life we want is to create it for ourselves. Because one thing is pretty clear – life isn’t going to just hand it to you.
But here’s the thing: in order to get the life you want – that you REALLY want – you’ll not only have to build it yourself, you’ll have to let go of some things you may be (consciously or unconsciously) holding on to. THAT is sometimes the hardest part of the process.
So what kinds of things might we be holding on to that are holding us back?
These aren’t all bad. In fact, sometimes it’s our childhood dreams and fantasies that propel us forward. The dreams we had when we were kids are often an indication of our truest selves. They’re a more accurate representation of who we are inside than the outer facade we’re currently presenting to the world.
When we’re kids, we don’t have the ability or experience to know what it takes to actually achieve goals and to turn our fantasies into adult realities. If we’ve dreamed about a particular career path, it’s unlikely that we had any clue about the education or experience that would be required to get there. If we had ideas about what our relationships would look like, we had no clue how much personal development it would take for us to be the person inside that idealized relationship. And we had no idea how difficult it might be to find the other people who would eventually be part of that equation.
Life is pretty simple when it’s a dream and no effort or other people are involved.
So one thing we have to let go of is the fantasy that things will happen magically. Can they happen – yes! Will they happen without effort and persistence – no. The idea of effortless attainment that accompanies childhood fantasies must be left behind in order to do the adult work that’s required to turn fantasy into reality.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my full disclosure policy for details.
Expectations: Yours and others
Other people often have definite expectations of us. They feel they know what’s best for us and that they have a clearer picture of our strengths, talents, and skills than we do. Their expectations say much more about them, though, than they do about us. Other people’s assumptions are simply that…assumptions. They don’t know our hopes and dreams.
But even when we think we’ve escaped their expectations, it’s possible that we’ve internalized them. Those subtle message we’ve absorbed through the years can sneak in and influence our choices without our conscious realization. It’s hard to overcome our early programming.
However, we also set expectations for ourselves and these may be even harder to let go of.
Perhaps you chose a career path and have worked in that field for awhile. You may had career goals that you wanted to accomplish that were important to you. Or maybe you’ve settled into a particular relationship or lifestyle because you thought it would make you happy. Waking up one day and admitting to the world – and ourselves – that we’ve been on the wrong path is extremely difficult and it can feel nearly impossible to let go of those dreams we had. So difficult, in fact, that sometimes people would rather continue going down a path that makes them unhappy rather than admit they made a wrong choice in the fist place.
Don’t let expectations lock you into a life you dislike.
A job you dislike but that pays the bills (or brings you status)
Perhaps you have a high-paying job or one that gives you status in the eyes of others. You may have liked your job at one time or it may simply have been a means to an ends. But now, whether or not you liked it in the first place is irrelevant because your job has become something you actively dislike.
However, reality is that bills must be paid.
But nothing says that those bills can’t be paid by another job. Just because you’re IN a job doesn’t mean you have to STAY in that job. You’ve always got options to find a job you like better or to seek training so that you can switch to a completely different field.
Money and status can be great things IF they bring you happiness. When they don’t – they’re simply anchors that keep you moving on to a happier situation.
Bad relationships – Toxic friends:
Good friends are hard to come by. As we get older it seems harder to make new friends. This fact means that there are times when we gravitate to anyone who is around and who seems friendly. We may get snookered into believing that someone is a friend when they’re really not.
But we often won’t cut ties with a toxic friend because our options for friendship and social interaction are limited. Whether it’s because we’re busy at work, with kids, or live a more isolated lifestyle, we may not feel like we’ve got lots of choices when it comes to friendship.
A toxic friendship, though, is one that tears us down rather than building us up. We leave interactions with this “friend” feeling worse rather than better. Sometimes we may even look for ways to avoid this person at times because we’re aware of the draining effect they have on us.
Whatever the reasons, you’ve got to decide if the relationship is worth continuing. Perhaps letting go of a bad friendship will open the door for a better one to take its place.
“Stuff” and possessions that tie you to a job, location, and lifestyle
It’s possible for you to look up at some point and realize that you absolutely hate your life. You hate your job. You hate where you live. You hate the lifestyle you’re living.
And you want to chuck it all and make a change.
There’s only one little problem…you have a mortgage. Or you’ve got too many years invested in a job to quit right now. Or your financial commitments are just too big at the moment. Or your kids aren’t out of school yet and you don’t want to move them at such a critical time.
These are all definite problems – and valid reasons why we stay in situations long after it’s apparent that it’s time for a change.
I’ve known people who have gone through this exact scenario and I’ve lived through it myself.
So what do you do about it? Are you stuck?
Some situations involve other people and their needs should be considered. But their needs are not the ONLY needs that must be considered?
It is possible to rid yourself of possessions that are tying you down. It’s possible to sell your house and downsize if you’re ready for a new location. Moving is never fun but sometimes it’s just what the doctor ordered. And if you’re feeling tied down because of family obligations, keep in mind that those won’t be permanent either.
Your need for approval:
Here’s the unvarnished truth: not everyone will approve of you or of everything you decide to do. Not everyone will like you. In fact, some people may actively dislike you for no reason at all, however, their dislike of you generally says more about the than it does about you.
It can be hard to set go of the need for approval. As a species we’re wired to be social animals and most of us would like at least some measure of approval from others.
But here’s the hard part: you must let go of the need to have everyone approve of you and your choices. Because, trust me, it’s not going to happen.
There’s nothing wrong with seeking approval from some people, however. In fact, if we’re smart and make wise choices about who we let in to our inner circle, it can be a good thing to seek approval from people who matter. It’s just that not everyone matters. And if we spend time worrying what other people will think then we’ll never get what we want.
Every minute we spend seeking approval is a wasted minute!
Traditional role expectations – Convention
Let’s face it…society has had some pretty rigid expectations for both men and women. You may find that your goals and dreams are very much at odds with the traditional expectations of masculinity and femininity. Even if you aren’t bothered by bucking tradition, it’s possible that some of the people around you are bothered. In order to get the life you want you’ll have to get comfortable making other people uncomfortable.
Constraints and limiting beliefs about yourself
You are not just one thing! You’re not “just” a mom or “just” anything else. You’re multifaceted, you have a range of skills and aptitudes, and even if you don’t think you’ve good at something, it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn and improve.
So quit labeling and limiting yourself. While it is hard to change your life when you feel stuck, you’ll never get anywhere worth going if you do.
We’ve all got them. We know in our heads what we should and shouldn’t do, but for some reason we just can’t get our knowledge to line up with our actions.
I don’t have the answer to this one except to state that acknowledgment of the issue is always the first step to changing our behaviors and to be able to recognize the signs that it’s time for a change. Thoughtful examination of what we value and want most is the only place we’ll find the motivation to change those self-defeating behaviors.
No one said that changing your life would be easy. But it’s definitely not easy living a life that doesn’t make you happy either. What piece of advice would you add to this list?