You can’t make it to your mid-thirties and beyond without some baggage. We all have it to varying degrees and letting go can be as painful as carrying the baggage itself. Left unaddressed, it can cripple your present and stunt the growth of your future.
Everyone is different. You have unique experiences (good and bad) that formed you into the human being you are right now. In my own life, I’ve identified 5 specific bags of foolishness that occasionally handicap my daily life.
- Ancient history (going deep into childhood or young adulthood)
- Physical (lingering or emerging body image issues)
- Emotional (relationships that dragged you through the wringer)
- Professional (wondering how you ended up at jobs you hated)
- Mental (unsure where to go from here to attain peace and fulfillment)
Regrets are part of our existence and to a degree, they’re good for us. They teach valuable lessons about what we don’t want and just might stop you from making the same mistakes in your future that you made in your past.
They can also keep you locked in place, afraid to move forward.
Letting go of all the negative crap from birth to yesterday is a skill that can change your entire view of yourself, your life, and what it is you really want. It takes practice but I guarantee your life will be better for it.
Get Out of the Lost and Found
Have you ever intended to throw an old suitcase with a broken zipper and missing wheel in your trash only to find you’re still dragging the thing to your new place three years later?
- Maybe it belonged to your aunt and even if you didn’t get along, you should keep it anyway because your mom would be disappointed if you didn’t.
- Maybe it was the suitcase you took on your honeymoon and even though you’re divorced, the memories weren’t all
- Maybe it joined you on your first business trip. Sure, you hated that job but you got to see New York City (finally) so that was a milestone.
This is a hypothetical piece of luggage but it could be a concert ticket, an old hoodie, your “skinny” dress, an old day-planner, or a pine cone. People gather things that preserve memories.
We clutch them to us…and they are heavy.
You might put them away and stumble over them months or even decades later. The moment you hold that item – you remember. Most of the time, you’re flooded with good memories because the bad stuff gets shuffled to the back.
Why? Because your brain loves endorphins.
It wants to feel good so it reminds you of that camping trip with your ex-husband when you survived nearly freezing to death and how you laughed about it when the sun came up and drove to the nearest town for breakfast. His horrible temper and infidelity seem smaller.
Your mind recalls what a fantastic artist your mother was and how she drew you cartoons sometimes but conveniently glosses over the violence you lived under day after day.
That old planner for a job fifteen years ago makes you remember that you had the best co-workers there. You forget for a moment that your boss said you being a mother was inconvenient for him the day your son fractured his wrist at school and you left two hours early.
Some people pick up these objects and trip down happy memory lane. They second-guess why they ended that relationship or cut off ties with their mom or left that job.
It’s a trap.
When it comes to all the things weighing you down, there are physical, mental, and emotional triggers that can fill you with self-doubt, shame, and confusion.
5 Steps to Letting Go of Baggage
1. You need to know what your suitcase of issues is holding. I admit, there are times a little carry-on of crazy pops up in my life from the way back…things I thought I no longer remembered much less allowed to affect me.
Identifying toxic relationships with people (familial, romantic, platonic, and even professional) too often sits in your blind spot. Drag them out into the light of day – even if it hurts.
2. Is this really your baggage or are you carrying it for someone else out of guilt, obligation, or a misplaced sense of needing to be punished? This step isn’t always easy because (women in particular) are taught to “be nice.” We take blame that doesn’t belong to us, we issue apologies when they aren’t owed, and we back-burner ourselves for the feelings of others.
Sometimes, people are just jerks and nothing you could have done would have changed the outcome. Know when it’s you…know when it’s not you. Letting go is about your growth – first and foremost. Don’t apologize for what you need.
3. Most baggage is a mixture of good and bad. Like that awesome family vacation as a kid that included a terrifying fight between your parents outside the motel room. Not all luggage should be tossed out completely.
Only you can determine what’s worth saving (and what’s good for you to save). #LettingGoClick To Tweet
While you shouldn’t toss those things with a little “oh no” attached (no situation or person is ideal in every way), don’t do the opposite, keeping people or memories because a small part of it was good.
4. By far, this step is the hardest for most people. Many humans “hoard” their pasts and memories (no matter how negative). They hold on to mementos and moments, singling them out from the bigger picture that shows something entirely different.
Letting go shouldn’t be done without thought but it shouldn’t be ignored. Toxic people, relationships, jobs, and experiences clutter your mind and get jostled around, bumping into your present and messing things up.
5. Clean up. Once you’ve determined what’s got to go, get it all the way out. Get rid of the souvenirs, the photos, the mix tapes, the cards or letters, the things that remind you. Throw out the physical reminders of trauma without looking back.
Humans are tactile with our memories. Touching remnants of the past, smelling scents that remind us of a moment or a person, and even hearing a song can send you into a crazy spiral of self-pity and regret.
Not all memories are physically removable, of course. These steps can easily translate to your mental headspace as well. Letting go is a skill (not a trait) and that means it can be learned.
Use the same methods to deal with childhood trauma, things you faced as a young adult, issues that linger over past jobs, and doubts that plague you over relationships long ended.
In my own life, I’ve applied them to childhood abuse, sexual assault, divorces, body image issues, being laid off, toxic people, and starting an entire life over from scratch (more than once).
The more power you give your baggage, the heavier it gets. It’s hard to move around your daily life hauling this crap behind you that does nothing but make you feel bad.
Maybe past mistakes were your fault. I think we’ve all done things that make us shudder to remember. Maybe you messed up so bad that letting go feels like excusing it. Hauling that broken luggage is your penance.
I’m serious. Stop flogging yourself for the past. It can’t be changed and spending the rest of your life living in that moment is going to mess up a whole lot of the moments after it.
- Change how you think and act (don’t repeat the mistake).
- Own what you did wrong (in every sordid detail).
- Apologize if you can (whether the person will accept it or not).
- Make amends in some way (even if it can’t be to the person you wronged).
- Walk into your future determined to do better (you still won’t be perfect).
The earth continues to circle the sun. Every morning is another chance to get things right. You won’t always. Whether you’re twenty or forty or sixty or eighty, you’re still going to mess up. How those (possible) future mistakes affect you will depend on if they’re being compounded on a lifetime of mistakes and regrets.
Put that heavy baggage down. You need both arms free to embrace your future.