When to let go…

(Alternatively titled: “Would You Like a Little W(h)ine with Your Cheese?” I apologize for the navel-gazing, but I’m running up against some deadlines, and I haven’t had time to formulate any reading-content posts.)

I’m sure there were many times throughout my childhood when my parents sought to disabuse me of the notion that being an adult was fun (In fact I know they did, but as a kid I knew everything so I didn’t really listen to them). My parents were always very conscientious about making sure that I was given the right to make a “choice,” but really, the choices seemed so limited (continue with ballet or quit? hot fudge sundae or mint chocolate chip ice cream?), and I was always anxious for the future, which my childish imagination supposed would be something akin to the perfect autumn day: all golden leaves, crisp air, and a sense of freedom.

Yeah. Then I grew up.

Or, I should say, I became older and increasingly conscious of what it really means to be an adult. Bills. Responsibilities. Freedom and choice exist, but so does the darker underbelly of those golden words: regret.

I cannot remember a time when I haven’t felt the burden of regret. At the ripe young age of 31 I feel like so many of my decisions have led me down paths I didn’t want to go down, and recently, I’ve almost crippled myself with guilt (I was raised Catholic, you know) for the choices I have made. The result is that I’m either anxiously backpedaling or trying to jump into an idealized future. The end has been my focus for so long, that I almost can’t remember what it’s like to pay attention to the journey. Very rarely do I sit still long enough to enjoy living in the present.

This past weekend Apparent Dip went on a day-long field trip, leaving me to spend the day by myself with my endlessly whirring thoughts and cats (dangerous combination, I know). The result, however, was the not-so-brilliant epiphany that I am tired. I’m tired of running back and forth, jumping from plan to plan. I need to just “be.” To allow myself to be happy with where I’m at in the present, to stop regretting, and to let go. And letting go? Not so easy for control freaks like myself. However, I think I’ve come to a point when I have to realize that I have done all I can…and I need to let go. I need to realize that those roads that I abandoned mid-way, or ignored altogether may have been better roads…or they may have been dark and choked with brambles. I can’t know anymore, and what’s more, I don’t want to know, because it’s time to pay attention to the road that I’m actually on, the one that allows me to live in the same city as my husband, that has given me the chance to take courses that are challenging, that makes it possible for me to see family and friends a bit more often. This road may be a bit uncomfortable at times, but really, what road doesn’t have its share of potholes?

The Road Not Taken (1915)
by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
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15 responses to this post.

  1. Yes, Yes, Yes! Horray for breakthroughs. Now please, stick with this mindset. It’ll be very liberating.

    Reply

  2. Wait, wait —- what did you decide?

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  3. Clair: I love “aha” moments. Now if I could just bottle that liberating feeling….

    Sisyphus: For a while I had played around with the idea of returning to history (which would have required a lot of last-minute and therefore overly half-assed work on my part). Ever since I left my history ph.d. program I’ve been regretting it, but I realized that quite a bit of that regret was tied up in bruised pride. Time to let that part of my life go. Instead (drumroll please) I decided that I need to just throw myself into English grad work with everything I’ve got….(which isn’t a whole lot right now, but hey, I won’t tell if you won’t).

    Reply

  4. Beautifully put! I went through something like this last year (Spring semester in particular), and decided to just enjoy some downtime. Enjoy living in the moment. And it’s been a great decision thus far because I feel somewhat sane again. I wish you the best in whatever you do, and I wish you happiness always!

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  5. OH, I love this post, and I really needed to “hear” it today. Thank you. I am the same way – often wanting to rush into an idealized future, never taking the time to enjoy how I”m getting there – I’m going to print this post for inspiration.

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  6. Andi: Thanks! It’s amazing how relieved I feel at just being able to recognize this. Luckily I can refer back to this post to remind myself of how good it can feel to just relax once in a while.

    Courtney: Thank you for your kind words. And I know it sounds awful, but it’s always a bit of a relief to hear that I’m not alone in feeling this way! 🙂

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  7. Oh, I sympathize with you about being a control freak! I’m a constant worrier and find it nearly impossible to just let things go and to enjoy what I’ve got instead of looking ahead to the future. Okay, I feel this comment is cliche-ridden, but still, it’s true! I’m in the place of having to decide whether to stay in my job or try to get a new one, and so I’m having to do all that weighing of decisions and desires and hopes and all that — it’s hard!

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  8. Dorothy: I also think that part of my problem is that hindsight is always 20/20 although it’s misleading in other respects. The decision seems so simple AFTER I know what happens a year later, and I seem to think that with my next decision things should be as clear. My husband was given great advice in college that I’ve never used: Only make a decision under two conditions–1)You absolutely have to or 2) you’re ready to. One of these days I might have to try that! 🙂 Good luck with the job-related decision…it’s never easy is it?

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  9. Thank you. Your post made me realize I want to put on some Bach and take a nice hot bath! 🙂

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  10. Sylvia: Always happy to help! 🙂

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  11. Ah, here I was thinking you were dropping the grad school thing altogether and getting some random full-time job. Carry on then!

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  12. I’m going to attempt a really bad analogy here so apologies in advance. The first time I went skiing they told me the best way not to run into everything and everybody was to focus on the point where you want to go instead of what you might run into. This is so much easier said than done, and it is very difficult not to see the obstacle and imagine how you are going to trip over it and take out half the people in the ski-lift line. But if you get the hang of it, it works. I think of this when I’m looking at trees and not forest. Feeling overwhelmed is a constant part of my life now, and I have to go back the mantra I invented when I started down this road about what my goals were and how I was going to achieve them. This doesn’t mean that I don’t just feel like veering off and slamming into the tree, but I guess it is a matter of survival now. Don’t worry I’m sure you have picked the right path and that finish-line is going to be great.

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  13. Sisyphus: I can’t leave grad school behind (I’ve had the random full-time jobs, they aren’t really for me). Besides, this way I have many years of angst to look forward to! 🙂

    Ian: To run with your analogy: it’s like I had the choice of two really great slopes, which one should I ski today? (although, given my proclivity to falling on my arse on flat, even surfaces, AND the fact that I get vertigo rather easily, I do not foresee downhill skiing in my future). But I think you’re right, now that I’ve chosen a slope, it’s a matter of avoiding the pitfalls along the way, with the realization that I can end up with a cozy hot chocolate in the ski lodge when I reach the bottom of the run (as long as I watch out for those pesky trees).

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  14. Don’t you just hate being a grown up sometimes? I have been having these feelings far too often lately as well. Just wait until your done with school and have been working in a job for ten years and you’re having these feelings. I’m not very helpful, am I. Actually I think everyone goes through this–it can be agonizing, can’t it!

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  15. Danielle: There are moments when being an adult truly does suck, but it’s rather comforting (in a weird sort of way) to know that everyone does go through this as an adult. I’m trying to convince myself that life would be boring if we had it all figured out from day one–whereas angst makes things a bit spicier! 🙂

    Reply

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