Letting go of the past helps prepare us for the future

May 6, 2012
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While we all face distractions and disappointments throughout our lives, holding on to what was, rather than reaching out for what could be, is a recipe for disaster.

I once held my thoughts as gold within my trembling hands, more precious than even the air that I breathed.

I watched my accomplishments shine, rivaling the sun with their brilliance.

Things once held valuable slip from our grasp as we grow older: a bright and shining future put on hold because of “global competition”; a secure job ripped from us by the economy; a relationship tarnished by an unanticipated action (or an uncontrolled reaction).

Life happens; how we react to it can either advance or stagnate our existence.

A recent trip to Jamaica reinforced this concept as we constantly were told: “Don’t worry — no problems.”

When we asked about the reality of that statement, we were told: “While there are no problems, there are situations that must be dealt with.”

To deal effectively with the past we must let it go.

I reach out blindly, searching desperately for what passed me by, grasping what once was but shall never be again.

My memories become but water running through my hands, unable to be contained by my fingers as they flow through my grasp.

When we live in the past, we can become absorbed by what used to be, rather than seeking out what is or what could be.

Far too many individuals seek comfort in the belief that they will “be called back to work shortly,” rather than seeking a new beginning. We tend to stagnate ourselves (and those around us) when we establish our “net worth and value” within our memories, when we create our identity from what we were, rather than who we are or who we have yet to become.

Seeking comfort in what once was may not be a fatal flaw, but finding shelter from our present reality within the confines of the past will never allow us to reach our full potential.

Life has but birth as a beginning and death as an end, forcing us to travel upon circumstance as we seek meaning to the existence flowing through our hands.

We must reach out to grasp those things not yet offered, leaving behind that which has been accomplished as we seek possibilities yet to be realized.

Though our parents and grandparents may have found security within the four walls of one company or lived in one home their whole life, few of us will experience life without unexpected or unplanned change.

Change is the only thing certain in life. People anticipating change intentionally set their course upon the waters flowing through their fingers. You cannot hold back the waters as they flow through your hands, for rarely do things remain the same. Instead, hold on to the hope that your dreams provide as you build upon what could be rather than hiding behind what once was.

We must acknowledge that the security our past provided has eroded, while a new beginning flows from our hands like a never-ending sea.

We must sail into the unknown horizon leading those willing to follow while waiting for those not yet willing to let go of their past — not ready to face their future.

We should recognize that everyone has different values, aspirations and dreams. What motivates one individual may not motivate another. What gives one a message of hope may paint doom and destruction to another.

If we look at life as a continuum, having a clear beginning and a single end, there will be much opportunity to experience the unexpected along the way — IF we allow ourselves to reach for the stars rather than dwell in the cellar. 

We must open our hands to let go of all that has been — to let all we once were flow through our fingers like water — so we have room within our grasp for what has yet to be.

When we let go of the past, we can fill the void with a new reality, one that will pave the way for a yet to be known future. Hold on to the past long enough to learn from the experience, but recognize that, should you hold too tightly, you will never realize the opportunities that have yet to present themselves.

We cannot experience today’s reality unless we let go of yesterday’s accomplishments. Likewise, we cannot enjoy the opportunities that tomorrow may bring until we are willing to abandon the security found within those things that are familiar as we seek those things that have yet to be revealed. 

David Smith is president and CEO of The Employers’ Association in Grand Rapids.

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