Traveling Light

I have a client who recently stepped back into the dating pool after enduring a painful breakup. She’s smart, witty and attractive – a real “catch” by anyone’s standards. She tried online dating for a while with less than stellar results. She confessed that she found the first few dates awkward and stressful, probably because she attached a lot of weight to their successful outcome. “It’s exhausting,” she said. “It just feels like I’m on a really hard job interview, trying not to step on any landmines.” When we met again before the holidays, I asked how things were going and she seemed more optimistic. “I’m letting go of all my expectations,” she said. “I’ve decided I don’t want to carry all my old worries forward. From now on, I just want to have fun.”

What a lovely and apt metaphor for the beginning of a New Year, when many of us are thinking about resolutions and what we might like to do differently. Fear wears many guises, most of them not helpful for dating, or living for that matter: extreme busyness, total self-sufficiency, trying too hard to impress. All too often we carry it around like a heavy suitcase, laden with the broken pieces of past failures or missed opportunities. One way to reclaim our freedom is to let go of our expectations that things (or people) should be a certain way. Then most everything that happens will come as a welcome surprise.

Every day, we are faced with a similar choice between love and fear – the two most powerful forces in the world. While fear certainly has its uses, it can often keep us from living fully in the present. It also keeps the best part of ourselves unknown. Imagine if we could step out from the shadow of our fears, and live only in love – what would that look like? Would we still be doing what we’re doing? Living where we’re living? It’s worth imagining. But in order to do that, we first need to drop some of our old baggage, and leave it firmly behind. How do we do that?

I Like Myself Unconditionally
It’s a fundamental truth that we can only truly love and respect another person to the degree that we love and respect ourselves. A healthy self-love is the foundation upon which all our relationships are built – and without which they crumble. This is not egotism or narcissism, but an acceptance of all our strengths and weaknesses. It’s about learning to be a good friend, first and foremost to yourself, with all of the leeway and understanding you would grant to someone you value and care about. Not when I lose 10 lbs, or when I find the right mate – but right now, in this very moment. The more we can like ourselves, the more we can love others, and overlook their failings too.

I Forgive Myself
We all make mistakes or we wouldn’t be human. But without the benefit of a time-machine, there’s no going backwards. So be careful what you carry forward. All the half-assed efforts, broken promises, wasted time and energy of the prior year – all of them exist where you can no longer exert influence. Learn from them, grieve for them if you have to, but then tee up the next shot. This is not meant to relinquish you from responsibility, it is in fact making you more responsible, but in a more forward-focused and positive way. Accept that sometimes even your best efforts will fall short, and then strive to do better.

I Let Go
Once you accept that you are not in charge, no matter how much you want to be, you immediately increase your odds of a favorable outcome. All stress, all strife is the result of a collision between how we think things should be, and how they really are. By trying to accept the reality of human experience, we can save ourselves a lot of grief. While my client has not yet met her Prince Charming, by letting go of some of her expectations, she has opened herself up to a world of new people and experiences.

I Try to Have Fun
Set your goals for the year and try to achieve them, but remember that the process is as apt to produce enjoyment as the end product. Look at your habitual patterns of behavior, and ask yourself which ones produce a feeling of contentment, and which ones bring you closer to despair. As simple as it may sound, happiness comes from choosing more of the activities that we know will bring us closer to joy. Anything that gets in the way of that is excess baggage, and needs to be left behind.

May you travel light and have fun getting there. Happy New Year!