One of the greatest and most frustrating lessons I’ve had to learn, over and over again, is to hold things loosely in my hands. It’s frustrating because it feels counterproductive to every part of my being. When good things come—relationships, experiences, opportunities, routines, material things—I want to claim them, hold them, and do all I can to make them last for as long as possible. I’ve done a lot of work in therapy to be reflective, so I can see the blessings in each moment, even when the moment is less than ideal.
When I first got into college, I received quite a lot of aid and scholarship. I told myself it was the opportunity of a lifetime, but the transition from high school to college turned out to be harder than I expected. When I wasn’t making many friends, when I fell into a deep isolation and depression—despite joining clubs, staying on campus late, and pushing my introverted self to the very ends of my social limits—I thought I must be doing something wrong. I was so lucky to be where I was; I had to make it work because I was too blessed not to.
Ultimately, that college didn’t work out, and I beat myself up about it for a long time.
When one of my closest friendships began to feel one-sided, I wondered what I was doing wrong. I would leave every conversation we had feeling bad about myself. I told myself I was being too sensitive. I tried to honestly tell her the ways she’d hurt my feelings and was met with denial and gaslighting. Again I wondered how I could be better.
When that friendship finally ended, I beat myself up for a long time.
I thought hyper-appreciation was the lesson I needed to learn and master, that this was the right way to live given how hard life is. I mean, people have regrets because they take things for granted, right? So, it always seemed a no-brainer to not only count my blessings but to hold onto them. I was convinced that so long as I’m open, communicative, appreciative, and intentional, things will work out. The people I love will love me back. The things I want to keep won’t leave. When I get bogged down in negative thoughts, I look on the bright side so much that I don’t really allow myself to feel my disappointment or frustration.
I see now that hyper-appreciation and gratefulness are really only half the story. Appreciating what we have is a worthy way to live, but I’ve found that when I’m not careful, that perspective becomes something else entirely: a need for control.
I was an anxious child who’s grown into an anxious adult. Losses have always hit me incredibly hard even when I was the one who let go or walked away. For me, empty space has never gone unnoticed. What’s more, those empty spaces are near-impossible to fill. I don’t want to lose what I don’t have to, but thinking that way is just me trying to control everything.
Loss and change happen despite our best efforts. Relationships end. Opportunities that seemed amazing at first aren’t right forever. We lose things—it’s inevitable. Holding tightly doesn’t stop these things from happening and it doesn’t give us control. With some distance, I’ve learned—and am still learning—that the things that had to be pried from my hands were actually good losses. I transferred to a better university where I was fulfilled academically and socially. I eventually made new friends, and they make me feel seen and heard even when I say the hard things.
I still believe that being open and honest about my feelings is the best way for me to live. I want to tell the people I love how much I love them. I want to gush about how grateful I am for an experience or an opportunity. I want to cherish the belongings that really mean something to me. But I also want to be okay if and when those things and people go away.
I want to be okay even when I’m disappointed. I want to understand that every good thing for me doesn’t necessarily belong to me, and when it goes, it goes. If I loosen my grip, the leaving will hurt but it won’t devastate me. If I loosen my grip, I’ll be able to see the blessings in the midst of the loss. Because holding things loosely is not only so you can be prepared for an inevitable loss, sometimes it is so you can exchange and receive something new and better.
Is there a place in your life where loosening your grip would surrender both fear and control, opening you up for something new? How can you move forward with gentle, open hands?