You’re Allowed to Grieve the Life You Wanted

I’ve always been a planner. I enjoy challenges, and go after what I want with the word “impossible” excluded from my vocabulary. I’ve simultaneously balanced a lot of separate roles in my life. Over and over again, hard work proved to be my universal answer. I imagined what my life would look like and knew that every step I took would guide me there. I was intentional, future oriented, always looking at what my actions meant in the long-term. I had this fallacy that I could move all the pieces the way they needed to be moved, therefore, I could really do it all, have it all. Three big lessons hit me pretty hard in adulthood that I didn’t want to accept – 1) we have limited resources; 2) we have limited control; and 3) we will have unexpected curve balls that can give, take away, or change our lives in ways we never anticipated.

When you have limited resources

When life got more autonomous and I had more choices to make, I realized I couldn’t actually do all of the things I wanted to do. Part time oceanographer, part time cardiologist, and part time counselor weren’t really going to mix. I still imagine my life in those different roles – what it would be like day-to-day, what I would be like as a person, ultimately, if I could have been happier.

There’s a difference between passion and interest, and we don’t have time to pursue everything that interests us. Prioritization is key. Additionally, it isn’t too late to change pace. A few years of your life to seek something new is worth taking that step for the rest of your life. You’re allowed to grieve those interests, those careers, those hobbies, and those passions that either didn’t make the cut in your life or simply didn’t work out. You can be grateful for your job, even love your job, and also feel sad for what didn’t happen for you. Those things can coexist.

When you have limited control

I think it took me a few painful experiences to realize that I’m not actually in control of the world around me – that all I can control is the initiative I take and how I respond to circumstances or other people. This was particularly true of relationships. Because I thought it only took me working hard to provide what I wanted out of life, my expectations were wildly high. My disappointments were just as wildly low when those expectations weren’t met. I thought that if I put X amount of effort into my relationships, I would get X amount of effort back from those people. I took it personally when I was rejected, unaccepted, disliked, taken advantage of, ridiculed, etc. Turns out that no matter how nice you try to be, you won’t be everyone’s cup of tea – even when it’s someone that you’re stuck seeing (and feeling disappointed by) for the rest of your life, or someone you really thought you’d hit it off with.

I once had a counselor that would ALWAYS respond with “you can’t control them, you can only control yourself – what will you do about it?” to situations like this – sure, that is true. However, it didn’t validate the deep cuts I felt. She skipped a pretty huge step. We invest a lot of hope into relationships. We have these dreams of what things will be like with certain (what we imagined would be important) people in our lives. When we realize that our reality landed far off from our dreams, we don’t simply lose something we once had – we lose what we imagined would be our future. It’s an intangible, very painful loss that deserves your attention. Before we can decide how we respond to these losses, we have to grieve them.

When life throws you curveballs

In all the planning I have ever done in my life, the biggest, most influential things that I have experienced have simply happened to me. The things that affect my life the most are the things I didn’t anticipate. We don’t often go to therapy to talk about the things we did plan for – we talk about what we didn’t, and how to deal with those things. It is very apparent to me that there are some things I thought were a given in my life that I will simply never have no matter what I do now. A lot of those curve balls posed very permanent and unexpected losses. One phone call can change the entire course of your life.

I’ve often had people tell me that things work out how they’re supposed to, everything happens for a reason…all of the toxic positivity. Whether or not those things are true, you don’t need to find a silver lining. Sometimes things just suck. However your life changes after a curveball happens, you’re experiencing a sort of death. Every change, even a good change, is a form of death to something you once knew. I encourage you to explore what life could have been like without those curveballs, and then give a heartfelt goodbye to that past possible version of yourself when you’re ready to do so.

Each one of those lost hopes, dreams, opportunities, or ideals is a sort of invisible death that you have to process. You watched those things slip out of your reach, and grieving that loss does not, in any way disrespect or take away from who and what you do have in life. Grieve those losses like any other death. Let them take space in your heart. Honor your pain. Only then can you move forward.

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