Learning the art of letting go

Remember the past but don’t forget to live in the present

Written by Jessica McCarthy


Whilst clearing out my wardrobe yesterday I unearthed a dusty yellow box. It was bursting to the brim with childhood paraphernalia. Signed journals, musty diaries lined with teenage angst, letters from pen pals overseas. These were the tattered remnants of a carefree youth. Relationships that I believed were indissoluble, and circumstances that I thought would never change.  I felt an acute sense of sadness and loss.  What had happened to that smiling child with the furry caterpillar brows, and unfortunate bowl haircut? I yearned for the time when life made perfect sense. The time when the biggest concerns that plagued me revolved around getting my braces tightened, or my declining popularity levels.

I fondly recalled that time of safety and security. Some friendships had admittedly formulated on foundations of convenience. Unified by simply being in the same place, at the same time. Or forced to succumb to social segregation by necessity. The battle between nerds and popular kids has been ongoing since the dawn of time. Usually your tribal instincts kicked in, and you choose a side to prevent potential ostracism. I knew exactly what to expect. Every problem could be categorised and filed away for “the grown-ups” to deal with.

I don’t believe we were ever taught to think for ourselves. Not really. The education system seemed to promote blindly following orders and measuring intelligence on a points scale. There was something oddly comforting about the ridgid regimented daily routine. Learning off large chunks of information, and spewing them out. Word-vomiting my way to success. I knew little of the dreaded “real world” that my parents warned me of. I was fearful of it. I assumed once you hit eighteen, your concerns and insecurities dissolved. That you would no longer worry about the judgement of your peers, or need their approval. That you would have a heightened sense of individuality and autonomy. That your thoughts instantly became more mature, and that tracker mortgages would suddenly become fascinating. I expected all of these things, despite being rendered helpless by the education system.  A rote learning robot, whose circuit was frizzled and frying.

The pressure pressed down on my chest. I felt like I was drowning. I was watching others swim to the shore, but I was left behind, maimed without a life jacket. Why wasn’t this change occurring right now? Why did I feel like a shrunken baby in a suit? Why did this briefcase seem out of place on my person? I was nothing more than a fraudster. An imposter within my own skin. That feeling overwhelmed me upon graduation. When we were forcibly ejected from the college cannon, smashing into reality at a ferocious speed. I would now be solely accountable for my actions.

I clung to my past for comfort. Sat exams just to keep up the tradition. Roamed the college like a lost soul.. Feeling more misplaced than an exchange student on a summer program.The ghosts of my past haunted me. I wonder what X was doing now? Or whether Y was still studying. I wondered how I measured up to Z, who I felt was already miles ahead of me. I missed school, college, old relationships, feeling like I belonged. I wanted my life back! I wanted to fall asleep, wake up and for everything to “go back to normal”, even though there never a normal to begin with. I succumbed to the sadness, and regrettably wallowed in it. I lost sleep over faded friendships and lost security. I mourned the loss of the past so much, I forgot to live in the present.  

The existence I was living was both delusional and dangerous. A skewed perspective that altered my perception of everything. My identity was blurred, the world around me was a dark and empty place. In my mind I yearned to be sitting once more in that school uniform, my preppy tartan skirt rolled up, my bag bursting with books. I missed everyone and everything. It had become a distant and unattainable eutopia. A reality obscured behind rose tinted glasses. I was like bloody Morgan Freeman being released from prison in “The Shawshank Redemption”. LET ME GO BACK!!


I now realise the fundamental importance attached to practicing the art of mindfulness. To immerse oneself fully in the present and enjoy every moment. Life is so precious. Every passing time in our brief existence possesses both pros and cons. Every age. Every era. If we get so caught up in mourning the past, time will pass us by. We will grow old and gray, having wasted precious hours clutching desperately upon straws.That in my opinion, would be a awful shame. I don’t want to waste another moment.

For the first time in my life, I had time to step back.  Time to soak up the stillness. Time to observe the frantic rush of the herd, in the stampede towards success, and just breath.  At first I was petrified and constrained by should be’s. Deeply concerned about which milestone was socially acceptable to have reached at this juncture. Almost going into free fall at the thought of being “left behind”. Then I realised how ridiculous I was being.  I finally had time to  just be me, and to figure out what the hell that meant anyway. I could not commend enough the value of taking some time out for yourself. Go see the world, immerse yourself in a hobby, go off the beaten track. Live a little. You are only young once.

It was only travelling to work, on my first day, that I finally stopped panicking, and this realisation sunk in. I could finally be my own person.

I could read what I wanted, I was no longer constrained by a set curriculum.

I could develop which opinions and values were most important to me.

I could express them in my writing or painting.

I could question society and how it was governed.

I was finally tasting freedom, and enjoying each moment. I was responsible for noone.

I was my own woman.

I relished that Monday morning feeling for a change.  I felt the crisp morning breeze against my skin, and quietly observed the busy bustle of Dublin city on a Monday morning.  I heard the Liffey waters lapping, the honking of horns, and the chirpy chattering of spanish students in the distance.I gazed up to the Heineken building, its luminous green light shining, a beacon of hope on the horizon.

This was it! The city was mine for the taking! I was finally autonomous in every sense of the word!

I was Jessica McCarthy, law graduate.

I was no longer bound by rules, regulations or conventions.

I had learnt the art of letting go.

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