Forget your lost dreams, they will only hold you back
Ask yourself what is it that you are clinging to in your life and whether it’s worth the cost
You can also cling to the idea that you must please your parents and never cause them any pain no matter what. Illustration: iStock
A conversation with a passenger on a flight to Rome underlined for me the degree of unhappiness we bring into our lives by clinging to ideas that no longer make sense.
He had been to the UK for his father’s funeral and was returning to Italy via Dublin for business reasons. His father had opened a small newsagents in a remote village and had worked “morning, noon and night” up to the time of his death.
It now weighed heavily on his only son that his late father had never reconciled with being unable to pass on the business to him.
To the father, to set up a business to pass along to your child was the ultimate achievement. To the son, it would have meant burying himself in the middle of nowhere as he put it. He worked in financial services in Rome and was quite happy with his choice.
It was a sad example of how we sometimes cling on to unrewarding ideas and dreams, like a baby clinging on to its mother. The father clung on to his dream and never allowed himself to get over the disappointment of his son’s refusal to share that dream.
It’s not just about business. You could have an idea of yourself as somebody who wins the admiration of others. You might have got this idea from your parents. When you go out into the big bad world you discover that not everybody admires you. Hopefully you can see your earlier desire as unrealistic and unhelpful and let go of it.
But I have met those who have clung to this irrational idea. They become bitter with those who question them, and sometimes they even become unapproachable. A sad existence.
You can also cling to the idea that you must please your parents and never cause them any pain no matter what. This is not uncommon. Pleasing parents is fine, it’s the “must” that creates the trouble. That’s what can lead you to take up a career of which they approve but in which you are unhappy, or to stay in a painful marriage so as not to upset them.
I’ve heard of people concealing a marriage breakdown because they are clinging to the idea that they must keep their parents happy.
It’s not all about other people though. Imagine that you see yourself as a writer of novels (this is a common affliction of journalists) but that you are not actually good at writing novels.
If you cling to this idea, then you bring a thread of dissatisfaction, of irritation, into your life; what you are is never what you wanted to be. It might be better to mourn the lost dream and get engaged with whatever life has to offer you.
We are used to the idea that clinging to ideas can lead people down some very dark roads. This is especially so when you look at conflicts that are not simply about resources but also about visions of how we should live. Too often, those who cling to their vision feel justified in inflicting physical or emotional violence on those who don’t share their view.
On a personal level you might cling to the image of yourself as a physically strong person with the constitution of an elephant and therefore be unwilling to make lifestyle changes that could keep you alive after a heart attack.
If you find yourself reflecting on things during your summer holidays, it might be fruitful to ask what is it that you are clinging to in your life and whether it’s worth the cost. If it is, that’s one thing. But if it isn’t you might ask yourself if the cost of letting it go would be greater or less than the cost of clinging on.
I’m not suggesting you drop everything that you cling to and that isn’t working out for you. Life is never that neat. But sometimes asking the question about these attachments can be the start of a road to very positive change.
Padraig O’Morain (firstname.lastname@example.org, @PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email. His latest book is Kindfulness.