How to embrace 'what is' and let go of 'what if'

Embracing 'what is' and letting go of 'what if' or 'what could have been' is one of my biggest challenges and one of my greatest accomplishments. For many of us, life hasn't gone to plan, so how can we move forwards with hope?

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"I always just thought it would work out."

Have you ever spoken those words, or heard your friends say something similar?

I've definitely said them and I've heard them many times in my coaching practice.

The fact is, for many of us, life hasn't worked out as planned.

Maybe we expected to be in a happy relationship by now, or maybe we expected our relationship to have survived the test of time.

Maybe we expected to be a parent, or to still have the chance to have a child.

Maybe we expected to feel fulfilled in our careers and passionate about our work.

Yet many of us remain single way beyond the age we thought we'd find love (I'm getting married this June for the first time at 48, after spending years figuring out where I was going wrong). In other cases, our relationships break down.

Many of us don't have children and are anxious we're running out of time, or we know our time is up and we feel sad about that (or ambivalent perhaps, which is how I feel most of the time. I was unsure whether I wanted children, and now my time has passed. Or maybe my subconscious made the decision for me).

Many of us have climbed high in our careers, yet we feel lost, exhausted, unfulfilled and empty inside (which was the case for me until I gave up my job as an international journalist and began to write books about finding love and to coach others who feel just as lost as I felt in my late thirties and early forties).

So, no, life hasn't gone to plan and although we accept it might sound naive, we somehow just thought it (meaning relationship, family, career) would all work out. 

How then do we make the most of our circumstances and move forwards with courage and hope?

Here are a few steps that might help:

Grieve what could have been

Letting go of what could have been will inevitably stir feelings of grief and loss. These feelings can't be ignored or brushed aside. If we don't allow them to the surface, they'll get stuck inside and they may come out sideways, sabotaging our lives and relationships. We have to feel it to heal it.

How can you create space and time in your life to feel? How can you facilitate the passage of your feelings so that they don't get stuck? What would help you to feel? Perhaps doing something creative, like drawing or painting. Perhaps being outdoors, in nature. Perhaps doing a specific letting go ritual, such as burning a candle or writing words on the sand and allowing the waves to wash over them (you'll find more letting go ideas in chapter five of my book). 

Forgive yourself

Sadly, we often blame ourselves for the fact that our lives haven't gone to plan.

If only I'd made that choice, or taken that path, or stayed in that relationship, or moved to that country. If only I hadn't ended that relationship or walked away from that career.

We women are especially good at beating ourselves up, especially if we're perfectionists with incredibly high standards.

But you did the best you could with the knowledge and tools at your disposal at the time. You couldn't have done anything more. So how can you let go of self-blame? How can you grant yourself the same level of forgiveness that you'd grant a friend or a child?  Can you make peace with yourself?

Again, you might fight art, music, writing or nature helpful and healing as you go on the forgiveness journey.

Start to envisage a different life

When we spend years focused on a particular life that we'd planned for ourselves, we can become short-sighted. For example, if we thought we'd be a wife and a mum, that's all we see around us: wives and mothers. We feel the odd one out. If we thought we'd live in a big suburban house, then we can't imagine living anywhere else. We feel thwarted. Angry perhaps.

But when we take a moment to look up and look out and to see the array of possibilities before us, precisely because we don't have a cookie-cutter life, we can start to feel hope and excitement.

I remember one Christmas in my early forties. I was single, no children, no ties. I had the option of doing what I'd done every year - spending Christmas with my brother and his family, feeling like a kid rather than a grown-up because I was alone and a bit lost in life - or I could do something entirely different. I did the latter. I rented my London flat and went to Mexico for five weeks. Adventure. Possibility. New experiences. New horizons.

So what can you do to start to envisage a different life? You could begin with a blank canvas - a large sketchpad and some pencils or crayons or a stack of magazines to create a vision board.

Where is your heart leading you? What would make you feel truly alive? What could this life of yours look like? How can you make your own unique plan?

Give it a go. Think big. Be bold.

***Upcoming Events***

How to Fall in Love Five-Week Course with 1:1 and group coaching. Starts May 6. Only 10 spaces so please sign up soon.

How to Fall in Love Spain Retreat, May 11-18, Cortijo Romero, Andalucia. A few places left!

Love Yourself, Love Your Body, Love Your Life Find Love, Turkey Retreat with Yoga, Oct 7-14, Spectrum.

Katherine Baldwin

Midlife Mentor, Dating & Relationships Coach, Author of 'How to Fall in Love'

I work with women and men who are ready to change their lives or careers and with those who want to find love. I guide people on a journey of inner transformation, similar to the journey I've been on. I know how it feels to be stuck in life and to be reluctantly single, and I know what it takes to change and find love. My book 'How to Fall in Love - A 10-Step Journey to the Heart' describes how I went from being a single woman, living in London, bored with my work and longing for a more fulfilling life to a woman in love, engaged to be married, living on the Dorset coast and doing work that makes my heart sing. I have been in recovery from an eating disorder, workaholism and dysfunctional relationship patterns for 14 years, during which time I've mentored and coached others on their journey to a healthier, happier life. I have a Diploma in Counselling and Psychotherapy Skills from the Westminster Pastoral Foundation. In my former life as a news journalist, I reported for Reuters from the Houses of Parliament and travelled with the prime minister. I climbed high but despite my external success, I felt empty inside. Since then, I've turned my life upside down in the best possible way. I work 1-2-1 and in groups, run workshops, courses and seaside retreats. I write for the national media and have appeared on radio and TV, most recently on Woman's Hour. I also speak to business leaders, students and school children about the importance of authenticity and of sharing our internal battles. I'm an advocate of wholehearted living. I do my best to walk the walk.