Today’s post is a vulnerable one, but I felt it felt important to share. It’s a life lesson I believe many can relate to.
In a recent chat with my therapist, she threw me a curveball:
What if you were single for the rest of your life?
I did a double-take. It isn’t that she believes I’ll actually be single forever. Instead, she wanted me to entertain the thought: What would be meaningful about that version of life?
But the more I thought about it, the more it became clear—this was the exact right question for me to ponder. It shifted my perspective on my search for partnerships.
So, let’s talk about why giving up on my goals has been so liberating.
The wisdom of “giving up hope”
This therapist bombshell reminded me of some powerful insights in Olive Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks.
You could think of this book as an extended argument for the empowering potential of giving up hope. Embracing your limits means giving up hope that with the right techniques, and a bit more effort, you’d be able to meet other people’s limitless demands, realize your every ambition, excel in every role, or give every good cause or humanitarian crisis the attention it seems like it deserves. It means giving up hope of ever feeling totally in control.
I hear him asking:
- What if things never get better?
- What if I never get the thing I want?
- What if I give up hope in reaching our every dream?
As a life coach, these questions felt counterintuitive! My whole job is to help people achieve their dreams, isn’t it?
The “I’ll be happy when” trap
Burkeman calls out the “when I finally” mindset—always postponing happiness until you achieve something specific.
This future-focused attitude often takes the form of what I once heard described as the “‘when-I-finally’ mind,” as in: “When I finally get my workload under control/get my candidate elected/find the right romantic partner/sort out my psychological issues, then I can relax, and the life I was always meant to be living can begin.” … Yet in fact the way she’s attempting to achieve that sense of security means she’ll never feel fulfilled, because she’s treating the present solely as a path to some superior future state—and so the present moment won’t ever feel satisfying in itself.
So, what if things never get better? What if the stars don’t align the way I want them to?
So what do we do instead?
Just to be clear—I don’t believe I’ll be single forever. I know I’ll find a wonderful partnership. But wrestling with that idea opens up new possibilities within me.
It gets me to loosen my grip on my desires. It helps remind me that not only will things not turn out perfectly, but they might not turn out at all. I stop insisting that things have to pan out a certain way for me to be happy. Instead, I begin to focus more on appreciating what I already have in my life.
After that session, I found myself wondering: If I were single for the rest of my life, what would I do with my time? I’d pour myself into friendships and be more available for the people I love. I’d devote time to the projects and causes I care about. I’d play more music! Doesn’t sound too bad, does it?
Finding appreciation for the way things currently are
These days, when a longing pops up, I challenge myself: What if this goal doesn’t come to fruition?
The truth is, even if my business doesn’t expand or I don’t hit certain personal milestones, it wouldn’t be so bad. I’m still doing work I care about and making a difference with my life. And I can grieve the things that might not fit.
(An important aside: This isn’t the go-to approach for every situation. When you’re dealing with harmful scenarios, appreciating the present isn’t the move.)
The paradox: giving up creates more space
Here’s the paradox—when I stop pushing so hard, I find myself more relaxed. My desires don’t disappear, but I’m no longer white-knuckling my way to them.
I’m not giving up on the dream, but I’m letting go of the need to have it. I’m surrendering to the possibility that things might be similar to how they are now.
This mindset allows me to show up to my dreams with a more relaxed heart.
When I stop trying to be “caught up” on my to-do list, I end my day feeling more accomplished. By dropping the urgent “need” to grow my business, I find myself being more creative. By loosening the grip on finding a relationship, I experience more presence and joy in dating.
A question to consider
Next time you find yourself holding tightly to a vision, I invite you to consider “giving up.” Picture a life where you might not hit your intended targets. What aspects of life would still bring you joy?
Life is unpredictable, and our tight grip on our desires often brings more stress than satisfaction. By surrendering our expectations and appreciating what we have now, we create a space for our dreams to come to life more organically. In letting go of expectations, we may find the very thing we’ve been relentlessly chasing after.
I’ve spent over a decade as a leadership coach, aiding social change leaders to achieve personal growth and societal transformation without running themselves into the ground. Drawing from my own roots in climate activism, I aim to help us transform our movements for change into places that are more nourishing for everyone involved. Sign up for my newsletter to get my latest articles.