Don’t let hurt define you. Learn form it and move on.

Careful what you choose to carry with you. Your choices define who you become.

As my family was escaping from Communist Poland, there was very little time to pack, and what we chose to pack was of grave importance. We could only bring one suitcase each, with the awareness that we might never come back to Poland again. Almost everything my family worked towards building and acquiring during their life had to be left behind in one swift moment. The house my father built, our car, furniture, books, and photographs. The toughest part was leaving behind the many people we loved.

I was not aware that my family was escaping Poland under the guise of going on a sight seeing trip to Italy. So I grabbed my backpack and started packing random play things and some books without much thought.

Then, just before stepping out of my bedroom for the last time, I noticed my sketch book and pencil crayons on the table. In an impulse move I grabbed them and stuffed them in my backpack.

As we travelled through Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Yugoslavia, those crayons and the sketch pad became an essential part of my journey. I used them to capture what I was seeing out of the bus window, drawing endlessly to pass my time. And page by page, country by country, my love for drawing grew stronger. Those crayons and the sketch pad were like the seeds that eventually blossomed into one of my greatest passions, and in many ways defining who I am today, an artist.

The baggage we carry, shape how far and where we go.

I often like to compare this situation, and my back pack, to the baggage we each carry through our own life’s journey. What we choose to carry with us, eventually defines us. The experiences and the people we come across, shape us into who we are.

If we stuff our “back pack” with hurtful experiences and toxic people, they will be like heavy boulders weighing us down and making it difficult for us to move on. What’s worse, by stuffing our bag with negative experiences, we leave very little room for positive ones.

At some point, most of us have either experienced a troubled relationship or a tough breakup, a loss of a loved one, rejection, a bad boss or a toxic work environment, and so on. But, at one time or another, we probably also experienced an inspirational trip, a special connection with someone, a wonderful celebration, or a colleague who made us laugh, impacting our life in a positive way. These elevating experiences are the ones we should focus on while learning to let go of the hurts.

Leave the unnecessary behind.

I was trying to set up my colleague on a date with one of my girlfriends. It was obvious that he was feeling a bit lonely and needed some company, especially since things at work were getting very challenging.

He’s been dating a lot, but things didn’t seem to go anywhere with any of the women he met. While arranging the date, he revealed to me a bad relationship experience from his past.

Back in college he got into a serious relationship with a girl he completely fell head over heals for. After graduating, they moved away to different states. Despite the distance, they decided to continue the relationship, but each month that passed by, it was getting harder and harder to maintain the connection they once shared.  He started to feel lonely and depressed. Something had to change. So my colleague decided that he would propose to his girlfriend. Even if this would mean moving across the country and changing jobs. To his dismay, when he proposed, his girlfriend declared that she was not ready to get married. She asked him to wait. He waited a little longer, but after another year passed, he grew even more unhappy. Once more he asked her to marry him. Again, his girlfriend said that she wasn’t ready. Being rejected the second time left him feeling devastated and they broke up. It was a bad break up, and it tore him to pieces.

The rejection and disappointment caused him great hurt that eventually turned into anger. But, he also realized that now as a free man, he could date or be with anyone he wanted to. He started to date many women, but most of his relationships lasted briefly. And for over 20 years he continued scouring the dating scene, but never seriously committing to anyone.

As he shared his relationship story with me, he admitted that his current lifestyle gets tiring. He still feels lonely as he is unable to connect with anyone deeply.

But, unfortunately the hurtful experience of being rejected early on, has left him scarred. And So, the underlying fear of getting hurt again has become a barrier, making it difficult for any new relationship to grow and develop into something deeper.

As expected, the date I set him up on didn’t lead to anything serious either.

Learn from hurt, don’t let it define you 

By hanging on to hurtful experiences we restrict ourselves to move forward. Eventually this pain becomes a prism through which we judge and view similar experiences going forward.

Learn from challenges. Overcoming challenges is when we learn our greatest lessons

It doesn’t mean that we can avoid disappointments or getting hurt again. What matters is that we shift our perspective and view those tough experiences as learning opportunities. Often, through the challenges we face, is when we do the most learning and the most growing.

Ignoring feelings and emotions is a great way to avoid hurt, but makes experiences shallow  

Also, building a wall around our feelings and emotions will prevent us from reaching an emotional depth that brings fulfillment–an essential part of happiness. How can we experience happiness if we don’t know what sadness is?

It’s alright to feel sad from time to time. But, it shouldn’t be the place where we stay. Eventually, the rain will stop and we need to open the curtains to allow the sunshine to come through. Focus your attention on experiences that heal you. By building friendships, finding new hobbies that bring you satisfaction, learning new skills, and exercise.

Lighten your load and let go of hurt.

Choose happiness whenever possible, not sorrow. Sorrow is too heavy to carry on a long journey and leaves very little room for anything else.

About the illustration: Letting Go

Letting Go
Letting Go

In this picture I chose to paint two people letting go of one another. The trees also part with their leafs, so they can regrow new ones in the spring.  Each end is an opportunity for a new beginning. As humans, we also go through ends and beginnings.

To make room for something new, we must get rid of redundancy. Prune the dead branches, like trees, to allow the healthy ones to grow strong. Similar cycle applies to relationships. Those people who no longer serve a purpose in our lives, or allow us to move forward, also need to be permitted to depart. By trying to keep someone that no longer belongs in our life, becomes a heavy load that prevents us to move on.

In the picture, the girl in the red dress is moving on and looking forward. At the same time, the boy is looking down, his shoulders heavy. He’s looking at the two leafs falling on the ground by his feet. The leafs symbolize him and his love. No longer connected to the tree that gives them life. He’s struggling to accept this, and instead of looking up, he is still stuck in the past. He must find hope again. There is lots of hope, if he can only see. The red roses painted beneath in the field, symbolize love. If he doesn’t let go, he’ll miss the many opportunities to find love again.

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