Nelson Mandela lived a remarkable life—from tending cattle as a boy to working as a fiery young lawyer in Johannesburg, then leading the underground wing of the African National Congress before being convicted of conspiring to overthrow the state and serving 27 long, lonely years in prison. For 18 of those years, he was housed at Robben Island west of Cape Town in an 8-foot by 7-foot concrete cell with only a straw mat to sleep on. When he arrived there, it quickly became clear that he was well respected as a leader among the inmates. As a consequence, he was singled out for punishment and humiliation, including being ordered to dig what he thought might be his own grave—then made to lie in it while the jailers urinated on him.
One quality above all others, that Mandela will be remembered for was his capacity to forgive, as well as to release the past. After he was elected president of South Africa, an aide asked him to provide a list of people he wished to invite to his inauguration dinner and he insisted on inviting one of his former jailers. On another occasion, he had lunch with the state prosecutor who had him convicted in 1964 for sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment. The man wondered how in the world the head of the government would invite someone to lunch who prosecuted him thirty years before. The answer could be summed up by Mandela’s words upon his release: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.”
There comes a point in your life where you need to let go of the past—all the hurts, losses, pain, disappointments and failed expectations. It is the healthiest, most expedient way to move on. Have you ever watched a trapeze artist? He holds onto one bar, creates momentum, and then suddenly, in a split second, he must choose to either let go and grab the other bar with both hands, or keep holding on with one hand. If he chooses to hold on, one of two things will happen—either he’ll get stuck in the middle with one hand on each bar, or just fall completely. Neither leads to a preferable end.
You can’t possibly continue to move forward in your life if you continually try to hold on to things from your past. Releasing the past is not giving up or quitting. It doesn’t mean you are weak or unstable. It simply means you’re aware that to be able to experience anything new, better, or different, you must first let go. What are some things in your past that you need to release? Set yourself free from them now. You won’t move on and enjoy a truly successful life until you do.