Prologue: Letting Go and Holding On
Have you ever fallen in love and felt so entangled that you cannot stop yourself from loving the person? If so, surely you know the torment of going back and forth between choosing to let go or hold on. Love humbles a person, anyone. Whilst we may appear strong outwardly, our hearts become tender and vulnerable when faced with the beloved. Such is the reality that I have learned from my personal and professional experiences, inside and outside the therapy room.
Letting Go vs. Holding On
They both may look like polar opposites, when in fact, they are the same! When you are letting go of something, you are actually choosing to hold on to something else. Likewise, when you are holding on to something, you are also choosing to let go of other options.
It is important to distinguish, however, that holding on is not the same as being stubborn or obstinate. The latter stems from the fear of change, whilst the former requires great courage. Similarly, letting go is not the same as giving up or withdrawing. Outwardly, two people may appear to do the same work of letting go, but their motives or intentions may differ greatly. Choosing to let go in a timely fashion can reveal a person’s higher ideals, which is different from one who reluctantly let go due to external forces, or tries to escape uncomfortable reality.
A Story about Holding On
I fell in love with psychology when I was 16. Despite harsh objections from my parents, and even being sent to the school ‘counsellor’ for a ‘lecture’, I did not back down but became more determined about studying psychology. Eventually, my parents gave in and I successfully enrolled in the National University of Malaysia (UKM). Back then, UKM was the only public university in Malaysia that offers a psychology degree, so it was my only option. The standard protocol then was to first enroll in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, and then all students will be assigned two departments under the faculty. Despite not having certainty that I will be assigned to the psychology department, I still went ahead, praying hard that God will grant me my heart’s desire.
During Orientation Week, as I was lining up to receive my assigned programs, I kept praying in my heart that I will get what I want. If anything, I really wanted to prove to everyone that studying psychology is “God’s will” for me. When I opened the much-awaited envelope, what I found was a slip of paper that read: “Economics; Anthropology and Sociology.” My heart sank! I wonder if I was fooled or abandoned by God, or if I had heard Him wrongly.
I felt so lost. I didn’t dare to tell my parents. After all, I was the one who decided to give up on all other opportunities available to me before. Out of my wits, I called my sister. Crying desperately on the phone, I asked my sister what I should do. And my very wise sister said this: “Sometimes what appears as closed-door may be unlocked. You may need to give it a slight push.”
Hearing that, I decided to summon up whatever courage that’s left inside me and try to push that door. I made a choice though, that I did not want to follow the other students who went after various department heads to beg for transfer. I felt I needed to meet the highest authority at the faculty level, and that would be the Dean!
So I went straight to the Dean’s Office and pleaded with the officers at the reception counter. They tried to dissuade me initially. When they saw that they could not get rid of me easily, they let me enter the main door and directed me to see the Registrar, who was sitting near to the entrance. Looking from afar at the Registrar’s unfriendly face, I hesitated. Meanwhile, a group of students suddenly rushed in from nowhere and occupied the Registrar’s room! I realized that this was probably my only chance of seeking out the Dean’s room on my own, while the officers around were distracted. So I started walking past the Registrar’s room… that’s when I saw the Second Deputy Dean’s room, and then the First Deputy Dean’s… I was hoping, the Dean’s room could be next.