“And here you are, living despite it all.” ~Rupi Kaur
“I surrender!” I said this mantra out loud as my life was spiraling out of control.
I had spent a summer in college as a camp counselor separated from my fiancé. He sent me no letters and did not keep in touch. Still, I held on. By the time I came back home, we were broken. I had also realized he was emotionally abusing me. It took that separation to make me see it.
I realized I had been truly alone in the relationship. I was never lonelier than being with someone who refused to listen to me. A summer of independence brought me a new love of solitude, but it also made me realize I didn’t have a soulmate in him after all.
I was forced to face that this life wasn’t perfect. I wasn’t perfect. But… I was enough. I needed to believe that to keep moving.
When I said my mantra of surrendering, I was on a rollercoaster of emotions. I didn’t know where my life was going. The wedding planning ended. He called it off through text. I was left emotional and without closure. I didn’t know what would happen next. I just decided to be curious rather than try to control it.
I woke up to the fact that I didn’t have to know everything. I had to just trust. This both terrified me and propelled me forward. I didn’t know if things were going to be okay, but I knew I would make meaning out of whatever would happen.
I wanted to teach youth how to surrender too. I figured that would be my legacy since it had healed me of so much in life.
I had already applied to graduate school, and I would start at Brandeis very soon. I was worried about being on top of it all while going through this heartbreak. I was a Type A student, president of four clubs and an honors student. I didn’t exactly have time for love back then, but I didn’t realize I had a choice to let my ex go if I wasn’t satisfied. I put too much effort into trying to make it work when it wouldn’t.
I didn’t see that my effort to make everything work was actually blocking better things from coming my way. In other words, I had to stop holding on so tightly to life. I had to let go. I had to surrender to survive. I had to go with the flow to find my flow. I had to learn how to be happy for no reason other than to simply be.
When I did that, my whole life opened up for me. I practiced radical acceptance and realized my place in this world mattered. I stopped white-knuckling through my problems and pain. I stopped waiting for love and decided to love myself. I started to see myself as capable and good no matter how others mistreated me. I decided by letting go, I would not give up. I made a promise to myself to always be authentic.
Life didn’t go as planned. I left Brandeis MAT program for teaching because I realized I didn’t want to be a high school English teacher anymore. It was the hardest decision of my life because I also did not have a backup plan.
So, I surrendered again. And again and again through it all.
I surrendered when I found other ways to help youth. I surrendered through a bipolar breakdown and a relapse to the hospital years later. I surrendered when I went on disability and all expectations of my life were changed. I surrendered through bad side effects to meds and awful doctors. I surrendered all through my life because I knew despite how hard things could be, I was still doing good. I was still helping others. I was still waking up each morning appreciating being alive.
It came down to the simple things. I didn’t need certain labels or popularity. I needed to rest, to do nothing sometimes. To breathe. To just live.
I saw myself as rising in my own ways.
I realized I couldn’t look back. Here’s what I held onto instead:
1. Finding Purpose
When I let go of my need to control, I became more mindful. I started to think about how I wanted to spend my time. Was it for achievements or authenticity?
I had nothing, so I had nothing to lose when I left Brandeis. Serendipitously, I had a branding internship the same time a brand manager of a large TV personality discovered me. The internship taught me how to manage my own image and ideas while the manager wanted to simply own me like a puppet master.
I had a choice. I could live on my own terms or have someone take over my life. I turned down advances from this man. I wasn’t going to fall for the same red flags as I did with my ex-fiancé. I let go; I surrendered.
I decided to make my own way and live authentically as a person, not a brand, sharing my story along the way. I used my mental health journey to help end stigma and my writing for sharing insights on life.
I did not let walking away from the brand manager stop my story. Instead, I redefined it for myself. I was enough as I was. I didn’t need anyone to discover who I was meant to be. I would live my life for me.
My purpose became in proving him wrong, that I could make it on my own. Then, it became for me, to show myself I was worth it. I focused on living in the moment and just following my passions without a plan. That’s what saved me. But it wasn’t the only thing.
Purpose dawned on me one day while I was simply walking my dog through the woods in my backyard. I listened to birds chirping. I grounded myself by looking up at the blue sky. I touched the bark on the trees. I felt my inner voice beckoning me to love this life as it was, not as I wanted it to be. I didn’t have to do anything. I just had to be in this moment. That’s all life was asking of me.
It took simplicity to make me realize my purpose wasn’t just a to-do list. It wasn’t fixing everything. It wasn’t mastering every skill. It wasn’t making things work when they wouldn’t.
I had to separate myself from the “shoulds.” I had to find the gift in what I was going through. In taking the time to do nothing but think, far away from a stressful schedule, I realized that my purpose was to be happy without needing a reason to be. That took a different kind of bravery.
I wasn’t able to move on from the injustices of my life very easily. I had anger in me from living under others’ control and abuse. I had loss, which I felt every day, etched into my skin. I knew what it was to be alone. I had settled too often and always saw the best in people.
I grew up walking on eggshells surrounded by abusers. It was an endless pattern I stopped in my twenties. After my ex-fiancé left me, I found a new type of strength. I realized the only power anyone could ever have over me was the one I consented. No one could steal the core of who I was. No one could take certain things away. No one could define me but me.
I took my power back through forgiveness. It didn’t happen right away. I meant “I love you” to my ex, but then I realized it was governed in fear. Fear of doing this life on my own.
Sometimes life makes you continually face the very thing you’ve been avoiding. You keep getting redirected to it even as you resist. You find yourself with the same lessons you needed to learn before.
There’s a quote that reads “You repeat what you don’t repair.” Well, I was there. I was back there constantly in my anger and hate of those who I thought stole something from me.
But when I decided to forgive them, I released it. I gave it back to the universe and pulled my heart from the chaos. They didn’t deserve it. It wasn’t for them. It was for me. I had to let them go and surrender so I could heal myself. I forgave myself in the process, too, for not knowing enough, for not seeing the truth.
My heart wanted to hold onto the anger so that I could do something with it. I soothed it, though, with self-compassion. I made meaning of the events of my life by helping others through similar things.
That meant I had to say goodbye. Goodbye to those who didn’t know me enough to love me right. Goodbye to the me that was in survival mode and didn’t know I could just let go and live. Goodbye to the dark nights of the soul where I felt like giving up and suicidal ideations crossed my mind. Goodbye to the past. Goodbye to the insecurities. Goodbye to the pain. Goodbye to the worst of it all.
And then I said it. “I forgive you.” I salvaged myself from the wreckage of the storms I had suffered. I pulled myself out of the ruins of an old life. I realized I was the one who decided my fate. I was the captain of my soul. I was finally free.
3. The Reason
I found my way by allowing myself to go on the detour. I realized that I was meant to go down the wrong road so I would be sure of the right one. My road was brilliant, one of authenticity, that uplifted me above all that I had gone through. I was able to look at my life and see what really mattered. I suddenly knew what I was here to do.
I was here to share my gift. Any insight I could. To love.
I started volunteering, writing, speaking to youth, and advocating for mental health awareness.
I stopped living in the stigma of struggling and became open about my story.
I surrendered to what was happening.
I stopped fighting every little thing that came my way.
I didn’t need to know what would happen with the lives I touched and the good things I did along the way. I just had to follow my path hoping others would follow it too, making it a little easier for someone else.
All I had to do was surrender—be still, quiet my mind, allow rather than resist, let go, and find myself even when losing it all.
Surrendering isn’t easy. In fact, it’s one of the hardest things we can do. That’s because we want control. But sometimes, surrendering is seeing uncertainty as beautiful. We don’t have to know what lies ahead in order to move forward.
What will you do when you surrender, stop fighting reality, and allow yourself to live in your life as it is?
Can you improve a situation, share a kindness, give to a greater cause, become a better you, and build a better world? Can you dream of doing such things? That is the first step to resilience. Focus on the beauty found in the broken situation and in you. Focus on the light you can bring into the darkness.
It doesn’t take away from the horror of any hardship to believe in yourself and your ability to make change from it. That takes its own grieving time. But during that time, you can’t let it consume you. The tragedy that befell you, the heartbreak that happened, the hurt inside that you can’t let go… they are indeed senseless. Hence, it is imperative you don’t get stuck on asking why, as many do.
Instead of viewing yourself as a victim, it’s time to be a victor. Overcome the odds. Let what hurts and irks you be the fuel to your fire.
Hardships do not define us.
What you have been through, your circumstances, do not define you.
There will be days where you need to prioritize self-care and forgiveness for who you had to be to get to this point. Maybe you were white-knuckling through the pain in your self-care journey, maybe you did what you did in order to survive, but the good news is that today is a new day for you.
Hold space for the sacred gift of simply being alive on those days.
It works like a cycle. You will feel all the emotions on the spectrum, which means you will feel anger and sadness and doubt, but you will also feel joy and love and hope again the longer you hold on, the more patience you practice with yourself.
A reason not for why this happened but why to go on will come to you.
That reason is everything.
When you want to give up, that’s when you say, “I surrender,” which isn’t the same thing. Giving up is shutting down. Surrendering is letting go.
When you surrender, you don’t need things to work out a certain way. You accept life as it comes, which leads to a breakthrough. When you give up, you breakdown. Surrendering is the sacred step to realizing your full potential. It’s realizing you are your own hero, and you must not stop now.
When you let go, you realize everything could change tomorrow. All it takes is choosing this very moment and living it. Mindfully surrendering is about releasing your fears and doubts so you can see clearly and letting the light come through.
Don’t wait for life to change to create peace, joy, and purpose. Choose to make the best of what you have in your life, right now as it is. Surrender. Say the words, and it will change your life.
About Sarah Jeanne Browne
Sarah Jeanne Browne is speaker, writer and activist. She is a self help writer who has been published on Forbes, Lifehack, Thrive Global, Elephant Journal, and more. She has led workshops for youth on leadership for The Peal Center, Pennsylvania Youth Leadership Network, and The Woodlands Foundation. Sarah is a “lived experience” speaker and writer with bipolar who fosters better understandings of mental health to end stigma. She promotes how to surrender or let go as her philosophy in all her writing- self help for sites, books or otherwise. You can find her at sarahjeannebrowne.com and on Facebook and Twitter.