02/04/2014 05:38 pm ET | Updated Apr 06, 2014

Learning When to Hold On -- and When to Let Go

Michael H via Getty Images

Music memory is a funny thing. Some songs take me back to a precise moment or moments in time. Every time I hear a certain Red Hot Chili Peppers song, I'm reminded of the people who introduced me to the band, and of the person I shared that song with one summer many years ago. I think of hot August days and cool September nights sharing secrets and laughs with friends. I think of being 15.

But there are other tracks from my past that don't give me that connection. Instead, I wonder how I could have ever liked that artist or number, which now sounds so poorly produced to my ear, so lyrically lacking, that it's almost repulsive. Was there ever really a time when I would sing aloud at the top of my lungs to such a terrible tune?

I recently took a trip back to the city I left several months ago. For four hours straight, I listened to my music on shuffle, letting my iPod take me on a journey through the past. Some old songs were like greeting a friend I hadn't seen in a while; others made me furrow my brow and skip to the next.

But it wasn't just the music that didn't feel quite right: it was the entire experience. At first, it felt like old times again. Quickly, though, I realized what was wrong. I was stepping into an old pair of shoes, ones that had once fit so well but were worn from use and were now just a bit too loose on my feet. As comfortable as they may have once been, they just weren't right anymore.

The music, the visit -- it's all a lesson in learning to let go, something I struggle with greatly. Between a solid memory and a strong sense of imagination, I often live in moments of the past rewritten for the present. I hear the songs of my youth not as they are, but as they once sounded to my ears. I see people not as they are now, but as we once were together. And I see me, exactly the same as I've always been, and exactly how I will always be in my mind's eye.

The truth is, though, it's not just the world that's changing around me, it's me, myself and I as well. And while some songs, some people, some places always seem to fit in the best way possible, others I've simply outgrown, as we all do.

It can be difficult to accept change, to let go. But while it's important to cherish those people, places, and things around us that will always slip on perfectly, it's equally as imperative to see items from our past as what they are now, rather than what they once meant to us. Sometimes, a bad song is just a bad song.

I will continue to struggle to move on from the past, as I know many others out there do too. But maybe I'll make the time to clear out some of the crud from my music library and in doing so, make more space not only for the treasured memories I have, but also the new ones I'll create in the years to come.

Subscribe to the Culture Shift email.
Get your weekly dose of books, film and culture.