Rest assured, I wasn’t the only Martin bested by a pit of clay. When we were kids, the arrival of spring’s warmer weather motivated Saturday outings to a place we lovingly referred to as the Death Cliffs — a section of high muddy riverbanks near our home in southwestern Ontario (and not nearly as terrifying as its moniker suggests). 

On one such outing, my brother Nicholas, my sister Meghan and our cousins Jonathan and Adam found ourselves a particularly sloppy clay pit and took turns doing cannonballs into the mud. Before long, however, Meghan found herself waist-deep in the muck — and very, very stuck.

It crossed our minds that since Mom had so many other kids — I’m one of eight children — she might not even notice if we returned home without Meghan. In the end, though, we decided against abandoning her and set about freeing her from the mud. With a slippery grip on her wrists, we hauled with all our might. 

Unfortunately, the play clothes Meghan chose to wear that afternoon included a pair of hand-me-down sweatpants with an elastic waistband well past its prime. And as a result, the more we attempted to pull Meghan from the mud, the more her pants would fall down.

And so every time we made headway, Meghan would feel herself losing her bottoms and pull her hands away so she could hoist them back up. And of course, every time she did that, she’d just sink back into the clay.

Caught between the total embarrassment of losing her pants in front of her family and being stranded in a pit of clay for all eternity, Meghan broke down into tears as we repeated our futile attempts to get her out with her dignity intact.

Eventually Meghan’s survival instincts overpowered her mortification. Accepting her fate, she stopped trying to hold her pants up while we pulled her out of the mud. In the end, I saw way more of my sister’s bum than I would have liked, but she was finally free.

Meghan’s muddy misadventure reminded me that although it’s hard to let go, clinging to something can prevent you from moving on and getting past an obstacle. Yes, letting go of her pants was a tough call. But it was ultimately the only way for her to free herself from being stuck.

Unfollowing an ex on Facebook may be what you need to move on from a past relationship. Letting go of the expectation that your work will always be sunshine and lollipops can free you from resentment and disappointment. Being willing to sell your house can give you the freedom to pull up stakes and move across the country to take your dream job.

In my late 20s, my sticky pit was leukemia. And getting out of it meant letting go of all sorts of things. I handed off work projects so I could focus on my treatment. I gave up drinking alcohol to ensure my liver could perform optimally as it processed the chemo. And I declined invitations to parties and weddings to avoid catching a bug in my immunocompromised state. 

Yes, letting go can be challenging — whether it’s bad habits, unhealthy relationships, mistakes or even your pants. But it’s also often a prerequisite for meaningful change. In short, overcoming adversity and becoming who you want to be takes the guts to leave behind the things that are holding you back.

Next: Chapter 9 — The fireball: What a flaming tennis ball taught me about nurturing imagination