When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. – Lao Tzu
Don’t you get tired of being told to “just let go”?
Like it’s so easy or something.
But, the truth is that learning to let go of things, ideas, and people is actually a vital part of being able to bounce back in life.
Because the overarching skill needed for managing adversities both big and small is flexibility.
The opposite of letting go is, of course, hanging on or grasping as Buddhists might say. And that, of course, is not particularly flexible.
Why letting go sucks
But – ugh! – why is letting go so hard? Here are seven reasons:
1. You might have to admit you were wrong.
Case in point: In 2007-8, I rebuilt my little cottage in San Francisco’s Bay Area, acting as my own general contractor.
I made many, many mistakes in how much I paid for what service and product, just blithely trusting that everything would work out all right.
The re-built house was beautiful. But I had to sell it almost immediately because I had overspent and the recession was just starting to crescendo at the end of 2008.
Letting go of the house required me to admit how wrong I had been in so many areas.
It wasn’t fun.
2. You may have to release long-held beliefs about people or ideas close to you.
One of my clients is going through a painful period right now as she is beginning to realize that the people closest to her have dysfunctions that aren’t healthy for her.
She is face-to-face with the reality that she might be better off if she let go of them for her own peace of mind, body, and spirit.
3. You’re comfortable.
Oh, how we love our routines. We love them so much that we’ll hang on to them even when they become toxic to us.
We’re comfortable. Or perhaps “comfortably uncomfortable.”
Who wants to upset the apple cart by letting go of that comfortable place?
4. Letting go is scary.
You’re used to one way of doing things or perhaps having a certain person in your life and then, suddenly, they’re not there anymore.
What will life be like now?
5. It hurts.
Letting go can really hurt, especially letting go of someone you love to death or divorce.
These situations force us to either release them –which is very painful – or to stay in denial and keep hanging on, which can be even more painful.
6. It’s hard to feel out of control.
How many times have you thought, “Oh, it’s just easier to do it myself” rather than delegating a task to someone else?
How often do you try to solve everyone’s problems rather than letting them figure out their own solutions?
Or take responsibility for the emotions of others?
Experiencing loss of control is a tough one and it can be exactly what happens when you let go of something. Suddenly, you don’t feel as safe or comfortable as you were before.
Change is threatening.
7. You may have to let go of dreams you had for yourself or for others.
When we are young, we start to write a life script for ourselves – a plan and course of action that we hope to take in the future.
But what happens when life itself interferes with our script? When certain dreams are no longer attainable?
When I was in high school, my life script called for me to win an athletic scholarship to a good university. But tearing a knee ligament in my senior year changed the script.
I had to let go of that dream.
And nobody had a life script that read, “I’m going to have a family and a great job and then, right after my wife and I buy a new house, we’re both going to lose our jobs.”
But that’s what happened to many people in the last few years.
And they, too, had to let go of their dreams.
At least for awhile.
Why letting go is good
Just like yin and yang, black and white, good and evil, the act of letting go can suck and also be good. Here are some ideas about why letting go can be such a good thing:
1. You find out that failure or being wrong is not the worst thing that can happen.
The other day I was talking to someone who is writing an article on how to bounce back in life and I mentioned something about having to sell my house back in 2008.
She interrupted me.
“Wait. You’re telling me – and putting it out to the world – that you lost your house? Just laying yourself out there bare for everyone to see?”
“Yes,” I responded, “I had to let go of the house and come to terms with the fact that I had failed. It was hard, but I found out that failure isn’t a horrible thing and I learned a lot from the experience.
“It still bothers me sometimes, but it’s not the end of the world.”
It turns out that humility is something you and I can live with and perhaps grow from.
2. Sometimes we’re holding on to something that isn’t real.
Letting go of our beliefs about people or ideas can be liberating because it’s likely the thing we were grasping onto may not have been real, anyway. It was just what we wanted and hoped to see rather than what is actual reality.
Reality is the only space in which we can actually make necessary and healthy changes in our lives.
3. Letting go can be a relief and bring peace.
Hanging on to a habit, idea, thing, or person can be the emotional equivalent of carrying something heavy. When you finally decide to let go of it, the sense of relief can be surprising.
It might still be a little scary to let go, but the peace it can bring is well worth it.
4. Letting go forces you to try something different.
The ability to be flexible is a key aspect to resiliency and bouncing back.
Letting go of old behaviors or ideas puts you in the position of trying something different instead of staying in your comfort zone. It allows you to learn to be flexible.
5. Letting go teaches you that the world doesn’t stop when you release control.
We like to be in control for one main reason: we feel safe.
All of us have a basic need for safety and we learn to control our environments to create this safety.
Unfortunately, a little control often leads to over-controlling and the myriad of difficulties that accompany that habit.
Letting go is a great leap of faith and what you will find is that nothing horrible happens when you release your control.
Lighting doesn’t strike.
The apocalypse doesn’t begin.
You are just free to allow others to follow their own paths while you follow yours.
Letting go can really suck.
But the rewards and lessons that come along with learning to release can change your life.
Not only will it help you bounce back more easily due to your new flexibility, but you will experience a lightness and peace that you may not have felt before.
As always, it’s a practice.
Let go of your old thoughts about it and give it a try.
Here’s your one thing: To be flexible and able to bounce back from adversities both big and small, let go.
What are other things that suck for you about letting go? Experiences you’ve had where letting go has been positive? Let me know in the comments section!