THE Important Art Of Letting Go

When the wealthy tycoon died, someone asked, “how much did he leave?” and the answer came, “everything.” I think we forget this and in the course of our lives start to worry about the livelihood of those we leave behind. This is nice.

However, there are some things we hang onto that don’t serve us either before or after death. Like our beliefs. What use are they other that to give us the illusion of being something. 

Letting go of pretence and holding onto real contribution might just be the great memory that historians nominate to the current era. The time when people people stopped talking about how things were going, and started acting on it.

When we’re on a trail, the last step we took is history. We have no real value in remembering or even celebrating it. The only step that matters is the next one. I think this is important as a comparison for our lives where we are found continually comparing where we are to where we want to be, or where we were to where we are. 

Comparison drags us out of the present an into a spiral of unhappiness. You’ll hear people say, “Oh, this reminds me of ….,” and immediately you’ll be aware, this person is not here, they’re split between here and there. 

Sometimes it’s a benefit to emulate someone. It means that their footprints are safer than yours. Like crossing a glacier where the crevasses are covered with snow. 500 meter drops hidden by a few feet of powder snow justify the idea of emulation. This is different to comparison. Comparison would be like walking your own trail through the same minefield of life threatening challenge and comparing your speed to someone else’s. It’s wise not to compare yourself to others however, it is totally wise to honour someone’s leadership and follow in their footsteps. Letting go is about letting go the need to compete with others.

Competition is a wonderful art but to compare means to raise or lower a person’s worth relative to someone else. Instead, we train athletes to forget beating others, and simply focus on winning. It’s simply a matter of letting go the idea of beating people and instead adopt the idea of winning.

I have always struggled with this idea. When I am out trekking alone or at sea in my boat I don’t feel any pressure to beat anyone but I do really work hard on maintaining my perfect pace. I am competitive but not against somebody. However, if I get another paddler beside me and I start to race them, it is very common for me to try harder, yet go slower. I know I have to watch this in my fire nature.

Letting go means awareness of what works for us and what does not. If we hold onto things around our ego, it might be very nice but, we’ll always have drama and struggles against others and ourselves. It is better to know when it is more healthy to just let go.

When I went through my first marriage divorce I held on like a pitbull in a wrecker’s yard. I couldn’t see that I was causing myself more damage than benefit. In fact, like in my kayak, the more I hung onto the idea of winning, the worse things went. I needed to understand what I was holding onto. Was it really my dreams of family or was it my dire need to avoid losing a battle? 

It didn’t matter in the end what my motive was however, I made that divorce, and many situations with people over the years much worse by hanging on too long. By trying to beat people in a competition rather than to focus on winning. In the case of my divorce I wanted to compare myself to my wife’s happiness, and this was ridiculous, she would never reveal her real suffering to me, so, I was a loser before I even started.

Lawyers don’t help either. They are hell bent on beating the other party. They say it over and over, reinforcing by bruised ego, “don’t worry, we’ll beat them.” It would be wiser to ask me what does winning look like and instead of hurting people focus on the right outcome. I never really want to hurt anyone, just win and winning in that case was not trying to win at any cost but it ended up looking like that.

Letting go is a powerful awakening. Learning when to walk away from a business deal, or walk away from people who do not have your success in their best intent, learning to walk away from righteousness and debates that attack people’s insecurity. This is wise stuff.

When I first started my work as a change agent, I really went all out. The contract would say, “change is needed” and I’d have an open slate to work with. After a while I changed my tune, let me share why. The brief would be, “we want change” and I would address the issues one by one that I saw as the potential for real change to happen at a personal level, the inner environment creates the outer. 

I’d announce innocently, “this needs to change” and someone would say, “oh, no, we can’t change that.” and then I’d say, “ok, so this other thing needs to change” and someone would say, “Oh, no we can’t change that.” After an hour, I’d be so frustrated because all the things that organisations need to change, they call the “oh, no’s” because they can’t change that. So, in the end I was left with the same brief, “we need change” but the rider was, “as long as you don’t change all the things we don’t want to let go of.” 

So, why bring in a change agent if people don’t want to let go? Well, for around 50% of my first 5 years, it was so they had someone outside the organisation to blame for any bad decisions or painful retrenchments. They’d say, “the consultant made me do it.”

 On a walk, we talk. One guy came with a major personal issue and wanted to talk about it. After 5 minutes he started his machine gun, “but, but, but, but, but, but.” He had reasons, really good reasons why he shouldn’t change anything, even though his life was unhappy, his partner was unhappy, he didn’t want to change, even though he paid me to help him change. We’re all the same, we want change, we just want the other guy to go first.

In a seminar in the US I asked 500 people, “who thinks this organisation needs to change” I got 500, no 600 hands in the air, (some people put both hands up with enthusiasm), then I asked “Ok, who’s going to go first?”  Nobody. Not one hand.

We’re very attached to our ways. Even if they don’t work, they’re ours. We get proud, committed and intense about it. Some people even fight about it. Peaceful people become violent in the name of peace. Anti globalisation protesters, protest the might of multinational organisations by becoming a multinational organisation and abusing people in the street. Can you see? 

Letting go means not judging resistance to change but also not being blocked by other people’s resistance. We need to respect that some people are highly attached and nature is going to “wrench” them from their place, we don’t have to do it. And certainly, it is wise if we don’t get too attached to people receiving our love and support. 

One of the most fascinating questions we can ask ourselves about letting go is whether we really had control of what we’re letting go of. For example, letting go of a partner: did we ever have a grip or was this an illusion? Letting go of an idea: is the idea ours or did we pick it up from someone else? There are many things we hold onto, that aren’t really ours to hold in the first place. Another could be the life and death of a friend. We have to let them go, but were we really in control in the first place?

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