The Uncomfortable Art of Letting Go


You are hanging off the edge of a cliff.

Fingers are slowly slipping.

You see someone and ask for help.

They tell you to let go.

What if the person at the top of the cliff can see what you can’t see: that safe ground is just a couple of inches below your feet, and you just need to stop struggling?

They tell me to let go.

My character traits of tenacity (less flatteringly: stubbornness) and self-reliance have gotten me pretty far. The challenge for me is learning to let go and ask for help.

What does letting go look like? 

I need to stop thinking that if I just work hard enough or think for long enough that I will be able to — singlehandedly — solve every problem I come up against. Something inside me thinks it’s fun to keep fussing with a problem until I figure it out. This is why I love puzzles, but it’s also why I get stuck on some projects that I work on. I hit a wall that I can’t scale by myself, and I just keep running up against it rather than stopping, walking around it, or asking someone for a ladder.

Letting go can mean lowering my expectations, giving up on something that’s not working, or asking someone else to help me or to do it for me. I do not naturally choose any of those options first. I have had to learn to be less tenacious, and less self-reliant in order to gain the serenity that I am seeking — and also to be more successful as a member of a community, and as a leader.

How can I get myself to let go? 

For me, the first step is becoming aware that I am struggling. Because I tend to think of problems as puzzles, and because I like to wrestle with puzzles, I often don’t even realize that I am struggling with something and need help. Once I realize that I am stuck, I need to press pause and tell myself to let go.

I mean that literally. I will have an actual conversation with myself about the fact that I am having difficulty with something and I say to myself, “Shaney, let it go”. I have to admit to myself that I have reached the limit of my abilities, or my patience, or my strength and let go of any conceit that I will eventually be able to figure out how to solve the problem “if I could only just…”.

This is hard for me. It feels like stopping a board game in the middle of my turn; it feels incomplete, and like I am letting people down. However, if I can get myself to realize that solving the problem is more important than protecting my own feelings about solving the problem, then I can take the difficult, uncomfortable, and unpleasant action of admitting — and accepting — defeat, and either giving up on the project completely, or asking for help.

Let me let go…

“Letting go takes a lot of courage sometimes. But once you let go, happiness comes very quickly. You won’t have to go around searching for it.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

I recently heard a song called “Hot Mess” by Dodie. It’s about a relationship that needs to end, but the singer can’t get herself to take the action of breaking up with the other person. In the bridge of the song, the singer pleads “let me let go” three times. I have been repeating those lines in my head recently, trying to find more things to let go of.

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