The Art of Letting Go: How to Move On When Life No Longer Serves You
Want to know why it’s so hard to change your life?
It’s not because of motivation, inspiration, dedication…or any of the other ‘ations.
Time, especially the time you’ve already spent, means everything. When you spend time on something — a relationship, a career, a city, a life — it’s very difficult to let go of it in lieu of something better.
When you look at life through the lens of people being afraid to let go, all of a sudden all sorts of situations make sense. People staying with spouses for too long, or worse, forever. People building careers that don’t serve them. People constantly stuck in a state of repetition, but staying there, because the ‘losing and letting go’ process is indifferent about the quality of what you’re letting go of.
That’s the key to all of this.
My Letting Go Story
I was reluctant to share this, but I think it’s important for you to hear that someone like me, who I’m sure you think has it more figured out than you do, has their own struggles.
My partner and I mutually ended a relationship of five years. We have a daughter together. It’s tricky. But it’s right. Not that I need to explain myself, but it was beyond repair and had been for a while.
It was one of those situations where both of you kinda know. One day, you have that conversation and the truth floodgates open. Then, you either shove the truth back down or let life unfold based on it. We chose the latter. And now I’m starting over. At least in one aspect of my life.
In reality, I wasn’t sad because of the relationship itself. I knew we weren’t meant for each other. The part I feared most, and the part you probably fear about starting over, is just being at zero. It’s the raw sense of uncertainty that scares us. It’s the lack of an identity we constructed over time. At least you can make sense of a shitty life, relationship, or situation. When you start over, you have no idea what’s going on. And not knowing is terrifying.
So what did I do about all of this?
Did I bounce back instantly? Did I put on my self-improvement hat and build a new love & social life out of thin air? No. Not right away. At first, I grieved. That’s the part no one wants to hear but it’s true.
If you trade your current underwhelming life for the unknown, there will just be a period where your feelings range from pure optimism to pure pessimism. Sitting in uncertainty is nerve-wracking at times, but if you can get through that part, what’s on the other side is completely up to you.
The Benefits of Zero
When you let go, start over, and begin at zero in a given situation, you have a benefit few people have. Pure freedom. You’re unencumbered because you have real options. If you’re in a new city, career, relationship, circumstance, anything, you get to decide what to do with your future, especially your attitude.
Whatever went on in your old life wasn’t serving you. If you do manage to take the leap and start over in a certain area, you can analyze everything that went wrong and resolves for it never to happen again. You can construct reality as you see fit. And this time, you won’t compromise for anything less than what’s best for you.
My first instinct was to pour myself into tons of work and new activities. But, right now, I’m taking the time to actually figure out what I want…all over again. I got the career part right but made missteps personally along the way. I haven’t felt this uncertain in a long time and instead of hiding from the way I feel, I’m going to do what I always do with feelings — good or bad. I’m going to use them to serve a purpose.
See, if you learn nothing from the past and continue to make the same mistakes, you die over and over again while you’re alive. No bueno. Instead, take this attitude about your past mistakes:
“My characterization of a loser is someone who, after making a mistake, doesn’t introspect, doesn’t exploit it, feels embarrassed and defensive rather than enriched with a new piece of information, and tries to explain why he made the mistake rather than moving on. These types often consider themselves the “victims” of some large plot, a bad boss, or bad weather.” — Nassim Taleb
Of course, there were plenty of dots to connect looking backward. Now? I’m looking for a new adventure and using my past as a spring board to a better future, instead of a prison I live in until I die.
So what about you?
What are you scared of?
What do you need to let go, but can’t?
How to Master the Art of Letting Go
Sometimes life just forces your hand. You get fired, left, hurt, whatever. Something pushes you out of the hole you made with your rationalizations and you don’t have a choice but to at least acknowledge that something’s wrong.
In those moments, the hardest but most important thing to do is realize that life is trying to teach you something. Pain, especially pain from a loss, can be some of the purest motivation you can find. But it can also derail you.
When confronted with situations like these, it goes back to looking at your life as objectively as possible. Does it make more objective sense to take your loss to the chin and start over or wallow in loss until it eats you from inside? Does it make sense to hold onto a life that no longer serves you? Answering these questions brutally and honestly provides one of the few paths forward.
Maybe life hasn’t forced your hand, but you’re just living in complacency. You’re stuck. You don’t know what to do. Well, you do know what do to, but you’re scared because you know you have to give something up.
How do you let go, successfully? First, you just do it. Whatever it takes to muster up the energy to cut the oxygen from a bad situation. You do it. Self-help writers always make these super specific techniques that don’t necessarily work. Ripping the band-aid is ripping the band-aid in almost any context.
Second, let what happened wash over you long enough to accept it, but not too long enough to dwell on it. You have to feel what you feel to make sure you avoid feeling that way again.
Last, rebuild. Such a simple and easy thing for me to say, right? What do you want me to tell you? That it will all be easy and workout without a ton of effort on your end? If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you know that’s not my style.
I’ve reinvented myself and let go of the past many times. I try to focus on the adventure. I know I’m not guaranteed anything and I also know my attitude moving forward makes the difference. It’s that simple. What are you doing with your adventure?
Ayodeji is the author of You 2.0 — Stop Feeling Stuck, Reinvent Yourself, and Become a Brand New You. Want a free copy of my first book? Get it here.