First, we need to know what we have a hold of before we can start letting go. It’s amazing to think about all the people that have a piece of control in our lives. Family, friends, bosses, doctors, preachers, neighbors, teachers . . . There’s too many to count! And worse, they all have a piece of sage advice to hand out. The more of those pieces we accept, the more we feel we “should” do something different, and that can lead to guilt. So we have to begin letting go.
Letting go by identifying holding on
Many years ago, I hit a rather unhappy patch in my life. I was holding onto a lot of beliefs that I wasn’t even sure were mine. It’s amazing when I think about some of the ideas that we pick up. Starting when we’re young we get things like, always brush your teeth, eat your vegetables, always be nice, etc. Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do these things, I’m just pointing out that we start holding on to these “should” concepts pretty early on, before we really get to choose if we agree or if we need to be letting go (or maybe never accepting in the first place).
Then, as women, there’s an underlying realization that we are expected to try and please everyone / because that’s nice. Or that we should put others first / because that’s sweet. Or that we shouldn’t rock the boat / because that’s a troublemaker. Or try to make everyone happy / because that will make you popular. Or try to fill the needs of others / because everyone will like you then. Or that we should never get angry / because that’s for boys/men. Or that we should remain passive / because aggression is ugly. And we wouldn’t want to be mean, ugly, difficult, and unliked! (We definitely want to be letting go of some of those!)
Then add in that somehow as women, we “should” have a family, a career, and be a homemaker, all while not making mistakes and always looking perfect. It’s ridiculous! Yet, we continue to accept it. Worse, we continue to believe it. Worse yet, we feel guilty and mask it if we can’t achieve it all. And that’s a whole lot to carry around. It’s a heavy burden. So how do we really begin letting go?
Letting go by smashing plates
I don’t have a perfect solution, but I can tell you what I did that began my letting go process. I went to a secondhand store and bought a bunch of cheap used dinner plates. I spent a few days thinking about all that I held onto. Each time I thought of a “should” I wrote it down on one of the dinner plates. I had plates that said: always please others, be nice, look good, make no mistakes, never get mad, have a career, have a family, never leave the house without being “presentable”, always have a clean house, never wear dirty underwear, put others first, etc. After I felt I had all the things I was holding onto written down on the plates, I poured myself a big glass of wine and started sorting. I read each one, and really thought about whether I wanted to keep it in my life or if it was too much of a burden. Which ones could I really begin letting go? It took a while. It was no easy task. Ultimately, there were only two piles.
One pile, the ones I felt were really me, or the me I wanted to be, I kept. Ceremoniously, I put them on my shelf. They made an interesting conversation piece. No need to be letting go. The other pile, I took to my back deck and one by one, read them out loud and very ceremoniously smashed them on the concrete. Letting go was actually quite fun then.
It’s easy to remember that moment each time I wonder if I should do something. It makes it easier to keep my happiness top of mind. Only I am responsible for choosing what I can handle and what I need to be letting go.
I thought of this exercise when listening to a friend who is overwhelmed and unable tofeel comfortable letting go of a few obstacles in her life, even though it would improve her health. We brainstormed the alternative of writing the “should” on balloons, filling them with helium, and letting the ones she no longer wants, float away. Another physical way of letting go. Anything to remove unwanted responsibilities from her life.
For me, this was a tangible exercise in letting go. If you want to find your way of letting go, at minimum, this will help you focus on the most important aspects of your life. Give it a try. But, I’m not saying you should, and no guilt if you don’t.