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Mastering The Difficult Art Of Letting Go

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Thursday, May 12th, 2016
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The noted French author, François de La Rochefoucauld so appropriately said:

“The only thing constant in life is change.”

Quite often we come to points in our lives that halt us—where our career does not satisfy us, life emotionally challenges us, or we realize that certain people we spend time with do not align with our needs or beliefs.

Moving forward becomes our only option. Yet, for most it is very hard to change.

Social scientist and author Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson writes:

“The bottom line is, unconsciously we all believe that longevity = goodness. There are, admittedly, plenty of instances where this is perfectly rational. The problem is that longevity and tradition aren’t always accurate predictors of goodness—inertia, habit, marketing prowess, market monopoly, and fear of change can all be the real reasons why we haven’t tried something new.”

Dwelling in the past and holding on to the familiar present is more comforting than stepping into the unknown. For many, change only happens when the pain of the present situation becomes greater than the fear of change itself. Letting go is a difficult skill that requires deep self-awareness, willpower, and repeated practice. Here’s what I have found helpful.

Staying in our comfort zone holds us back

Sigmund Freud defined dreams as representations of desires, thoughts, and motivations. Conscious dreaming is what allows us to envision our future. But the path to that future is not always clear. It is that unknown path that causes us to hold on to:

  • The skills we already have
  • The company we keep
  • The surroundings we are familiar with
  • The bad habits and routines
  • The memories that remind us of our past failures

We find comfort in the known. And that limits our potential for growth. Most importantly, it holds us back from discovering who we truly are.

But it is often in the unknown where dreams manifest into reality. When we hold on to our comfort zone, we risk missing out on opportunities.

Stop seeking approval from others

In our new book Survive To Thrive, Fast Company writer Lydia Dishman and I describe self love.

The most important decision of our lives, the one that affects every other decision we make, is the commitment to love and accept ourselves. It directly affects our relationships, our work, our faith, and our future.

We have summed up three key concepts necessary to becoming more authentic and resilient through self-acceptance:

  • self-love
  • self-expression
  • self-confidence

It is from self-acceptance that we discover the complexities of our emotions, vulnerabilities, and imperfections. And this is what creates our true authenticity. When we decide to embrace our authentic self, we give ourselves the opportunity to grow.

The need for approval from others destroys our freedom to succeed on our own terms. When our desire to get people to like us motivates our personal and professional choices, we only go backwards.

Perfectionism kills us

“By recognizing our imperfect human condition, we can feel more secure and alive, and more able to rebound from failure.”—Survive To Thrive

Our society and culture create a perfect notion of everything. The perfect self-image, the perfect location, the perfect career, the perfect house, and finally, the perfect life.

In reality, nothing in life is perfect.

The pursuit of perfection impacts the very way we think and behave: the way we live, the way we lead, they way we build, and the way we measure success. Paradoxically, it is only when we embrace our imperfect conditions that we have a greater chance of success.

If we fail to accept and celebrate the very essence of the imperfect universe, then, as leaders, we overlook talented people; as entrepreneurs, we ignore opportunities; as professionals, we fail to contribute; and as people, we don’t live with gratitude.

I know this well. Like many type-A personalities, I have been obsessed with perfectionism most of my life. Instead of enjoying my accomplishments and milestones, I got too busy trying to continuously up my game, only to realize that the greatest satisfaction and success comes from balance and the natural progression of things—often with less-than-perfect paths and outcomes.

As one ancient Eastern folk tale narrates—if you pull the string too tight, it will snap. If you leave it too loose, it will not make music. So is the path to growth and contentment.

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