We Have To Stop Trying To Let Go


Some people welcome defeat.

This is a notion it took me over two decades of living to fully understand – that some of us are okay accepting our failures, almost willingly laying down our swords to let life bowl us over.

To some, failure is seen as a necessary component of living. It is not only required but welcomed – viewed as an opportunity to stop pursing the wrong course of action and begin chasing after the right one.

In many ways, this is a wholly sensible mindset. And yet it is never one I have been naturally partial to.

When it comes to accepting failure, I’ve always related heavily to the line from David Foster Wallace’s ‘Infinite Jest’ that states:

“Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.”

Letting go has always been a struggle for me. Once I decide that I want something, you’ll have to pry that thing from my cold, lifeless fingers before I let it get away. Even if the fight for it stops making sense. Even when letting go becomes – by all objective measures – the more sensible thing to do.

And I believe that so many of us are this way. Holding on is a challenge but letting go is an even greater one – sometimes a seemingly insurmountable one.

We know that we ought to move on, but an incredibly stubborn portion of our mind has become fixated. And so we enter into a mental tug-of-war – we fight to hold on. And we fight to let go. At the end of each day our hands are calloused and we have accomplished nothing. The struggle to move on in a deliberate and controlled fashion ironically keeps us stuck right in the thick of it all.

Because here’s what they don’t tell you about letting go: It is an inherently paradoxical notion.

The harder we fight to leave the past behind, the tighter the past clings to our sides. The more energy we expend trying to tie up loose ends, the more pressure we pile onto the new beginning that we are forming. And our life crumbles under that pressure. When compared side-by-side, the present never looks as good as the past, because we’ve idealized the hell out of the past. What imperfect present stands a chance against that?

What they don’t tell you about letting go is that for it to work, it has to happen unintentionally. Trying to let go is like the senseless mind game we used to play as children – as soon as you’re thinking about the game, you’ve lost. You can only win by ceasing to play.

In the same vein, letting go will never happen until we stop trying to force it to.

We don’t let go by staring at the past and willing it to disappear. We let go by welcoming the present. By inviting it into our lives. By saying “Yes” to where we are instead of just “No” to where we’re not.

For a while, we simply have to let the past and the present inter-mingle – engaging in an uncomfortable fusion of who we’ve been and who we have yet to become. It’s an unwelcome condition at first. But it’s one that lets the past naturally bleed itself dry. It’s one that carves out room for real change.

Because the truth is, we don’t let go by deliberately trying to do so.

We let go by carefully, uncomfortably uncurling our fists, opening our palms, and welcoming the new into our lives.

With time, whatever is meant to come next falls into our open palms.

And in the midst of living, whatever we’re meant to leave behind slips carefully, scarcely noticed, through our fingers.