Let Go

The hardest part of business and life for me has been learning to let go. Specifically, letting both the small AND the big things that seem like must solve issues fade away.

Sometimes not doing anything does more to heal a situation than over-reacting or demanding a resolution. You just have to drop the rock.

Letting go may be more of a selfish act than one would think. It is an act of forgiveness — or a decision to not become the judge and juror — and to let people off the the hook. In forgiving we free ourselves to work on and experience what matters, the people and projects in front of us.

Of course, the alternative is walking around holding grudges and/or worrying. It’s the equivelant of renting space in your head to things you can’t control. This type of mental energy is really unproductive, and something that I think impedes one’s ability to become successful.

Letting Go In Action

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Last week I won Desmond and Mpho Tutu’s Instagram forgiveness challenge, which means I will have a private conversation with the storied Archbishop and daughter via Skype. I am sure one of the questions will be how does one practice this live and let live attitude on an everyday basis, from traffic jams to highway robbery.

Bigger offenses are harder for me than small things. During the Instagram challenge I found myself practicing the principles of forgiveness and letting go of three distinct situations of theft. Two were professional, and the third situation was my grandmother’s estate. To be clear, the Tutus recommend reconciliation whenever possible; however they do recognize that sometimes you just let grievances and relationships go, and wish people well (The formal Forgiveness Challenge begins next week, if you are interested).

Prior to the challenge, in one of the professional situations I enforced and successfully protected my rights through threat of legal action. In the other two cases, I simply ended up cutting ties. But I never achieved peace of mind, and continued to experience resentment.

As part of the challenge, I wrote out my grievances, and then tried to look at it from the other persons’ perspectives. While I may not agree with their actions, I could see they were simply acting in self interest, rationalized and justified. No one thinks they are actually doing wrong, usually.

This is important. If someone doesn’t think they have done wrong, they won’t apologize or rectify a situation. See most people hold grudges because they are waiting for the other party to acknowledge and correct a wrong. The expectation of an amends is likely to remain unfulfilled, creating an ongoing pattern of negative resentment. The offended party becomes a prisoner of their own angst.

Judge My Own Actions

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The low probability of receiving an amends makes it critical to let go of small and big issues alike. Letting go frees the offended party. In the case of the three acts, I was able to see why these people acted, and I decided to let them off the hook. That doesn’t mean I endorse these parties actions, nor would I be surprised if there was repercussions later on.

That being said, by letting matters go and mentally wishing individuals well with their ongoing lives and careers, I was able to free myself of resentment. I could focus on what mattered; the people and opportunities in my life today.

The Tutu Forgiveness Challenge taught me that justice and forgiveness are separate. Justice is not mine to seek in 99.9% of situations, except in the truly criminal context. Perhaps other people are better able to deal with the anger that comes from a true wrong. Me? I need to work through the anger, let go, and focus on the good things I can impact.

It may seem trite, but I think moving on is an essential part of success in business and in one’s personal matters. When I hold on to anger, it drains me and stops me from building things, and loving the people in my life.

A recent Lifehack article highlighted 15 things confident people don’t do. Number five was don’t obsess over the opinions of others, and six was they don’t judge others. Eight was they don’t make comparisons.

Look, the article had no methodology to it, but I think it’s points were spot on. I should judge my own actions and hold myself to standards, not others. Understanding this principle helped me let go of problems beyond my control, and forgive others. It is an amazing and freeing experience.

What do you think?

10 Replies to “Let Go”

  1. This is a problem for me as well Geoff. In fact, I have actually studied forgiveness and here is a differing perspective I would offer.

    It is not about letting go of the pain, it is about absorbing it. All of it.

    There was a time in my life I was so angry I wanted to kill somebody. I wanted to make them pay. I wanted them to feel the hurt I felt and the destruction I had to live with. The problem, is, unless you create and live out this very evil scenario and literally become evil yourself, they won’t ever pay. But somebody HAS to pay, right?

    The only answer is that YOU have to be the one to pay. You have to absorb not only your own pain but the debt these people have created in your life — the loss, the hurt, the devastation. You have to take it in and accept it as your own.

    There is no real forgiveness without suffering and deep pain because the only answer is either evil or the resulting good that only comes by being the one to absorb every emotional toll. Not easy.

    1. I have to agree with this. You do absorb the pain, or you carry it on your back and it festers. I think the writing really helped me process these events, none of which was new, per say. Two of them I had been carrying for years, one for months. But the writing made me really swallow and embrace my feelings.

      I am sorry you went through whatever made you that angry.

  2. On the Lifehack confidence article I also honed in on number 5, ‘They don’t obsess over the opinion of others’. There is something to be said about age and experience on this as I find that those two factors have been a pleasant welcome in overcoming that hurdle. With that harbinger on your shoulders you give up control of your free thought and independence and fall into the realm of self doubt, stagnation, robotic behavior and it is eventually a self-defeating cycle. Essentially you’re enabling your own self destruction by empowering theirs.

    I agree with @businessesgrow:disqus that pain is personal and attempting to externalize or transfer it in a form of revenge serves only to add to your burden of loss of control, dignity and self-appreciation. Once again an external force has control. While I may not go so far as to take on the ‘debt of others’, I agree that owning and processing the hurt and devastation is a healthy process rather than falling into a state of sociopathy, devoid of conscience or feeling.

    Your writing and photography has clearly been a positive tool for you. I admire that constructive behavior as opposed to my go-to relief…buying another pair of shoes!

    Lastly, I can’t help but laugh at number 15 on the list, while a bit surprising to me as a confidence marker, I sure do believe it is a measure of sanity!

    1. I agree, seeking revenge is a really dark road and often turns the avenger into a even darker character. See, I think anger is poison. When we act on it, we multiply its effects and dramatically impact our souls for the worst!

      Expression of things helps us to come to terms with life’s difficulties. Much of the writing does not make it to the public eye. It still heals, though.

      Hope to see you soon, Anneliz, and thank you for the lovely comment!

  3. this post really shows your humanity and humbleness, Geoff. I’ve learned (with the help of meditation and yoga) to channel these energies and to completely surrender to it. there’s always more to be learned. and it’s truly an odd duality, as it goes completely against our self-preserving state…the “fight or flight” mentality. When you don’t fight it or fly from it, and you can learn to embrace it, you can transcend. I love hearing about your journey and the freedom that you’re finding. lovely post!

    1. Yeah, there is no escape. Anger is a lot like grieving, stuffing or avoiding it turns into a worse equation. Very unhealthy. You have to hold it as you say. I need to start doing yoga!

  4. Geoff, I especially like your conclusion. I recently *finally* forgave myself for the less than perfect outcomes of two personal situations, an eldercare one and a divorce one. And the key was looking, not at the outcome (messy in both cases), but at my own actions. I see now that I stood my ground for was right (to me) and did not fold when I stood alone. There is no pat on the back in either case. I do not feel victorious. But I do feel great peace about who I was and I have no regrets. That personal peace is no small thing.

    1. Good stuff there. It is equally hard to forgive ourselves. I think sometimes I forget that I, too, need to be let off the hook. My worst judge is me, invariably. Thanks for sharing this.

  5. A quote I read once while going through my divorce was “hate corrodes the vessel it’s in”….or something to that effect. It really struck me and has helped me visualize what holding onto bad feelings, whether anger or hatred or whatever, can do to a person. Visualizing the damage it can do to me has helped me be better about letting go of bad feelings toward a person or situation. After all, it’s not hurting them any and just hurting me…what’s the point? Easier said than done much of the time, but it has definitely helped.

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