The stuff we let go

In the days leading up to my birthday last Saturday, I became obsessed with the aging process, how it seems to me to be made of all the stuff that we let go.

We let go reluctantly of our ability to read the fine print without reading glasses, for instance. We let go of the idea that our skin will remain smooth and elastic, that physically we can do anything we decide to do, that our metabolism will take care of it when we drown our sorrows in cinnamon buns and ice cream. We pass the shelf life of certain dreams, and we let them go too, watching the Olympics without any expectation that we might one day compete. We let go, little by little, of our children, knowing that’s part of our job, grateful for the years we get to spend at the center of their lives.

I know. It’s a depressing list. I was making myself crazy thinking about it all the time, but I couldn’t stop. As I helped The Boy with his college apps and struggled through a back injury incurred while doing a simple yoga pose I’ve done hundreds of times, I was feeling every bit my age, and feeling the losses, and wishing I knew how to slow down time.

And then it occurred to me how, right up until I’d hitched a ride on that depressing train of thought, I’d been feeling happy, excited about this website and some new writing projects, a couple of fun collaborations, my husband’s return from his last scheduled business trip, an exciting launch I’ll be announcing at the end of the month. (Like how I slid one that in there? Buzz, buzz!)

I regrouped (and to be fair, my back stopped hurting, which probably had more to do with my change in attitude than any sort of superhero optimism on my part), and while I still think the aging process feels like a road littered with the things we’ve left behind, I don’t think that’s all bad.

Because here’s some other stuff I’ve let go…

Perfectionism

The problem with being a perfectionist is all the stuff that doesn’t get done, the stuff you might not even know you’re not doing. If you’re afraid of making a mistake, of looking silly or awkward or inexperienced, then you play it safe. You stay where you’re confident, stick to things you know how to do and do them well. But of course, the most interesting, evolutionary stuff isn’t happening there in the place you know – it’s out past your edges, out into the margins, where things are scary and unfamiliar. That’s where all the magic is.

I cringe every time I hear someone claim the title of perfectionist. I want to tell them to stop it. “Be a beginner instead,” I want to say. But then I think, maybe they’re just not old (or young) enough to understand.

The need to be right

Though some things absolutely are worth fighting for, not everything is. It’s okay that we don’t all agree. In fact it’s better that we don’t all agree.

It took me a long time to get this. Ask the people who love me, many of whom have been bruised in the process of me relentlessly making my point. I do that less now. I pick my fights. When I go toe to toe, it’s because it matters.

Caring so much what people think

I still care. I have more work to do in this area, but I care less and less all the time. And I’m starting to choose who to care about. Not every opinion carries the same weight. And this, from Brene Brown, is the golden rule for me:

I have no intake of any feedback or criticism from anyone who’s not in the arena. So unless you are, in your own capacity, in your own life, getting your ass kicked on occasion, I’m not interested in what you have to share with me about my work.

(Side note: I’m reading and loving Daring Greatly now. I feel quite certain it will inspire some Wholehearted posts.)

Grudges, grievances and other toxic nonsense

I’ve still got some clouds blotting my blue sky, but I’ve been amazed at how powerful forgiveness is. I wrote a thorny, difficult post about compassion that, in the comments section, turned into a post about forgiveness. I said that it isn’t about condoning behavior but sometimes it feels like it is. In the amazing discussion that followed my post, my friend Michael Lockhart made the powerful point that forgiveness does not require communication with the forgiven.

I like to think of forgiveness as something I do for myself. Sometimes we get to share it with the person we’re ‘forgiving’, and that can be meaningful for both parties, but I don’t need my ‘forgiveness’ to be accepted by anyone to benefit from it; just letting go of the hate and rage is freeing. I can learn from it, learn to not repeat mistakes, learn to avoid relationships that aren’t healthy, learn to be more sensitive to situations and circumstances, or just learn to act with more empathy. It doesn’t mean I have to forget, accept bad (or monstrous) behavior, or be a doormat for anyone, but it does let me not be anchored to an unhealthy memory, relationship, etc., etc.

That is some seriously empowering stuff, no?

So now I’m curious. Wherever you are in the aging process, for better or worse, what have you let go of?

**********

Coming soon: A new 30-day challenge and a big, fun doodly launch!

Stay tuned.

31 Responses to The stuff we let go

  1. Robyn Olson December 19, 2012 at 10:05 am #

    Hi Judy. It’s me the formerly too scared to love who now is blissfully in love person that you inspired. What have I let go of? My young definition of sexy, definitely. I get to learn each year how sexy changes with us, not against us. My need to be right – surely others have worthy ideas too! My crazy need to be seen as the busiest, bravest, most active XX Yr Old in the neighborhood – naps are GOOD :) And, like you, my Polly Perfect is not longer so important. Even though Richard calls me Princess Bossypants, I have grown into a person who can say please arrange the rugs because you have a better eye for color and pattern than I do. Miracles happen with age. Hugs from us – R&R

    • j December 19, 2012 at 11:05 am #

      Wow! That request for rug arrangement is a stroke of genius, especially if you get to say it in all sincerity. Getting what I want by being super nice and noticing what others do well. What a concept!

      I love that your definition of sexy has changed. Mine too! Now it has as much (or more) to do with presence, intelligence and soul as it does with anything physical. And I laughed when I read your “busiest, bravest, most active XX Yr Old” because I’ve totally done that.

      When I hurt myself in yoga, I was so frustrated because it wasn’t even a particularly challenging pose. But it got me thinking about how instead of listening to my body and stopping when there’s pain, I always push just past the point of pain. It’s exactly the opposite of what yoga is supposed to be about, the opposite of “gentle and aware.” So, my “reward” was a week of no workouts at all.

      Now I’m slowing down. Paying attention. It’s a whole difference (kind of cool) experience.

  2. Anna (@helgagrace) December 19, 2012 at 10:08 am #

    Just what I needed to read today. Thank you.

    • j December 19, 2012 at 11:06 am #

      You’re welcome. It’s just what I needed to write, too. xo

  3. Pam December 19, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

    I haven’t thought about aging this way, exactly. Hmmm…

    I do think I’ve let go of expecting to make others admit that I’m right…though I haven’t let go of thinking I’m right. ;)

    I never looked on the title of perfectionist with admiration. Maybe I’ve known too many people who described themselves that way who seemed more or less paralyzed by it.

    Letting go of grudges and grievances is a wonderful feeling when you realize you can do it. Freeing up space in your head for other (better) things is delicious.

    • j December 20, 2012 at 8:38 am #

      Nice distinction – the need to convince people you’re right versus the need to be right. I think I’m actually letting go of the idea that there is always a “right.” I have to do that, or it’s too hard for me to let differences remain. :)

      I think those of us who have used the term “perfectionist” to describe ourselves are often trying to use it as a “pass.” Like it adequately explains why we haven’t finished what we’ve started, or started what we dream of. It’s more comfortable than saying “I’m paralyzed by fear of failure.” <--- That admission, at least to myself, moves me beyond the terrible stuck place, but I've only learned to admit it in the last few years. "Delicious." Yes. A perfect word! xo

  4. Teresa ZM December 19, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    I’ve let go o the stuff that just doesn’t make me happy. Whether it was a friendship, a clothing items, or something that I was routinely doing, I realized that need to do more that I enjoy and that makes me happy, gives me more self-worth. Therefore, all the stuff that wasn’t working…. well, it’s been great fun and quite liberating to start purging it. (Still in process BTW, and may continue for a while…) ;-)

    • j December 20, 2012 at 8:44 am #

      Isn’t it amazing what a relief it is, to finally let go of what isn’t working? I’ve struggled sometimes because to let go feels a little like defeat, or like I’m giving up on someone or something. But so often, it’s the letting go that actually rights things, opens up new possibilities. It’s like banging your head against a wall for years, then giving up, turning around, and seeing the door that was there all the time.

  5. Valerie December 19, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

    Thank you so much. You got right to the root of the whole perfectionism issue for me. For years I did not know this was my hold up (and still is at times). It can be a daily letting go for me. All the things you mention feed into that one thing.

    I am learning to appreciate my mistakes by telling myself that I can never get it all done and I can never get it wrong. (words from my therapist friend) So true, because it always works out that way and things always get better.

    Thank you and thank you again for sharing your journey.

    • j December 20, 2012 at 8:48 am #

      Thank you back, Valerie. Love your insights. And I totally agree. Movement – however clumsy and unsure – is almost always better than standing still. I know pauses are worth their weight in gold, but at some point a pause becomes “stuck” and, holy shit, that’s when you just have to leap, land somewhere new, and grow through the act of figuring out what to do next.

  6. Michael December 19, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

    I don’t know if I was ever a perfectionist in the traditional sense, but I did grow up with a profound sense of expectation. I had an easy time with academics, (which only means that I absorbed and then tested well, really,) so my parents, teachers, (and I), ended up expecting that to continue forever. Then my dad left and things got challenging in a bunch of ways – you know, the way life does sometimes – and suddenly those expectations weighed more than I was capable of carrying. I collapsed a bit under that weight, and for a long time I was petrified of both failure and success, the first because I’d never learned how to do it gracefully or understand how important it is, and the second because I was afraid of the expectations, anticipating that I’d be setting myself up to fail poorly again.

    Letting go of my personal expectations beyond simply trying to be authentic and sincere in my efforts is a process I’m still figuring out, but I know what direction I’m heading in now, and the journey is always better than the destination anyway. Right?

    You let go beautifully, J.

    • j December 20, 2012 at 9:10 am #

      I really like what you wrote about fear of failure, about not realizing the value in it. That’s so true, and so hard to believe when you’re at risk and scared shitless. It occurs to me now, as I type this, that maybe I haven’t done a good job as a parent of making sure my boys know the importance of failure in personal evolution, that everyone in history we’ve come to think of as great had far more failures than successes. The successes they’re known for were not possible without the failures they learned from.

      *Plots mom-son talks in the near future.*

      Honestly, a lot of what I’ve learned about letting go in the last few years, I learned from watching you. Thanks for that, Michael!

  7. Nicci December 19, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

    So far, I’ve only had an issue with the process of aging back when I was turning 27 years old. Odd year, I know. It was hard for me because 30 was closer then. I had all of these expectations of things I should have done by then, and for goodness sake, I should have at least figured out who I am or wanted to be, and well maybe even the secret to life, all by the time I hit 30, right? The pressure was mounting and three years was not enough time. I was so depressed. I sought therapy, I cried a lot. And, I know my husband thought, “what the heck did I get myself into?!”–nearly one year into our marriage. I’ll say, ten years later I still haven’t figured anything out and I’m not quite sure who I am even today. The secret to life, well, it lies with those whose lips cannot speak it and whose minds know that we do not really want to know it. I let go of expectations, unshackling it, and I probably let go of too much of it b/c there are good things that can come out of expecting things. For the most part, though, it has made life more laughable, more livable, more emotional, more complex, just more.

    I’m enjoying collecting years, adding digits, and hopefully one day I’ll be refined enough to say I’m ok with who I am because I let go of expecting to be someone I should have been, could have been, would have been. I know more now than I did then, but the years are still so far in front of me so I try to learn from those who have stepped before me and am amazed by those who are coming up behind me. Somewhere in between there’s a comfortable equilibrium–and yes, that’s something I’ve learned to let go of too: being uncomfortable in my own skin, even though it still has some hold on me, but I think I’m ok with that.

    • j December 20, 2012 at 9:20 am #

      Well, you’re still young. You have plenty of time to freak out about aging! ;)

      Once, a friend of mine told me that when she was 30, she wished she looked as good as she did when she was 20. And then at 40, she wished she looked as good as she did at 30. And then she realized she had to just relax and revel in her now, or spend her life chasing a target that was always in the past.

      I think a similar thing happens when we lament what we don’t already know by now, or what we haven’t already done. Someone on FB posted this: A year from now, you will wish you had started today..

      I love that. I think that’s the antidote to our constant feeling that we’re not living up to our own (or other people’s) expectations. And for what it’s worth, you always sound very wise to me.

  8. lunajune December 19, 2012 at 9:39 pm #

    I was reading your post earlier on my phone… and instantly thought of all the things I’d let go in the last couple years…
    anger….. frustration…..complaining….expecting….
    Michael’s comment on forgiveness is soooo right on with me too
    in allowing me to be whatever I want… I have to extend it to everyone else…. and in doing so
    I can only be responsible for me…. makes life very simple…. and peaceful….
    agreed I don’t have children so it was easier for me

    thanks for you constant questioning :~)

    • j December 20, 2012 at 9:22 am #

      No, you’re right. With or without children, there’s a simplifying of life that happens when you let go of your anger and, as much as possible, of your expectations. I’d never thought of it that way before – as an act of life simplification, but that’s exactly what it is. Thank you, June! xo

  9. Clare Flourish December 19, 2012 at 11:49 pm #

    I shed my demand for me to be other than I am, and that is a long, long process. No longer pretending to be male since ten years ago, and now coming to accept my intuitive, feeling self. That is, I shed fear, for a lot of what I fear is not to be feared.

    Your yoga pose. I find I cannot do things by just battering through, and- find other ways of doing them. I get more flexible. The problems bring growth.

    • j December 20, 2012 at 9:25 am #

      Beautifully said. Most of my life, I’ve been a “battering through” kind of person, especially when it comes to physical challenges. Opening up to the possibility of reaching my goal in a different way than the one I set out to use has been very liberating. (I’m still learning this one.)

      And “a lot of what I fear is not to be feared” is TRUTH.

  10. Giulietta Nardone December 20, 2012 at 9:26 am #

    Hi J,

    Haven’t been here in a while. Like the new look!

    Aging – It’s a strange term because it begins the moment we are born.

    I may not see as well according to an eye chart, but I see the world and my place in it better.

    I may not have wrinkle-free skin, but I cherish each one because it represents a story I have lived.

    I may not turn as many male heads, but the ones that now turn do so because they cared about something I said.

    There’s freedom in getting older that the airbrush folks don’t seem to acknowledge. For women, it’s less time spent staring into the mirror … and more time spent staring into the soul

    Giulietta

    • j December 20, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

      That was beautiful. When you reappear you do so in (soulful) style, my friend.

  11. Tall Pajama Man December 21, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

    Can I say, that I love it when I happen upon a post of yours that is exactly what I am going to be preaching this week :-) (well, I’ll say it anyway :-D )

    • j December 23, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

      Of course you can! Makes me giddy. xo

  12. Marcie December 22, 2012 at 1:57 am #

    As I’m reading thru your list – I’m thinking that it all happened rather slowly (like aging)…and over time – but that I’ve let go of other people’s expectations..and am finding my own. There’s freedom in age.
    It’s been too long since I’ve visited…Thank-you for the thoughtful post!!!

    • j December 23, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

      Hi, Marcie! ‘Tis the season to fall behind on our favorite blogs. So nice to see you! And yes, I agree. There’s a lot about the aging process I’m not crazy about, but that sense of liberation is worth the shitty parts. ;)

  13. jillsalahub December 24, 2012 at 5:18 am #

    I’m taking part in Reverb12, a series of blog prompts, reflections and intentions and contemplations, and I answered this one just recently, “for next year, I’m letting go of…”

    1. Busyness. I have no idea how I am actually going to do this, because I am a doer, I go go go, I want to do all the things, do/be more, do/be better–but I am finding that way of being is no longer sustainable, healthy, or even productive.

    2. Smashing myself to bits. Again, not sure how this is going to work, because I’ve been trying already, but it needs to happen, so I’ll keep trying.

    3. Letting what other people say or think (or what I think they think, even though I can’t possibly know for sure) stop me. If I have confidence, an open heart, and am doing the work I feel called, compelled to do, it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks. I am not trying to be popular or to fit in or get rich, that isn’t the point at all, so I can let go of caring or worrying about it.

    4. Stuff, lots and lots of stuff. I mean physical things here, the clutter and nonsense and mess that has accumulated in my life. If I don’t use it or love it, I am going to let it go, clear out some space.

    5. Shame and regret. These have never served me, never added any value to my life, so buh bye.

    6. Judgement and criticism. This one is quite possibly the stickiest of them all, maybe the one at the heart of the rest, but I am going to try.

    • j December 24, 2012 at 10:28 am #

      Jill, this response makes me want to hug you (though a lot of things make me want to hug you). I also think the things you want to let go of are so universal, which should be more comforting than it is, I know.

      Your #4 captured my imagination, inspired me. I’m going to do that too. Consciously. Maybe have a goal of getting rid of (or repurposing) something each week. I’ll have to think about that.

      And letting go of what I think other people think (the stories I tell myself) has been such an ongoing quest for me this year. I accomplish it sometimes – not because I’ve evolved but because I focus my attention on other things rather than the stories I’m inventing. I throw myself into writing or doodling or creating something or work or walking or gratitude… and, like magic, the problem I thought I had goes away.

      As you work through your list, know that I’m working through a VERY similar one too.
      xo

      • jillsalahub December 24, 2012 at 11:05 am #

        It absolutely makes me feel better that it’s not just me, and I am hugging you right back, with my mind/heart! xo

  14. Estrella Azul December 27, 2012 at 7:57 am #

    Perfection is something I also need to let go of. I’m doing better than before, but still needs some work.
    Also, I have to come to terms with not being able to “fit everything in”. I don’t yet have a proper and reliable work schedule and while getting used to the new things and preoccupations, I barely have time to take a breath. So, when I can’t, for example, comment on a post, I won’t. I will, however, go back and do it later when time does permit. But if not, I’ll just hope my friends know I’ve read and liked their thoughts.

    • j December 27, 2012 at 11:54 am #

      I think, honestly, everyone is feeling that same pressure, Estrella – wanting to be present and encouraging but feeling pulled in too many directions at once. I’m sure your friends know you’re there for them, even if your presence doesn’t result in a comment.

      (That said, thank you for leaving this one!) xo

  15. Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) December 28, 2012 at 1:05 pm #

    This is a tough one. I like to think of it less as aging being the changing factor and more of experience… but maybe that’s just because I’m young and experienced. =) I have noticed, as I live longer, that I’ve become more forgiving — both of others and myself. I’ve also learned to wait longer before reacting negatively, which has made my life more peaceful in general. Something I desperately wish I could change is how much I desire others’ approval (especially socially), but maybe that, too, will come with more life.

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