The Beauty of Letting Things Go
As we enter the last month of a year that seems to have raced by even faster that the years before it, I inevitably find myself taking stock. It’s the nature of the impending rollover into the new year. We all do it. We ask: did I accomplish enough? Am I where I wanted to be by now? Do I still have time to finish what I set out to do?
A friend of mine who had recently turned 40 made a huge life change and when I asked him where he got the courage, he said, “You only get so many chances to reinvent yourself.” That statement smacked me in the face and I find myself coming back to it over and over again. He reminded me that the things on your long-term to-do list don’t get easier as you get older. You don’t suddenly have more time available to you or more energy to devote to your projects. It’s precisely because days become busier and shorter that we get more and more selective about how we spend them. That’s the beauty of stopping to take stock. At the end of the year, it’s not so much about what you’ve accomplished or failed to accomplish; it’s about making sure the thing you’re killing yourself to pursue is still the thing you want.
Another friend of mine, a gal in her 20s, moved to NYC right after college to be a musical theater actress. She was going to auditions and classes and keeping her headshots up to date and booking the non-Equity productions and barely making enough to pay her rent. And the pressure of trying to live in New York was so great and then there was the money and the desire to have the things the rest of the world had – a car, a kitchen, a family. And one day she said, “You know what? This is not for me.” And she stopped. Just like that. Now, almost 20 years later, she’s got a whole new career and a family and a kitchen and a car. (Well, she has a Zipcar. It is NYC, after all.) She amazes me, because she was brave enough to reinvent herself.
Many of us are afraid to let go of things even when we start to realize we don’t want them anymore. We are afraid that saying you tried to be a musical theater actress and it didn’t work out sounds like failure. Leaving a job that never gave you a chance to thrive looks like failure. Ending a relationship, even a bad one, feels like failure. But how empowering would it be to reclaim those “failures” and call them something else? Maybe they are experiences. Or adventures. Or maybe everything that happened this year is just one chapter in the big fat novel of your life. If you’re not letting go, you’re probably getting stuck. We all know people who were so afraid to stop jogging in place that they are still jogging in place.
So. Each winter I try to think about what’s not feeding me and let it go. This year I have some writing projects that I’m sick of beating into submission, and I’m contemplating putting them away for good. It’s hard not to take on the defeat of having written something that never found the finish line (production, recording, publication, endless royalties…), but at this point I recognize that I can either keep moving the pieces around and hoping they improve when you look at them from a new angle, or I can put them in a drawer and free up the mental space to write something new. I evaluate the disappointing work relationships, the over-demanding jobs, even the complicated friendships. Most things in your life were not meant to be there forever. It’s not just okay to let them go, it’s necessary.
The beauty of letting things go is that it clears the path for reinvention. And you only get so many chances to reinvent yourself.
Inspiring and not unconnected song by the extremely talented John Bucchino: