This is the fifth article following The Irony of Quitting My Job to Take a Sabbatical, the first in a series on what I learned and what I’d recommend from quitting my job to take a six-month sabbatical (without another job in sight). Here, I share the reasons why we don’t let go and the importance of doing so in order to move forward.
“Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.” – Herman Hesse
Letting go can be scary.
There was a part of me that clung onto my job, despite how much I disliked it.
I know I wasn’t alone in this. Too many of us stick around in situations, labels or relationships that were maybe fitting at one point, but we’ve since outgrown.
Here are 5 reasons we don’t let go, even when it’s for the best.
1) We think we’ll miss out
I once worked with someone who was intensely afraid of letting go, even of the things she constantly complained about. She packed her weekday nights and weekends with social events and activities. She was stressed, exhausted and miserable—and destined to repeat the cycle until she gave herself her time back.
Even though she knew letting go was crucial to getting the space she needed to make positive change, she wasn’t able to do it. She couldn’t overcome the fear of missing out (FOMO). I know this all too well, because I used to be like her too.
It’s tempting to feel the FOMO. It’s a false sense of feeling included, needed, or part of something.
But when you’re overloaded with busyness, you’re actually missing out on all the other (better) things you could be doing with your valuable time.
There is only so much energy and time in a day. Are you spending it on things that are meaningful to just you—not anybody else?
If the answer is no, and yet you continue with what you’re doing, your energy, time and resources will continue to be spent on coping with what isn’t working.
2) We think we’re giving up
On the other hand, we may think letting go is a sign of giving up—a white flag of defeat and failure. We feel the pressure of wanting to stick it out, to bear the pain and show others we can do it.
We’re really fooling ourselves. You can accomplish any goal you set if you want it that badly. But here’s the real question: is the goal you’ve set what you really want?
There was a time when I thought I wanted to climb the corporate ladder and play the game. It took me several years to learn the difference between giving up and letting go.
Giving up is when you don’t even start or attempt what is personally meaningful to you. It’s when you balk at the first real obstacle on something so heartfelt it’s scary. Sometimes, it’s quitting at mile twenty in a marathon-length, gut-wrenching endeavor when everything feels like it’s about to fall apart. Giving up is based on fear.
Letting go is different. It starts with a true assessment of whether or not something is fitting for you. For those ill-fitting or outgrown items, it’s a conscious choice to disconnect them from your time and energy.
Letting go is aligning your current priorities with where you want to go.
Giving up lacks strength; letting go takes strength. And guess what? Only you can determine which is which.
3) We think it is part of us
My job used to be part of my identity—in a “Hello, my name is” sort of way. It was part of how I introduced myself to others. This is so ingrained in our culture we often don’t realize it.
“Hello, my name is Amy and I work in XYZ.”
It became easier for me to let go once it became clear that this “identity” wasn’t doing anyone any favors. Not my coworkers, not my family or friends, and especially not for my husband and myself.
I asked myself: Am I a better version of myself with this? Does this make me come alive? Does this help me grow in a way that feels aligned with where I want to go?
The answers for me were all a resounding no.
By staying, I was doing the whole world a disservice. I wasn’t being my true self. I wasn’t showing up in the way I wanted to in my life.
Every day I went to work, I intentionally pushed aside the my core desires. My body and spirit took a toll and it was destined to worsen over the years.
The result was an irritable, unhappy, bitter, critical and reactive human being. I was all about the “Shoulds” and “Should nots” that I applied harshly on others as well as myself. I was apt to lash out when I perceived others as not doing their part. I was stingy with my time, energy and money because I was so exhausted and miserable. I was reserved and distant, with an edgy tilt to my demeanor and voice.
It was awful. It wasn’t truly me. It didn’t need to be me.
We are not defined by our jobs or our pasts. We are constantly growing, powerful creative beings. We have full power to define ourselves and change the definition whenever we’d like.
4) We feel like we need to have a replacement
Another reason we hold on so tightly is because we feel the need to have a replacement ready before we let go. It’s this mentality of not wanting to let go until we have something better in hand.
We don’t like loss, so we prefer to accumulate—or if we must, swap it out. It’s like if we leave the spot empty, then we’re somehow less complete.
I certainly felt that way. Faced with the upcoming goal of letting go my identity as a financial analyst, I didn’t know what else I’d be known as or what else I’d be able to offer the world. I somehow felt as if the stripping away of the title left me with less identity and value to the world.
I needed to be okay with the absence and the following uncertainty.
Absence allows for the creation of new. When you’re overwhelmed and at capacity, you’re not going to be able to explore other things that may end up being a hundred times better. You simply will not have the bandwidth.
That’s why it’s important to release what isn’t working for you, even when you don’t initially have a replacement. The emptiness will allow you to explore until you find something that works better.
5) We feel guilt over the process
Part of me blamed myself for not moving faster—for wasting all those years. I found myself wondering if I could’ve made a change sooner. Perhaps I could’ve saved myself the confusion, the trouble, and shouldn’t I have known better??
In order to fully let go and move forward, I needed to forgive myself first. This takes acceptance of where you are right now and the appreciation of everything that has led you to this moment.
Perhaps the timing could’ve been shorter, but the time I spent had a purpose. It was necessary in my reaching the realization in my own way. That’s how each of us learns, in our own way and on our own timeline.
When this realization and resulting forgiveness sank in for me, it was a bizarre, organic experience. I started laughing and tearing up at the same time with an uncontrollable level of exuberance, relief and lightness that was unlike anything I’d felt before. In that moment, I realized the comedy of the situation and the happiness I felt around this reconnection and healing within myself.
Should’ve, could’ve and would’ve simply does not exist in life. When we don’t forgive ourselves for the past, we’re still holding on, and in doing so, we’re unable to move forward.
Do you have any ill-fitting or outgrown identities or situations that you’re not letting go of? What are your reasons for holding on? Share your story below in the comments!
Letting go was absolutely necessary in preparing myself to take the leap of quitting my job and taking a sabbatical. What you let go of will look different than mine, but in any change, one form shifts into another. Next is an article on community, what will either accelerate or slow down your progress when making a big change in your life.