Letting Go and Moving On

You are still mad that you didn’t get that plum promotion. You are still ruminating on the time you totally blew Thanksgiving dinner some 15…er 20 years ago. You still can’t believe that that guy from Sophomore year never called you back. You’ll never forgive your parents for not being perfect. Turns out that all this ruminating and dredging up all the past sins of you and others is a recipe for long term unhappiness. It’s time to let go and move on.

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It’s crazy how much time that most of us spend on rehashing the sins and failures of the past again and again and again. Or “should-ing” all over ourselves. The “what ifs” take over and suddenly we are on a new trajectory that is completely false and, in fact, painful. There are some steps you can take to get past the past. The rehash. The regurgitation. Want some freedom? Here are a few ideas:

 

  • Reframe.  As Mark Chernoff writes, “Oftentimes letting go is simply changing the labels you place on a situation – it’s looking at the same situation with fresh eyes and an open mind.”  So, change the frame around the situation.  Didn’t get the promotion? This is a great opportunity to learn something new and completely different.  You could be kicking butt as a yoga instructor. What an opportunity.  That dry turkey from so many years ago?  It’s a success because absolutely no one remembers it but you.  They all remember what a great time they had and how you produced the WHOLE dinner on your own.  You are the Thanksgiving Hero!  Your imperfect parents?  Yeah but didn’t they get you safely to adulthood.  Are you a bit thicker skinned because of the bumps along the way?  Thanks Mom and Dad for giving me resilience.  Reframe your trials and tribulations.

 

  • Effort.   This was my insight from this past week’s mediation. Did you give “it” your best effort? Especially at the end of what you thought was a lifetime relationship.  Did you give it your best? Were you your best self? If so, let it go. If you didn’t give your best effort then maybe you should revisit and show up with your best. When you have given it your very best, then it’s time to let go. Giving only a little effort and letting go just means it was never that important to you. If you are constantly doing this, you may just be skimming through life. Give your best effort and then, walk away with your head held high. You gave it your best. Move on.

 

  • Emotions.  You cannot go around, you must go through. I believed that I could cry a few times and then tip toe around the grief. Nope. You need to feel it. Accept it. Live it.  Fully sense the constraint in the pit of your stomach, the heat on your forehead and the tightening of your throat. Then label it. “Oh…so this is grief.” Definitely find a time and private place to do this (so staff meeting isn’t a good time for this). Skipping this step only ensures that it will come back again and again. Experiencing it eventually makes it clear enough so that you can move on.  For me the barometer was when I told the story of loss to someone new, I didn’t get choked up anymore.  Be sure to live through the emotions.

 

  • Care.  Take care of yourself. What does self-care look like for you? Is it a new dress? A facial? Going for a ten-mile hike? Fishing along a stream? Making a seven-course meal for yourself? Seeing the latest feature film? Karaoke? Roller skating? Sky diving? Scuba diving? Sitting on the beach with a great book? Taking that new yoga class? One of the main things about letting go and moving on is making yourself a priority. Since suffering my loss, I’ve been driving once a week for 70 miles for a group meditation practice. It recharges me and resets my brain. Take care of yourself.

 

  • Gratitude.  My home was flooded during Hurricane Matthew some nine plus months ago. I had a list of over ten thousand things that needed to get done to finish the house. I don’t focus on that list. It’s debilitating to focus on all that is wrong. Instead I write in my gratitude journal every day about what is going right! It’s much more uplifting. This past weekend, my attic was finally empty of all its contents. E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. What a weight was lifted. I am so grateful. Being grateful rewires your brain to the positive. Show your gratitude.

 

  • Truth.   In one of my recent readings I read the Total Truth Process by Jack Canfield. The premise is to write a letter to someone who has hurt or injured you at any point in your life. It could be anything from your parents to middle school to the nun who smacked your hand in catechism class. I have a list of folks and I am working my way through the list (don’t worry, I’m sure you aren’t on my list).  Anyway, write a letter answering Canfield’s questions:
  1. Anger and resentment. I’m angry that … I hate that … I’m fed up with … I resent …
  2. Hurt. It hurt me when … I felt sad when … I feel hurt that … I feel disappointed…
  3. Fear. I was afraid that … I feel scared when … I get afraid that I…
  4. Remorse, regret, and accountability. I’m sorry that … Please forgive me for …
  5. Wants. All I ever want(ed) … I want you to … I want(ed) … I deserve …
  6. Love, compassion, forgiveness, and appreciation. I understand that … I appreciate … I  love you for … I forgive you for … Thank you for …

I haven’t given the letters or talked about them with the person I have addressed         them to but it is quite cathartic to get it on paper and out of my head.  Sometimes bullet #3 showed up.  Sometimes not.  But I highly recommend writing the truth down.

This is all a process and cannot be sped up (although I wish it could be).  Having a coach can be helpful as well.  My coach pointed out some great resources on transitions.  Having a third unrelated party to provide insight and thoughtful questions can be invaluable. What do you need to let go of?

“Quiet on set!” We all want to be directors.

You submitted the proposal two weeks ago and there has been no response. “Action!” Everyone is talking over each other during the meeting. “Quiet on set!” Your child isn’t listening to your chore list. “Boom!”  The team can’t seem to get any traction on the project. “Roll!”  Wouldn’t it be great to have a giant megaphone in your hand and a bird’s eye view of all aspects of your life?  So if you wanted your friend to sober up, your boss to give you a raise or make your partner a sexy beast, all you would have to do is change the script and make it happen.  The truth is, while we may have delusions of being the director of our lives, we really just need to rewrite that script and surrender control.director

There is an ongoing theme that crops up a lot when I coach.  More than a lot.  Clients are constantly striving to change the other people in their lives.  They want their son to stop smoking, their co-worker to quit being nosy, their boss to acknowledge their accomplishments–you get the picture.  With all this constant striving to control and change others, we become embittered.  “I’ve told him to quit smoking dozens of times and he doesn’t listen to me.”  Sigh. “I’ve quit talking to my co-worker but they are still nosy.” Argh. “I’ve finished 6 projects ahead of schedule and my boss hasn’t said a word.” Woe is me.  The heart of this is the way we react to it.  The story we tell ourselves in our heads and the approach we take.

Here are some tips on how to let go of your need to be the Director:

  • Acknowledge that you are trying to direct others.  Changing a mindset always starts with acknowledging that it even exists. Several years ago, my son was baking a cake in my kitchen.  I ran around cleaning everything up and putting things away.  Critiquing each step.  He stepped back and said, “Let me fail.”  It was profound for me.  I needed to acknowledge that I wanted to control the situation, as if a cake was life or death.  So this is what control is like.
  • Reflect on your striving.  As a coach, I ask, “Can you control your boss…your daughter…your co-worker?”  Invariably the client says “No.” I ask, “Can you let go of the striving to control?” Client: “That’s not easy.” The striving itself is the source of your pain.  You are trying to change reality (albeit for the better) but the striving is undermining your relationship with the person you are trying to change.  So think about that.  You can’t change someone else’s actions, and you striving and worrying and manipulating will only twist you into a knot. So pick it up and put it on the table to look at it.  So this is what striving is; it’s striving to change things that you cannot direct.
  • Shut down the illusion.  So when I was in the middle of the baking catastrophe with my son, I decided to leave the room.  I was nothing but a stressed-out hindrance.  I took off my director’s beret, let go of the story and went to my trailer (actually my office). Let go of the illusion of control. I already knew how to make that cake.  Now it’s his turn.  My being in the kitchen was not going to change the end result.  It was delicious, by the way.  All by himself.  Successfully directing is just an illusion.
  • Figure out what you do have control over.  Hmmm.  Well, your reaction.  You have control over your reaction.  Even better to tell yourself, I have control over my response.  I can get mad, angry, frustrated, sad, or resentful.  I can also be sublime, calm, happy, relaxed or joyful.  You really do get to choose; the choosing is just different than what you initially thought.  I can remember being in the restaurant business and dealing with disgruntled customers.  My reaction to their bitterness was to be over-the-moon friendly.  Big smile, eye contact, “My day is just fabulous” attitude and it was infectious.  I was amazed at how I could turn a situation like a miss on a rare steak around through my own outlook.  Be that spark.  Understand that you can control yourself.
  • Don’t take it personally.  This is hard.  I have several clients that are putting off their happiness until…they get a promotion, their nemesis quits, their husband loses 20 pounds or their daughter sobers up. I can’t be happy if my daughter is unhappy.  I can’t be happy until Suzy quits.  The failures (and successes) of others are happening independent of you.  Whether or not that cake failed had nothing to do with me.  Let go of your personal responsibility for others’ actions.
  • Realize that everyone else wants to be the director of their own lives.  This is especially true when world events seem out of control.  So buried behind your boss’ request for a new venue for the holiday party is likely their need for control.  The tight deadline from your co-worker is to make sure it fits in their life.  Understand and respect that even your dog wants to control you by pawing you when you stop petting.  We all want influence and control.

This is not easy and it is a slow process. Take it slowly and consciously and it will change.  Just remember when you start getting wrapped up in the dramatic film in your head to ask yourself, “Am I really the director?  Am I really in control?” and let it go.

Letting Go. Are you attached to your kid’s success?

You verify every grade on the report card. You double check your kid’s homework to make sure she has it all “right”. You make sure they do their homework for two hours before they play any Minecraft. You take over the science project to ensure they win top prize. You want to make sure your child is a success and your happiness is dependent on it.

Really? Do you want to be dependent on your child’s success for your own happiness? That will end up being a lifetime of struggle. I’m not suggesting that you don’t want health and happiness for your child. We all want that. But are you measuring your happiness and/or success by your child’s success? What does success look like for your child? And who gets to decide what success is? Is that really up to you?

Letting go

I facilitated a workshop on CRR Global’s Toxins and Exploring Edges. I coached one of the participants on a change she wanted to make in her life (which Edge she wanted to explore). She has two sons. One is academically gifted and the other is academically challenged. Well, she was able to let go of expectations from the challenged son. She realized that letting go of one child’s expectations had heightened the expectations for the other child. The change she wanted to make was to be able to let go of expectations for her gifted son.

So here are some of the insights from the exercise:

  • Trust is the core of every relationship. This is one of the 5 Behaviors of the Cohesive Team by Patrick Lencioni. As Lencioni posits, it’s not just predictive trust (you do what you say you are going to do) but also vulnerability based trust (you admit when you made a mistake). Are you letting your child be vulnerable? Are they allowed to make a mistake without you chiding them? If they can’t be vulnerable, they aren’t going to tell you when they mess up.

 

  • Autonomy doesn’t have to mean you don’t care. Autonomy is a great gift to the folks in your life. Getting wrapped up in whether or not their homework is done or if they are EVER going to empty the garbage is exhausting and it’s not helping you find happiness. When you don’t let your children have autonomy (within reason folks…don’t let your 5-year-old park the car), they are constantly seeking your approval and reassurance or, on the flip side, are demotivated because they can’t have independence. Autonomy helps them create that on their own. The responsibility of success, failure and happiness are safely resting on their shoulders. Autonomy shows that you do care.

 

  • Let go in stages that work for you. The mom I was working with, initially “jumped” across the Edge. She then decided to go back and slowly inch her way across the Edge. It resonated when she was able to gradually move across the change of letting go. Her body language relaxed. You could see that she was relieved and that she could control how and when she would let go. How and when you let go is a very personal choice. Don’t jump unless you want to.

 

  • Acceptance of both failure and success is critical. Mommy client said that she needed to let go of whether her son got a 90 or a 97. “They are both A’s.” I remember standing in the middle of the kitchen when my son was making a complicated cake recipe. I was making suggestions ….er telling him how to fix it when he looked at me, put up his hand and said, “Stop! Let me fail.” I was thunder struck. Whether or not that cake failed is not life changing but him taking responsibility for its failure or success is life changing. Let go of the reins.

 

  • Communicate your expectations. One of the participants at the workshop suggested she go home and tell her sons about her new insight. If she doesn’t communicate that she is letting go of her expectations, he might feel like she is abdicating. There were several in the audience who talked about a parent who had essentially abdicated their parenting if a child did not follow the path the parent wanted (you know…doctor, lawyer, good college education, etc.). I remember telling my son after a poor semester at school, that I loved him no matter what he did. I didn’t want him feeling like he had to stick to something in exchange for my love. Unconditional love needs to be communicated.

Parenting is the hardest job in the world and is complicated, as in my case, when you are separated with the parent you had that child with. Model happiness for your children instead of measuring their success against unrealistic expectations. You will be happier in the end as well.

Traveling DNA: Lessons I Learned From My Son

“Because he had no place he could stay in without getting tired of it and because there was nowhere to

go but everywhere,keep rolling under the stars…” -Jack Kerouac

In a span of about a month, I traveled separately with my 88 year old father and then with my 18 year old son. Not surprisingly there were some vast differences along with some ironic similarities considering they are 70 years apart in age. Both trips were insightful, it really was a lesson in learning more about myself.

My son, Benson, sailing off the coast of Key West.
My son, Benson, sailing off the coast of Key West.

My son is in the last weeks of his Freshman year at the University of Miami. The timing of a weekend trip to Key West was not likely ideal considering he was supposed to be studying for finals, but his willingness to adapt his schedule to accompany his mother to the end of the Continental United States is admirable. Key West with your mother…when you are 18…that is one secure teenager.

So these are my lessons from this trip:

1. Patience. My Father might have patience, but mine was sorely lacking the morning I arrived to pick up my son to drive to Key West. I thought we would be leaving promptly for the 3 plus hour drive. He was at the track, running sprints. Two hours later we were finally on the road. I have to say I had to take a breath and say to myself, “Cathy, you will wait patiently for your Father to use the Men’s room but you can’t be patient with your own son?” Chill out and be patient.

2. Agenda. Let go of it. I had a plan to make it to a recommended lunch spot in Marathon (some 2 hours away) When we left 2 hours late and my son suggested Cracker Barrel, I needed to let go of my agenda. Again, I didn’t seem to care where I ate with my Father, why did it matter with my son? He was used to heading to bed at 3 AM (yes…or even later) but he hit the sack at 10 PM. He could have stayed up watching YouTube until 2 AM but he didn’t have an agenda to stick to. Give up your agenda.

3. Generous. My son is generous to a fault. So generous that, he once went to an ATM to give a homeless man twenty dollars. When his uncle gave him a twenty dollar bill at the ripe old age of 5, he took it to the Boys and Girls Club and bought every soda and snack in the vending machine and shared it with his compatriots. My son’s first thought when we arrived in Key West was what gifts he wanted to buy for his friends. So maybe his generosity isn’t a fault but something I need to embrace myself. Instead of looking at what coffee mug I want for myself, I need to take a lesson from his generosity to others. Be generous.

4. Flexible. My son is flexible to any change in course. We wanted to see the famous sunset from Mallory Square on the edge of Key West. We had an hour to kill and he was open to where we ate, what we ate and didn’t care how long a walk it was. If the roles were reversed, I would have had a checklist of “must haves” before leaving the island (i.e. Oysters, conch fritters, mojito…etc). If I told him we were going to the Waffle House, he would have been on board. Much like my father, my son can change course easily and be flexible.

5. Curiosity. While my son doesn’t have random conversations with anyone he meets (like my father), he has the same wanderlust. In fact this is definitely in the family DNA. Me -“Do you want to check out the southern most point in the US?” Him – “sure”. Me -“Do you want to take a sailboat ride?” Him – “sure”. Me – “Want to check out the oldest restaurant in the US?” Him -“OK”. When we were driving back to Miami, he turned to me and said “What is our next adventure?”. Be curious.

6. Co-pilot. My son is an excellent co-pilot. Whether taking pictures, cueing up music or finding change for the toll, he is at the ready. We both love to listen to podcasts like “The Moth“, “This American Life” and “A Prairie Home Companion”. He was the car DJ setting up the one’s he wanted me to hear even if he had already heard them. I actually look forward to long drives with him as my co-pilot, because I know we are going to listen to some interesting stuff.

7. Line. My son knows when to draw the line. A waiter had forgotten an appetizer we had ordered. My son spoke up. We got a free dessert. When he had to spend some time studying (did I mention this was just days before finals), he stayed behind to study. When we were headed back and were short on time, he found a lunch place close to campus. He knows when to cut loose and when to reign it in. He knows where to draw the line.

I’m glad I got to spend some quality time with my son. I know that times like these are few and far between as he continues on with his college studies and then on to a career. It was time well spent. It’s great when your children can teach you things about yourself. It makes me proud to be his mom.

7 Steps to Letting Go. Lessons From Having Surgery.

 Nothing to do. No where to go. Just be here now” – Stephen Cope

I had surgery on December 19th.  I did not anticipate the struggle that would ensue.  It turns out that I have a really hard time letting go.  I am an obsessive pillow straightener (and I have a dog who loves to push them off every chair), I cannot have dirty dishes in the sink and I have been making dinner for my family since…well…I gave birth to my first child some 20 plus years ago.  I am compelled to “be doing”.   So imagine my surprise, when being released from the hospital, that the instructions from the doctor were, no housework for 4 weeks.  I smirked.  Sure.  I can do that.  Piece of cake.  Eat bon bons and sit on the coach for 4 weeks.  This is my dream.  I’ve been waiting 20 years for this.letting-go-300x2561

It has not been easy.  In fact, I’ve over done…several times.  I know that I have over done because I start to get dizzy, I feel weak, my incisions start to ache.  So why?  This is the dream of a lifetime to “let go”;let my children and husband wait on me.  But flicking the switch to be the pampered is not easy.  I hate to ask for another glass of water or for my husband to put my socks on.  Like Sampson cutting his hair, I have had to let go of my strength. But, the magical thing is, that others have shined beyond my imagination.

So here are the lessons I’ve learned from letting go:

1. Agenda.  I’ve had to let go of my agenda.  I am now at the whim of everyone else’s schedule.  If I wake up at 5 AM, well, so be it.  I am stuck.  If there is no one in the house awake at that hour, perhaps I need to roll over (if possible) and get another hour or two of sleep.  Letting go means not having an agenda.

2. Hands off.  So I guess I am more of a control freak than I realized.  If my son is making dinner, I need him to fail or succeed on his own.  I cannot step in and take over;because I physically can’t.  I must say that some of the food that has been coming out my kitchen has been fabulous.  Keeping my hands off has let my family’s culinary talents shine!

3. Small steps.  I’ve learned that the smallest steps, are now, some of the greatest rewards.  My daughter was in the hospital room the morning after the surgery.  Walking to the bathroom was an enormous, if not insurmountable, task.  She cheered me on.  Unabashedly, literally, cheered me on.  “You can do it, Mommy”.  Her enthusiasm was infectious.  The small steps count.

4. Patience.  I am so patient with others but fail miserably with myself.  I want to be doing, but after testing my limits by actually going to the grocery store 10 days after surgery (note to self, REALLY bad idea) I have learned that I need to be patient with my recovery.  I am not the only one who can push a cart through a store and get out a debit card.  Really.  I am not the only one in a household of six who can do this.    And, there is a point, in the not so distant future, where I will have the privilege (sarcasm) of grocery shopping again.  Patience.

5. Accept.  I learned to be accepting of other’s help.  I’m not sure why this is so hard.  I am surrounded by a loving household.  Everyone has made me breakfast or lunch.  Every over easy egg has been different (some seasoned, some not, some stiff, some runny) but they have all been prepared with love.  I just needed to accept it.  With love.

6. Perfection.  I need to give up on the constant striving for perfection.  So what if the dog barks to get in for 10 minutes because I’m the only one hearing her.  So what if there are crumbs on the table from last night’s dinner.  Who cares if you haven’t worked on your book for the last two weeks.  I live with imperfection, no harm done. No harm, no foul.

7. Vulnerable.  I’m learning that being vulnerable can enhance my relationships.  My husband has had to do countless personal things for me, including drying me off from a shower and helping me dress.  My daughter helped me in those first few trips to the bathroom in the hospital.  These are the things I have been doing for myself since I was a toddler.  I’ve learned to be vulnerable and found deeper connections with my family.  They are there for me.  No matter what.  And that is wondrous.

So many folks have risen to the occasion to help me in my recuperation.  Letting go has been difficult but the rewards have been incalculable.  There are so many people in my life that were there for me, I just needed to let go to finally discover it.