The art of letting go.
I’ve been thinking of the balance between letting go and wanting to keep things safe.
Perhaps it’s because our youngest child is graduating from high school this year, or maybe it’s related to all the ups and downs of the pandemic. Each case brings with it a desire to manage for an outcome, and to get it “right.”
Whatever the reason, the art of letting go has been on my mind.
There are a couple of young trees right outside my office that had supports tied to them last fall.
Whenever I walk by them, I’ve taken note of the way that the supports have begun to dig into the tree.
(You can see my amateur picture of it below.)
What began as something positive (the support of a young tree) has become something slightly insidious, choking it as it grows.
That which was once helpful has begun to become harmful.
It’s all about timing.
When is something a crutch?
When I was a young actor, it was common to grab a prop to help with the development of a character. I might use a cane to help with the illusion that I was old, or I might wear a pair of glasses to help me feel studious.
In acting parlance, these things are considered “crutches” because we imbue them with too much power. The actor begins to think that her ability to play the character is dependent on the prop. Merriam Webster’s definition of a crutch is “a source or means of support that is relied on heavily or excessively.”
The same is true in the rest of life. What begins as a helpful tool (advice, guidance, detailed instructions) might one day become a limiting factor to our growth.
Just as it’s difficult to let go of the “crutch” from an acting standpoint, it can also be difficult for an individual or team to let go of limiting behaviors or beliefs.
We rely on them to keep us safe.
Where are you holding too tightly?
The challenge with leading a team (and with parenting kids) is that the transition to them standing on their own is rarely smooth.
Again, the timing is difficult. Even in our own life, it’s hard to know when to drop those supports that we’ve come to depend on.
Stepping away is the key to autonomy, and yet it also presents the risk of failure.
If we want to stand on our own, we will need to notice just what we’re holding onto.
For example, is it what other people think of us?
Or are we clinging to an idea of what success should look like?
Either way, we are most likely forsaking our own power for an imagined security.
Resiliency and finding your voice.
When people are given the chance to trust themselves, they tend to develop more self-esteem and resiliency.
This touches two of the fundamental principles to becoming more resilient. Namely, the willingness to grow through suffering and the ability to act despite fear.
The problem is that many of us need support, especially early on in their career. We need to know that if we fall, we won’t break.
We look for a kind of psychological safety net whenever we are learning something new because it can help us to feel more confident in that risk.
Think: Dumbo and the magic feather (minus the racist representation of the crows).
The problem here is that sometimes this contributes to an aversion to failure.
We recognize that resiliency is a key to strong teams, confident adults, and healthy organizations, and yet we want to have that resiliency without any risk. We want to do it without being afraid or making a fool of ourselves.
If you want to find your voice, you have to be willing to be seen and heard. The strongest voices are the ones that have pushed through the fear and that trust themselves.
Perfection is a crutch.
Do you have an expectation that you should be perfect?
Ever wonder what you get from that?
Dr. Brené Brown lists the four destructive qualities of perfectionism in her own research, most importantly that it sets us up to feel guilt and shame.
I once attended a workshop with the psychologist and journalist Daniel Goleman who wrote the book Emotional Intelligence back in the 90s. In this workshop, he made the observation that perfectionism is a great way to feel anxious, all the time.
And in my experience, that anxiety is like a crutch. It keeps us from trusting ourselves and finding out what we’re capable of doing.
I know that I’ve used a perfectionist attitude to keep myself from learning something new or doing something that was difficult.
When it’s rampant in organizations, it can make people and teams seem brittle. It makes collaboration almost impossible because everyone is afraid to trust.
It’s when you realize that the expectation of perfection is a fantasy that holds you back that you can begin to let go.
Recognize where you may be holding on too tight.
Look for opportunities when you can leave behind the safety net and crutches that keep you from failing.
Notice if you are constantly defended against being seen, being known, or being vulnerable.
Look for ways that you’ve been propping up a team, or protecting yourself from failure.
Take a breath, remind yourself who you are, and loosen your grip just a little.
People may fail.
You might fall.
But this is how we learn to be free, isn’t it? This is how we learn that we can do so much more than we ever imagined.
The opportunity is right here in front of us.
Many of us carry crutches in the way that we speak, and a voice workshop is a fabulous opportunity to experiment, take risks, and grow. Come join Patricia Mulholland for an all day workshop for women only on April 12. Learn how to project with confidence, communicate with emotion, and tap into your inner presence. This is a fabulous chance to learn about your own voice and maybe throw away some crutches. Click here if you’re interested.