Learning to Let Go

Yet, letting go can also be freeing, and full of new surprises. ᅡᅠSo what if it gets messy or feelsᅡᅠawkward for a bit? Each time you choose to let go, you build up the trust you need in yourself to be better the next time.
12/22/2014 03:27 pm ET Updated Feb 21, 2015

Climbing up the 40-foot ladder, I found myself surprisingly unafraid and rather indifferent -- as if it was a climb I had made many times before. A group of us, four children and two moms, had decided to take a "trapeze" class while on vacation. After a brief introduction to the do's and don'ts, and a little practice on a swing a mere sixᅡᅠfeet off the ground, I was the one to go first on the big swing.

Heaving myself up each rung of the bobbling and bouncing ladder, I heard my grandmother's crackling voice, "hand-hand-foot-foot," until I awkwardly reached the narrow platform. When I found my balance atᅡᅠthe top, the instructor guided me around the support postsᅡᅠto face the swing properly.

As I steadied myself and looked out, I remember thinking I should feel fearful, but I did not. I did not feel anything, really. Not a flip nor flop of my stomach, nor a tense twitch of a muscle. I thought I would be more afraid of heights, but the safety harness tightly wrapped around my waist had apparently squeezed all the fear out of me.ᅡᅠ

I was instructed to work my way closer to the edgeᅡᅠthen toᅡᅠput my arms out, stand up and bend my knees, reach with one hand first, then the other. I tried to follow the directions, but the movements feltᅡᅠawkward.ᅡᅠ

"Don't worry, I've got you," were the words of encouragement from the instructor who thought my hesitation was due toᅡᅠnerves when it was really more dueᅡᅠto confusion. I wasn't trying to work up my nerves, rather I was trying to work out, "How do I bend my knees and stand up?"ᅡᅠ

I had this same awkward hesitation 20 years ago when I learnedᅡᅠto ballroom dance with my husband.ᅡᅠ "Put your arm here, step this way, let your partner lead you, stop trying to lead, don't step, now step." The idea that I would just hand over control of my movements to someone else was laughable... but I digress.ᅡᅠ
ᅡᅠ ᅡᅠ ᅡᅠ ᅡᅠ
So there I was, at the ledge of a trapeze platform, a woman holding a belt at my waist, telling me she's got me, just follow her instructions. ᅡᅠ

I hobbled off the platform as best I could, swung back and forth, and weakly attempted to bring my legs up and back to the timing of the instructions being shouted from below. My movementsᅡᅠfelt awkward and sluggish, rather than carefree and fun.

"On the next swing up you are going to let go, one... two... look back... three," shouted the instructor.

I held on.

"Okay, next one," she says.ᅡᅠ

I hesitantly let go, thinking, "this can't be right". I tried to self-correct, and landed face-down, my nose stuck in the safety netting. ᅡᅠ

Definitely not the right way to let go.

My next attempt at trapezing ended slightly better... at least I landed face up this time.

For my third and final swing, I dutifully climbed the ladder, assumed my confused and awkward straight-squat stance, and hopped a little off the ledge. ᅡᅠ

Knowing it was my final attempt, I stopped trying to swing my legs to the timing of the instructor's voice, and moved more to my own rhythm.ᅡᅠᅡᅠ

It felt good.ᅡᅠ It felt comfortable.

I let my mind wander, and it settled on anᅡᅠoften heard story from my grandfather, a former District Chief for the Boston Fire Department.ᅡᅠDuring firefighter training, he would take new recruits up to the top of the Bristol Street Tower in South Boston, where they were to leap off the building to a net below. Heᅡᅠwouldᅡᅠask theᅡᅠrecruits to look him in the eye and ask them,ᅡᅠ"Do you trust me?" They would answer, "Yes." And then he would say, "Now jump." ᅡᅠ

On the next upswing, I looked back, brought my legs up, released the bar, and fell softly, beautifully, freely to the net below. I landed, arms outstretched, and felt the net embrace me as it softened my fall.ᅡᅠ Then the most wonderful thing happened... the net bounced up, releasing me several feet in the air so I could fall back down and feel that embrace all over again.

I finally learned to let go, and let the outcome embrace me. ᅡᅠ

People are curious about my trapeze adventure. They assume, as I did, that flying in the air would be the thrilling part, or that conqueringᅡᅠsome fear I never really had would be a confidence-booster. Neither of these things were true for me.

It was the learning to fully let go, to trust whatever happened after letting go would be okay, that was the best part. That was the part that was the most exhilarating, the part that gave me the most confidence, the part where I felt free.

As I write during the holiday season and find myself getting a little anxious and upset over silly traditions not being carried through, I remember how good it felt to let goᅡᅠon the trapeze.ᅡᅠᅡᅠ

So often we hold on to ideas, traditions, or even friendships, longer than is good for us...ᅡᅠbecause we don't know how to let go.ᅡᅠ Without someone asking us to trust them, we must trust ourselves. We must trust our own decision to let go, andᅡᅠwe must trust that the outcome will be okay. ᅡᅠ

It's hard. Letting go can feel uncomfortable, andᅡᅠthe outcome is unknown. ᅡᅠ

Yet, letting go can also be freeing, and full of new surprises. ᅡᅠSo what if it gets messy or feelsᅡᅠawkward for a bit? Each time you choose to let go, you build up the trust you need in yourself to be better the next time.

As the New Year approaches, how will you learn to let go?