THE BLOG
11/25/2014 06:25 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2015

Learning to Let Go

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"Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it." -- Ann Landers

Anyone who witnessed the 10-1 ratio of Elsa vs. Everything Else this Halloween is probably somewhat familiar with the concept of letting go. And, there's a reason for that. Beyond the popularity of a movie or the catchiness of a particular song, the idea of just letting it all go is the ultimate freedom for many of us. But, it's also much easier said than done.

I've struggled with this concept immensely -- not only how to let go of certain aspects of my life, but in identifying which of those things need to be let go of in the first place. Letting go can feel like giving up, giving in, not working hard enough to make something succeed. I'm overcome with a fear of quitting, of losing out, on looking back at decisions I make with regret. And this makes me cling, hold on with dear life, to some of the worst things.

The key, for me, has been to identify those areas in my life where letting go can lift the most weight and engender the greatest long term happiness, and then finding the strength to follow through.

Letting Go of Life Expectations/Frustrations

There are several reasons why life expectations and frustrations go hand in hand. We create an image in our minds of what we expect our lives to be. And, it's important to have goals and dreams, something to strive for. This can help us lead a rich inner life. But when these expectations aren't met through a variety of ever-changing circumstances, the frustration sets in. This can be incapacitating.

This cycle of unmet expectations and the onset of frustration has been an incredible struggle for me. I dream big, idealistically -- I want to change the world. This passion is a fundamental part of who I am and how I interact with everyone around me. And, while I've never been keen on the five-year plan, I certainly have things I want to do and places I want to be.

And, of course, I haven't done all those things and gotten to all those places just yet. There have been setbacks, road blocks, changes in plans. I've found myself at times lost, at times questioning what I was doing and even who I am in the face of these obstacles. I see people around me who seem to have it a whole lot more together than I do, and I sink deeper into those feelings of frustration and failure.

In these moments, I have to let go of those expectations, met and unmet, and learn to roll with the changing tides of what's happening in my life. I still dream, I still strive to work hard for the life I envision for myself, but I also appreciate where I am now and what I've been through to get here. It's in this place of acceptance that I can begin to put my frustrations in check and just live.

Letting Go of the Past

"What's done is done" has been a platitude I've fought in many aspects of my life. In fact, I think letting go of the past is one of the hardest things to do. First of all, letting go of the past means letting go of pain, sadness, and trauma -- those moments and memories that have left lasting scars, have become a part of who we've grown to be.

I have my fair share of those wounds and I have spent much of my adult life trying to run and recover from those memories. The hurting brought on by bullying and rejection has affected my concept of self-worth and I've fought an often uphill battle to let go of these painful memories and continue to put myself out there in life and love.

I've also learned that sometimes letting go of the past means letting go of the people in that past. I am not good at this. I love deeply and I put a tremendous amount of effort into all of my relationships. I pride myself on being a passionate and loyal person when it comes to the people in my life. And, I have a tendency to hang onto toxic connections far longer than I should.

I think we've all had at least one of those relationships. And if you're anything like me, the idea of cutting ties with someone seems impossible. Not only does it feel like erasing the memories you worked so hard to create, but it feels like giving up on someone completely.

When I begin to consider letting go of a relationship with someone, I start to ask questions like "Have I tried hard enough? Loved enough?" But these are perhaps the wrong questions to ask. Sometimes it doesn't matter how hard you've tried, how much you've loved, things just aren't going to work for any number of reasons.

And letting go doesn't mean you have to stop caring, stop loving, it just means putting distance between yourself and bad situation. This takes a far greater strength then staying.

Letting Go of What's Out of Your Control

One of the most important lessons of my adult life has been that there are a whole lot of things out of my control. I can't control health problems. I can't control what other people do or don't do, say or don't say. I can't control the economy, the state of the world, the weather. And, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The problem is that even though I recognize that so much of life is out of my control, I still get frustrated, angry, bitter even. And, all this does is breed negativity, making it harder to focus on what I can control. I have to let it go.

Sometimes, life is a mess. But instead of living in a perpetual state of expecting the worst, getting lost in the whirlwind of everything that happens to me, I have to just go with it. What I can control is my attitude, my outlook, how I choose to internalize things and what I do in response. By letting go of what I can't control, I can turn my heart toward what I can, and this opens the door to incredible possibility.

Letting go is never easy. It can be painful and complicated and an ongoing process. But, if I can let go of some of the things that hold me back and weigh me down, I might just find that I can float out here in this big world all on my own.