The art of letting
“Good things will happen if you let them”, I used to tell myself and anyone who would listen. In fact, I still do. The difference between then and now is a heap of hard work around the ‘letting’ that I’ve had to do in order to actually get to those good things.
In order to let good things happen, it is necessary to allow anything to happen. And with ‘anything’ comes ‘everything’, meaning the good, the bad and the ugly. ‘Anything’ is the big pool of uncertainty that I kept circling for years, refusing to take the plunge in case the good wasn’t the thing that was going to happen after all, in case it would be all those other things instead!
In fact, despite having repeated that sentence like a mantra, it didn’t make much sense to me when I finally looked at it closely. How exactly was it necessary to ‘let’ bad and ugly things happen when what I was aiming for was positivity and allowing something good into my life?
The flow of happening
Whilst I was dealing with the fears and resistance, I began to observe that during moments when I wasn’t being terribly vigilant about defending myself against the bad and the ugly, things were in fact happening. Not just small things, and not just the bad and the ugly. Substantial, significant, unmistakenly good things were happening.
So the key learning came from an unexpected direction. I learned that when good things happen to me, I am successfully ‘letting’. From that knowledge I was able to look back to different moments and identify how the letting was actually happening for me: what was the thinking and what did it feel like. Unexpectedly there was no fear there, instead I saw curiosity and willingness to handle whatever would come my way. It surprised me to realise I felt perfectly comfortable, at ease. Like it was no effort at all.
The necessity of acceptance
On the surface it appears that life’s two basic options are to accept that life is full of uncertainty, or to try control the direction of our lives.
If we choose to control, we choose to live under constant fear of losing that control, a limited existence where every step is taken within parameters known to us. It may sound safe in its predictability but when elements of surprise and delight are completely eliminated, how much chance is there for happiness and fulfillment?
If we choose to accept that life is full of uncertainty, we may not have any control over what life throws at us but we do have full control over how we react to it and what meaning we make of it. And whilst we are not able to control whether some of the bad and the ugly will come our way, it is equally certain that we won’t be able to keep the good away either!
The choice is, of course, entirely our own. What kind of life will be most fulfilling to you: Will you be trying to stay in control, or will you let life happen?
There are several ways to use words to give power and take power away. One of them is to exaggerate our own importance whilst completely dismissing other people’s abilities.
When intentions are good
See if you find anything familiar in my own story: During my earlier career working in different account and project lead roles there were several times when I felt that things weren’t moving forward fast enough, and so instead of waiting for the team to get on with it, I would step in and start doing some of their work myself. Some of the things I would say to my team were along the lines of:
“Right, I’m gonna take care of this one.” “Please don’t spend any more time with that, I’ll do that myself!” “Oh, don’t worry about that, I already did that.”
I was simply speeding things up by contributing to the efforts, and saving other people the bother and time to do something I might as well do myself. As result I accumulated a lot of extra work for myself but because all of it was important to the project at hand, I felt justified in my decision to take it on. Harmless, right?
Results tell all
Whilst I was observing my previously enthusiastic and highly motivated team get unhappy, forgetful and demotivated, I became increasingly convinced that my input was not only valuable but in fact irreplaceable. I can now definitely recall feelings of superiority and a rather arrogant attitude to the people whose work I was effectively doing.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but by taking over work from other perfectly capable people, I was giving out a message that I thought the team could not be trusted and that they were not very good in their jobs to begin with. This was echoing out of everything I said and did, loud and clear.
In the end I completetely burned out and had to take serious time off work. The project got finished but there was a general feeling of it not having been a very good one to work on, and as result the client’s reputation inside our agency also suffered somewhat.
Respect is the word
By creating the illusion that I was irreplaceable I was destroying not only my own health and productivity, but the empowerment that my team needed in order to feel needed, competent and valuable.
It can be challenging to find the balance between fulfilling your own responsibilities to the fullest, and trusting that other people will do the same. Finding within me the belief that we are all adults capable of managing our own lives and time was key to moving on from this unhelpful behaviour pattern. It has not only changed the way I work and relate to other people, but has nudged me in the direction of the work I am now doing: encouraging and supporting people in taking full responsibility for their lives in order to be all they can be.
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“Words create worlds” is something I heard a lot during my coach training from one of the trainers. This is Part 2 of a series of posts it inspired me to write. Also check out Words create worlds Part 1: Talking yourself down and Words create worlds Part 3: Minimising the problem.