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Why it's so hard for us to let go...a story of letting go of fear

Letting go is hard

It doesn't matter whether we're letting go of physical clutter or emotional clutter in our lives. 

It's straight-up hard. 

In exploring around all the edges of what it means to let go of clutter or anything in our lives that we need to let go of...I'm finding one thing to be true. 

It's about fear. 

Letting go involves letting go of your fear. 

A tale of fear

I remember a time way back in 2008 when I began a year-long leadership program.

In our group, we all were all challenged to get clear on our personal strengths so that we could be impactful leaders.  

We began this process by engaging in a high ropes course. 

The high ropes, if you've never participated in one of these intense experiences, helps you discover your personal courage as well as your strengths. 

On the first day of the course, we had to climb up a 25-foot redwood tree. (I'm actually not sure how high it was but let's just say this...it was a mother of a tree and it was tall). 

Once we climbed up the tree, we were meant to climb out to the very end of the 10-foot wooden plank and jump off. 

Just thinking about walking out on that skinny piece of wood way above the ground gave me the jim-jams.  

Just so you know, we were fully tethered with ropes. 

When it was my turn, I started climbing up the tree, and about 10 feet off the ground I started getting anxious. 

Somehow I managed to override sensibility and fear and managed to get myself up to the top where I could hold onto the tree while standing on the small piece of the platform that was attached to the tree. 

What I remember about that day was not being able to let go of the tree.

I became completely dependent on that tree, hugging it for dear life. I was terrified and frozen. 

There was no way I was going to let go of the tree which I named “Ben” and walk out onto the plank. Ben was my stability and my only hope for survival. 

It was a horrifying thing to think that I had to let go.  

I remember hearing voices down below...the leaders and my leadership buddies. They were all gently coaxing me to let go of the tree and walk down the plank. 

My heart was pounding, my hands were sweating buckets, and all I wanted to do was end this horrible experience.

I was too scared to climb back down the tree and too terrified to follow the instructions and walk out on the plank.  

I was stuck. 

After a long time (I have no idea if it was 15 minutes or an hour) I tried to quell my terror, I heard the voices down on the ground,  louder now, saying

“ You can do this, Jo.”

"Let go of the tree." 

I knew I had to do it but I was petrified. The tree was my only safety. My only security. Ben...he was stable and secure. 

To this day I'm not sure how I did it but I let go of the tree and slowly started the plank walk.

I was shaking. I inched ahead one tiny step at a time. 

My brain knew that I was in danger and the thoughts were incessant..."danger, you're going to fall, you're going to die." 

I kept going until I got to the end of the narrow piece of board. 

As I stood on the end of the plank, I took a moment to catch my breath and announce what my purpose was.  Then I leaned forward and let myself free fall.

I let go of my fear and I felt myself flying in the air. Swinging back and forth on the tethered rope and eventually, I felt the ground below me. 

It was a rush that I’ve never had before or since. 

Everyone was clapping and saying "You did it! You did it, Jo." 

Once we were on the ground, our leaders encouraged us to sit under a tree by ourselves and write down our thoughts in our journals while the next person stepped up for their turn.  

This is what I wrote in my journal: 

"This is the most scared I’ve ever been in my life. 

I said at the end of the plank, I was born at this time in the world to give hope and to speak up for the children.” 

As a leader, I will be thinking I can’t do something but I will do it anyway." 

I tell this story because it is my metaphor for letting go of fear.

Letting go of security and safety, facing the unknown...it's something we all have to do in our lives. And it never gets easier.  It's about feeling the fear and doing it anyway. 

After this experience, I felt more confident in myself than I had ever experienced before. 

Because I knew that if I was able to overcome that kind of fear, I could do anything. 

The message is this:

No matter whether it's letting go of a relationship or a piece of clothing you no longer need or want, letting go is really, really hard. 

But if you let go and trust yourself, everything will be okay. 

A tip for you: 

If you're having trouble letting go: 

  • Sit down and write out all your fears, your hesitance in letting go
  • Ask yourself what is the reason I'm so afraid that this might happen (if I let go?) 
  • If it's clutter, ask yourself, what is the reason I'm keeping it? Do I love it? If not, why am I keeping it? 
  • Next, ask yourself, what is the worst-case scenario? And what would I do?

And then say to yourself...I trust myself enough to let go. I will be alright. 

*The photos in this post are of poor quality but the best I have. And the photos of the plank are of my friend, Rachel, not me. She was a lot calmer and less nervous than me 😍

Thanks also to Angelique, Tracy, & Matt who cheered me on that day (featured in the photo above)

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