For thirty years, I pushed through life like a determined locomotive. But then the time came to derail, and I embraced it.
The year after I turned thirty, I sat down to do the same thing I always do in the first week of January: pick up my annual planner, turn to the first page of the calendar, and start to plan the coming year. I thought hard about all the things I would check off in the coming months, all the new challenges that I would proudly face and conquer. In the past, this little ritual had given me an emotional boost. But suddenly, I was thirty, and I realized I didn’t feel that way anymore. I felt tired just thinking about all those must-dos and activities.
At that point, my inner voice used my own parenting tricks against me. It appealed to common sense and said: “Just pick up the pen and write. Only then will you start to feel any progress or satisfaction.”
But I didn’t. I didn’t want to write a thing.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve push through life like the Little Engine That Could: a brave and determined locomotive. There were different types of adversity in my life: a father who was not quite a father, my only somewhat-relevant college degree, some friendships that were not always friendly. But every time an avalanche of boulders blocked my path, I plotted new routes, or pushed with all my might, measuring myself against myself. There were also smaller bits of debris occasionally lying across the tracks of my life, often having to do with my ambitions.
I have to say, over the years I’ve used up a lot of emotions to keep the momentum of my little caboose going forward, hoping to accomplish my goals and to catalog everything before I even turned thirty.
But when I entered the thirtieth year of my neat and orderly life, I felt unsure about the success I’d been chugging away for. I had hoped for a feeling of wild satisfaction, but it didn’t come because there was still so much more to be done. That year, I picked up my notebook, but instead—defying personal trainers, coaches, therapy, a million guides, planners, webinar training and motivational TED speeches—I decided not to write anything down. I didn’t want to be the Little Engine anymore. I decided to slow down, explore, let go of the map, and release the constant need to push myself uphill.
Suddenly, my goal wasn’t to be the Little Engine. Instead—can you guess who I wanted to be?—Yup, I set my sights on being Elsa, the leading lady from Disney’s Frozen.
Because, at it’s core, what does “Let it go!” mean? Essentially: “Set it free, forget it.” Those words, when sung by Elsa, say something akin to: “I have the strength.” And while that’s just one woman’s interpretation, it helped me realize that it takes a lot of inner strength to derail yourself from the train tracks of your life, whether you’ve decided it’s time to stop living by other people’s rules, or that there’s more than one way to be “successful” in life. Those three little words aren’t easy to follow through on, but when you do let it go, the rewards you’ll find while you’re off-roading are worth it. (Even if that road doesn’t lead you to an ice castle on top of a mountain … because, hey, we can’t all be Disney characters.)
So here’s my advice: Let go of a relationship that doesn’t bring anything new.
Let go of your perfectionism.
Give up work that makes you feel like a hamster in a wheel.
Let go of buying a house if it might sink you deep into debt. (And while you’re at it, learn to ‘snowball’ your debts so you can let go of money anxiety.)
Let go of another year of trying to have a baby.
Give up the constant dieting and dreaming of size zero.
Forgive your other half for not being perfect, and let go of trivial fights about the undone dishes in the sink. Because the unity of marriage is much more valuable.
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Let go, to invest your time in people who strengthen you. To feel free.
Let go to find work worthy of forty hours a week.
Let go to focus on what you have; the things that are truly important and cannot be bought with a credit card.
Open yourself up to different solutions to problems by letting go of the typical answers.
Let go of that person you think you should be, and love this current version of yourself. Instead, change your habits for a better quality of life, not to soothe insecurities.
Make space in your life for all those experiences, activities and people who will add a multidimensional flavor to your days. Allow yourself the bitter-sweet feeling of “now.” See that today’s failure can be a success if you look at it with a wider perspective. Slow down and let go … and I bet you’ll feel relief, progress, and satisfaction, just like I did. Above all, you will feel yourself, and more present in your own life.
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