The Power of Letting Go

letting go

Someone once told me that in order to make room for new things in your life you truly have to let go of the old ones. Easier said than done…

For me, the scariest part of letting go is saying goodbye to something that has been a huge part of my life, shaping the person I’ve grown into. This became painfully obvious last week when I was back in my hometown for a little R&R before beginning the next leg of my journey.

I was only out of my last career for two days before I sat down to write my bio for a vision workshop. I tired, but the words wouldn’t come out… none that sounded good anyway. All I could do was stare at the blank computer screen. By the end of the day all I had to show for my efforts were a bunch of scrapped drafts. Why couldn’t I concentrate? Tired and frustrated I decided to sleep on it.

It wasn’t until my coach said, “Kim, of course you’re not going to be able to concentrate! You’ve just finished something that has been a part of your life for a whole decade and instead of allowing yourself time to feel that and grieve, you’re forcing yourself to the next door without closing the first.” I thought about that for a minute. Could that really be the reason I was having such a hard time.

Before I could process any more she asked me a powerful question, “What did that career give you?”

At first I didn’t understand. What do you mean, what did it give me? It gave me a steady pay check, benefits and three weeks of vacation a year. No, she said, it gave you much more than that.

It gave me support and connection. It enabled my growth in so many ways. It provided the perfect arena to realize and practice my passion. It allowed me to be a part of literally hundreds of young peoples lives. It allowed me to teach them something, that hopefully they’ll carry with them for a long time. And most importantly, it allowed and enabled me to arrive where I am now, on the brink of my next big adventure.

The thing with being unaware is there is no knowledge of a problem in the first place, only stuck feelings. Like an intense fog covering up a beautiful day. Once you ask yourself the right questions, the fog clears and all your left with is clear sky. Some questions that helped clear my fog include:

  1. What doors in my life are still left ajar?
  2. In what ways would closing them benefit me?
  3. What would need to happen for me to do this?

Once I was aware I could start the grieving process. This part was (and still is) very hard. I’m a very ambitious and impatient person. On the other side (as my family and friends can attest to) I am also a very emotional person. When my coach asked the question “What did it give you?” it helped transition the feelings of loss into feelings of appreciation. And appreciating the experience for what it was and what it gave you, is the first step towards healing.

Life is funny sometimes. Once I’ve learned something, and have the tools to implement this new learning, it likes to test. And not in the same nice package, because that of course, would be too easy.

I was tested literally two days later but this time in a much different way. Someone from my past whom I cared deeply for was in an accident.

We’ve been very careful to remain a friendship, which is why it shouldn’t surprise me that he contacted me, and really it didn’t. What did surprise me was my reaction to the whole thing. I realized I hadn’t fully let him go either.

Matters of the heart always seem to be much harder to sort through than leaving an old job, and of course they should be. The connection runs so much deeper. But the underlying message remains the same.

Letting go takes time. Appreciate the experience for what it was. Know that you would not have the courage to face today, if it wasn’t for the hardships of yesterday.

A while ago I was challenged to come up with 100 successes. No problem I thought. After struggling to get past 25, I couldn’t believe how hard it was!

If you are anything like me, you are constantly busy trying to figure out what’s next. We accomplish something and instead of taking a minute to truly appreciate the success, we immediately focus on what’s next. Isn’t that the whole point of accomplishing something, to feel the sense of accomplishment? Instead we put our head back down, look at our massive todo list and keep on keeping on.

It took me four weeks to finally record 100 successes. Some of them are obvious, some not so much. Some other people would call a success, while others would call a failure. One of them is finally being able to appreciate honest feedback. Early in my restaurant career, one piece of feedback would put me in tears for three hours (I’m not kidding, it happened). What matters is that you are able to see them and appreciate how far you’ve come.

Leaving Your Comfort Zone

Comfort Zone We’ve all been there. Wake up in the morning, commute, work, commute again, dinner, tv, sleep, repeat. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with routine, we actually need it. Our brain goes on autopilot so we can accomplish more, using less mental capacity. But what if you want more?

I stumbled upon this picture a few years ago and immediately it resonated with me. It has such a beautiful way of putting things in perspective. Since that time I have referenced it when coaching staff, pushing them a little, and urging them to see the bigger picture. Obviously it had some impact because when a cake was brought out at my going away dinner, this picture was on it. I gulped, got more than a little emotional, and thought, “shit, time to walk the talk”.

Last weekend was the end of my ten year restaurant management career. Why did I stay so long? Honestly, I was afraid to leave my comfort zone. I knew the company, it’s culture, and what they expected from me. I was (sort of) working towards a big promotion. But when I was honest with myself, it wasn’t what I wanted; and my performance showed it.

There are two feelings, or clues, your body gives when it desires something more; longing and discontent.

Discontent comes when things don’t quite fit, when you’re unhappy and not quite sure why. Your body is saying there’s something more out there for you, you just need to figure out what that is. With longing, you daydream how your life could be different, yet haven’t taken any of the necessary steps in that direction. They key to both, is being aware and honest enough with yourself to admit you’re feeling this way. And that, can take some time.

It was almost two years before I could be honest (with myself) enough to admit that I didn’t want that promotion.  Even longer before I had the courage to have the conversation with my boss. With time it gets easier, and start small, baby steps.

When I first started meeting with a coach my first challenge was listening. For a whole week I did nothing but listen and get curious. In that week I learned more about my friends, family and myself than I had in the last year combined. The next week we moved on to truth. I was challenged on telling the truth with everyone in my life, including myself. All of a sudden I had to come clean with my feelings, not an easy thing to do. It also started conversations that had been put off for a long time. On the third week we moved on to openness, which again was an amazing (and scary!) experience. All the things I was afraid of being judged for (like the fact I wanted to leave my very safe salaried job and start my own business) were now out in the open. And guess what, the people I thought would be my biggest critics, actually turned out to be the biggest supporters. Through these three weeks the coolest thing started to happen. My “stuckness”, showed the first few signs of movement.

What are your thoughts around listening, truth, and openness? I challenge you to pick even one and practice it for the week. It will feel uncomfortable at first, but that’s exactly where you should be. Discomfort signals growth.

When you have longing or discontent to get out of your comfort zone, start with your thoughts, as small as they may be. Not only is this less scary, it’s amazing how the rest seems to fall into place. When we change our thoughts, feelings change, and finally, behavior changes. Baby steps. The first thing a turtle does before he moves anywhere is stick his neck out. Be like a turtle; take the (baby) step of sticking your neck out. If it’s scary you can always hide back in your shell. But I promise you, once you’ve seen how magical the world is outside your shell, you won’t want back in.