“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” ~Joseph Campbell
There’s something I find rarely talked about in discussions about letting go, but I notice all the time. It’s not the release from letting go of outdated stuff. It’s not grieving the loss of loved ones. It’s not healing from trauma. All of these precious topics are talked about and should be more so.
What I find rarely discussed is the letting go of past versions of oneself—often versions you’ve worked tirelessly to become. This is really the crux of clutter clearing work. It gives us back our birthright to reinvent ourselves throughout our life—to experience birth and death cycles to their fullest.
Last week in yoga class the teacher said, “We shed our skin more than snakes do.” Ain’t that the truth! Whether we notice or not, we’re constantly evolving. Struggle can arise when we resist this universal truth. When we forget that the only constant in life is change, then change sucks. Then life can get stagnant, full of internal resistance, which is often reflected in our homes and workspaces.
As I’ve gained more and more years of observing people of all ages in my line of work, I’ve recognized it’s letting go of past versions of ourselves that trips us up.
There’s one version of myself that comes to mind, which was excruciating to let go. It was being a ballerina.
I remember being around six years old, kneeling in my bedroom, praying, “Dear God, please let me be a soloist with the Boston Ballet.”
Fast-forward twelve years, and I’ve sacrificed my entire childhood and adolescence to the art form. Elite gymnast-level training is very similar to what kids do in the ballet world. From age eight, my teachers let me (and my mother) know I had talent and promise. I was hooked, and it became my identity.
All the countless hours of raw hard work in the studio and on stage didn’t come close to what it took to let that identity go.
People receive beautiful support in attaining their dreams. But what about letting go of their dreams? When one knows it’s time to lay a part of themselves down, unconditional consolation and support is arguably needed even more than when one is building something.
Loss hurts. Death hurts. Whether the dream was realized or not, grieving is most efficient and least painful when one is witnessed and held. That’s just the way we and, more specifically, our nervous systems work. And that’s why I love being there with someone who’s letting something go, reminding them that it’s okay and I’ll be right there with them through this transition.
The leading authority on the intersection of women, wealth, and power, Barbara Huson, shares, “Clinging to the security of the familiar prevents us from discovering what awaits us in the future. The ledges of our lives offer the illusion of safety, but in truth their only value is to keep us hanging. These ledges take many forms, both concrete and intangible. They can look like unfulfilling jobs, unpleasant relationships, inappropriate goals, untrue beliefs, unhealthy habits, or bottled-up emotions.”
When it comes to laying down a version of ourselves, we are terrified. The amount of anxiety, depression, and paralysis experienced—I’ve come to learn that not all of it is necessary. We can’t blame ourselves for how we deal (or don’t deal) with transitions these days.
In mainstream culture this fact of life is essentially swept under the rug. “Move on” is the dominant message we receive. But how? Here’s what I recommend in a nutshell:
- Acknowledge and articulate what you are letting go.
- Process it. Grieve it.
- Treat yourself like you would a very dear friend (self-compassion).
Acknowledge and articulate what you are letting go.
Speaking it out loud to a trusted loved one, in your own words, can be liberating. Writing it out in your journal can be a potent dose of clarity. This is particularly helpful with letting go of versions of ourselves, which are innately not as concrete or easy to articulate.
Process it. Grieve it.
Step one above actually carries you right into step two. Have you heard the phrase “To heal you must feel?” Designate some time to slow down. Carve out time and space to just be and feel the uncomfortable emotions. There is no one-size-fits-all timeline for this.
A friend who’s a therapist recently told me, “The way one figures out how to process [emotions/trauma/loss] is as unique as their fingerprint.” I responded, “Yes, and it’s figuring out what it will look like for you that is part of the healing process.” Some excellent resources as a starting point are:
- Transitions by William Bridges, PhD
- The Grief Recovery Handbook by John W. James and Russell Friedman
- Seeing a certified therapist or mental health counselor. I personally recommend someone who specializes in inner child work or EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing)
Treat yourself like you would a very dear friend (with self-compassion).
Throughout this shedding of an outdated version of yourself, the softer, kinder, and gentler you are, the less painful it will be!
Snakes don’t rip their dying scales off; they accept the gentle sloughing off of what cells no longer serve them. If one branch of a tree is struggling, the tree slowly lets it wither and die, in order to become stronger and able to grow in new directions.
When it comes down to the biophysical level, you are more like a snake or a tree than you may have considered. Let the unaffected ease of nature and the human ability for self-compassion be your guideposts.
In the grand scheme of things, this is what we’ve lost—the healthy relationship between consuming and releasing, growing and decomposing, acquiring and letting go, on the physical, emotional, and spiritual level.
But if we unlock this innate knowing once again inside ourselves, there’s no stopping how strong, wise, and fulfilled we can become.
What are the versions of yourself that have been the hardest to let go of so far in your life? Maybe who you were in a particular career? Going from single to married with kids? Being a people-pleaser? I would love to hear your story. Please feel free to reach out.