Being Willing to Let Go


(Photo - If apples didn't let go of trees, how would we eat them?)


I am in the season of a big transition. I am taking our daughter to college next week in another state over one-thousand miles away. I'm thrilled for her future and I'm feeling other emotions of sadness, grief, anxiety.


She's feeling a mix as well. So much has been different than how she thought 2020 was going to go - her high school graduation, this summer, and now starting college.


What are the transitions you are going through, the uncertainty you are facing (or avoiding)? How do we navigate these times of change and uncertainty?


And how do we plan if we don't know what is going to happen?


What if it's more about preparing than planning?


And what are the robust strategies to prepare you that are useful for you and your organization no matter what happens in the world around you?


There were many people who said over the last few years that a pandemic will come and here are some things we can do to prepare. And yet many in leadership did not heed these warnings. Now we have an opportunity. We have an opportunity to become individuals and organizations and communities who are resilient, collaborative, and imaginative. Our ability to face the unfolding future depends on our ability to see this moment in time as a time to learn and grow.


We have an opportunity to acquire core skills* that will be very helpful for us to embody and practice no matter how the future unfolds.


One such core skill is a willingness to let go.


I like looking at opposites to understand something. I see the opposite of 'being willing to let go' as 'holding on tight', or 'holding onto control'.


Why is being willing to let go important?


We are facing myriad problems that are complex. And there will be no solo genius who can figure it all out. We must be collaborative. There are some teams and organizations that are siloed, territorial, and controlling. Maybe you are a part of one of those.


And there are teams who have found this ability to be in the flow together, to support each other, to be curious, and yes, even to be kind to each other in this difficult time.


Jazz ensembles continue to be a stellar example of a group of people who are giving and taking, looking to support, and create something amazing together.


The musicians in a jazz ensemble must be willing to let go as they sense another player coming in to make their offering. They know experientially that when they are willing to let go, and others allow space for them to play, they will make great music together. ( I went to a fascinating session with the founders of the Jazz Leadership Project a couple weeks ago. See their work HERE).


What happens in your organization when someone is unwilling to let go of there idea, their plan? Does your boss come to mind? Or you in certain situations?


I know what it feels like for me when I am unwilling to let go. I feel it in my body as a constriction, a tightness often. I see what has to happen, the way it has to be.


When I can loosen up and relax and when I have built trust with my team, I can be willing to let go, and I can then have a wider more expansive view, and an ability to be creative and imaginative and supportive as I work with my team.


In this unique time of flux, change, and uncertainty we can also want to hold tightly to the way things have been done in the past. We can be unwilling to welcome the unfolding future and see the opportunities for this season because we are so attached to the way we have always done things.


I grew up in Rochester, NY. Land of Kodak. My dad worked there and it felt like everyone's dad worked there. Kodak actually came out with the first digital camera, and yet since they were so invested in the film business, not just with infrastructure but with their mindset, they were not able to see that the world was going to be changing to digital. And because of their unwilllingness to shift, and have the core skills to make that shift, Kodak went through bankruptcy. And tens of thousands of lives and families were impacted.


So how can we cultivate this skill of being willing to let go?


Even more so than in our pre-COVID time I believe its absolutely vital for us to experience new shifts in our bodies. ( I'm continuing to read the book "My Grandmother's Hands" by Resmaa Menakem - about racialized trauma. It's an incredibly important book that I blogged about a few weeks ago HERE even before I had started reading it. I sensed it was going to be good. Menakem states that this experience of facing racism cannot solely be a cognitive or political exercise. It must begin with our bodies. Because this is where we hold trauma and memories. Here's direct link to his site.)


A central part of my work with organizations calls upon the field of applied improvisation. Taking the wisdom, philosophy, and practices of improvisational theatre into any space beyond the theatre where there are people who interact.


In even the most basic improv exercises that I lead, participants are called upon to work this muscle of being willing to let go.


The Word-at-a-Time story is a great example of this. If you and I are creating a story one...word...at ... a .. time, you only have 50% of the words; and same for me. The way you play is that we go back and forth saying one word at a time. So let's say you say "Lost"and I say "your" and I think you are going to say "wallet" but you say "dog". If I am holding tightly to my desire for you to say "wallet" and I'm unwilling to let go, then I'm going to miss what you ARE actually saying, and we will stall our progress. I've often heard people stop and say "Oh, I wanted you to say wallet"...And then all of us sudden you've lost the flow.


Anything worth doing is worth starting small.


And what's fabulous about these simple improv games is that we discover (in our bodies and minds) that we can find joy in the uncertainty, joy in the support we give and receive, joy in the creating of something collaboratively with another.


And then we build these core muscles, not just as individuals, but also we build these core skills as teams and organizations and communities.


How can we not only be willing to let go, but do our part to create supportive environments where it feels possible for others to let go.


Our micro-choices and habits have macro impact.


For me it starts with learning a new way of being dad in this time where my daughter is spreading her wings. My letting go is directly connected to how high she soars.


How will you cultivate this skill of being willing to let go?





*I use the term Core Skills versus Soft Skills. Soft skills are poo-pooed. Core Skills is a term that I first heard from Sabra Williams ). Think Core Muscles.. quite essential!

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©2020 David Westerlund