On my recent vacation, I was on a walk and listening to an inspiring podcast. I had been frustrated that things weren’t “coming together” according to “my plan” for one of my projects. But trying harder, doing more, wasn’t resolving my logjam. I began to pray and ask for help taking my hands off the steering wheel and to let God do God’s part.
As I walked, I suddenly felt compelled to stop moving and instead write about the tension between trying and letting go. I was like a salmon swimming upstream to spawn – I had no choice but to immediately leave and begin writing. I single-mindedly went back to our room and started typing about my tendency to pursue things vigorously, but also about balancing it with the importance of letting go.
A New Approach
Letting go doesn’t come naturally to me. My usual approach falls in the perseverance department. As a kid, if there was an award for “Hardest Worker,” I got it. I also had a good shot at getting “Most Improved” which first implies that I had a lot of room for improvement (ha!), but also that my hard work had paid off with results.
In some ways, this approach has worked well. But it has its limits.
When I was in my first quarter in business school, I had an economics mid-term where I scored the second highest out of my professor’s 300 students. Heading into Finals, I decided that I wanted the highest score, not merely the second-highest score. I studied like crazy. And when the exam came, I froze. I couldn’t think straight and my ability to problem solve was handicapped. After that wonderful midterm, I ended up getting a B in the class. My intense caring had hurt me.
After those first year, first quarter finals, I decided to try a different approach. As I thoroughly (of course) prepared for tests, I pretended that “I didn’t care.” Repeatedly, I said it to myself and others. It was kind of funny – I knew I was pretending and that I really did care tremendously, but by simply saying that I didn’t care, for some reason, it helped. I never froze again on an exam. It helped me let go.
Needing to Let Go Again
Letting go isn’t easy; in fact, it can be scary. But on my vacation walk, I was determined to start letting go of my white-knuckled grip of the steering wheel. I knew that normally once I surrender, that things usually start flowing. But in the back of my mind I wondered if this time it would be different. Maybe everything would fall apart. But I decided that letting go was worth the risk, especially since the tight-fisted approach wasn’t working. While doing my part, I also wanted to put the steering wheel in God’s hands, not mine.
And wouldn’t you know, a couple of hours later, I received a text message about a favorable, long-awaited decision that had been made about one of my projects. It was fantastic news. But the timing of when this decision took place made it even more interesting.
When I was walking, thousands of miles away in a different hemisphere, unbeknownst to me, a committee was voting to move along one of my projects as I was simultaneously vowing to let the Universe do its part. My vow to do this was so strong that it cut my walk short and drove me to start writing about it at the very same time this committee was meeting and making their decision.
What a coincidence.
Or is it? Could there be a connection between my letting go and freeing up others to do their part? I don’t know. It seems a bit out there. But maybe?
I held onto my newly adopted philosophy of “Let Go, Let God,” and more good things continued to unfold that week.
Finding a Balance
One of my favorite sayings is that “Our Strengths Are Our Weaknesses.” Trying hard is good. Trying too hard stinks. It feels rotten and doesn’t work.
I’m going to continue on with my new philosophy. I’m going to “pretend I don’t care,” only because I do care so very much. But if recent events are any indication, I need to do that, both for my own good and the good of my work. And as I let go of the steering wheel, this may free up others to help in ways I can’t imagine, even if they are thousands of miles away and meeting unbeknownst to me.
Striving and not striving, effort and rest, caring and not caring – it’s all about finding the right balance. I don’t have this balance stuff mastered. But maybe nobody does. Maybe we’re all trying to find the right balance throughout the different phases of our lives.
I hope you can find the right balance in your life too, in whatever way that might be.