So many of my counseling clients (The Ablow Center) and creative consulting clients (Keith Ablow Creative) can envision the next chapter of their life stories, but need some help actualizing the next chapter. Why? Sometimes it’s about resources, but very often it is about the resolve to let go of something they have, in order to get something else that speaks more to their heart.
This is a very human dilemma. Lots of us are risk averse. And we tend to interpret change as risky. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t,” is such a common adage that it appears in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and lots of others.
The roots of this risk aversion seem to be hard-wired into us. As kids, we need encouragement to let go of the edge of the pool to begin to learn to swim. We need some prodding to let go of our comforting blankets or stuffed toys, in order to move forward toward independence. We need to be coaxed to let go of our parents’ hands when we start school. We literally need help to let go, then get moving.
Well, part of my job is to encourage my clients to let go of something that they have, in order to get something that they want. Sometimes that means letting go of a job to start a business. Sometimes it means letting go of an investment to trade into another. Sometimes, it means letting go of some income, in order to become a part-time (or full-time) artist. And it has been my absolute privilege to see many people I have worked with do just that. They have let go, in order to get moving toward goals they treasure.
I don’t want to minimize the psychological/cognitive shift required to let go, then get moving. In the book The War of Art, author Steven Pressfield makes a convincing case for how difficult the shift really is. He says that “resistance” to let go, then get moving is responsible for most of people’s unrealized potential:
Resistance obstructs movement only from a lower sphere to a higher. It kicks in when we seek to pursue a calling in the arts, launch an innovative enterprise, or evolve to a higher station morally, ethically, or spiritually.
So if you’re in Calcutta working with the Mother Teresa Foundation and you’re thinking of bolting to launch a career in telemarketing . . . relax. Resistance will give you a free pass.
The late Robert Pirsig, in his astounding book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, used a metaphor to describe how difficult it is to let go, then get moving. He wrote about “the old South Indian Monkey Trap,” which “consists of a hollowed-out coconut, chained to a stake. The coconut has some rice inside which can be grabbed through a small hole.” The trouble is that the hole is big enough for the monkey’s empty hand to fit through, but too small for his hand full of rice to fit back out. “The monkey is suddenly trapped,” Pirsig says. He can’t re-value the rice. He can’t see that freedom without rice is more desirable than capture with it.
We’re all vulnerable to this trap.
So how do you break free? How do you let go, then get moving? Here are three ways to begin:
- 1. Don’t think about trading one journey for another, entirely.
Put a toe in the water. By this, I mean that if you are considering letting go of a career as a travel agent to become a travel writer, don’t tell yourself that you would have to quit, have no income, grab your laptop and start traveling the world, writing all the while. Buy a book on travel writing and read it. Or choose one location you are transfixed by and query half-a-dozen magazines about whether one might accept a piece from you, about that place. Or write to a few noted travel writers and ask for some advice on transitioning. Taking one step toward the next chapter of your life story can make the next step easier. Then, the steps can fall very much into line.
- 2. Stop assuming that you can’t be the one who succeeds.
Lots of us stymie ourselves from bold next steps because we assume they never yield real success. Sure, there are people who start businesses and make a fortune, but those people are few and far between, aren’t they? Actually, no. There are lots of them. You might be one of them, but you have to envision real success, in order to make it real. And even if the business doesn’t make it, won’t the experience be invaluable? Will you really be unable to recapture the income you had prior to taking the risk? Unlikely.
- 3. Believe that your idea was given to you by a Higher Power.
It doesn’t matter if you believe the Higher Power to be God, the Universe or some mysterious location in your central nervous system. The idea has meaning. If it keeps beckoning you, then there’s a reason for that. It isn’t random or ridiculous. It’s real. Explore it.
Finally, if you need help letting go to get moving, then get a coach. I happen to be a life coach and counselor, so I’m biased. But, really, the power of two is not just 1 + 1. An exponential increase in energy is possible when you have someone in your corner, asking tough questions and also offering real support and encouragement (especially if that’s someone who has lots of success stories to draw from).
Ready? If you weren’t, you’d never have read all the way to the end of this article.
Keith Ablow, MD