Letting go of good things

Do you think of letting go as a pathway to joy?

I generally equate saying no or letting go of opportunities as a negative thing. Acquisition of experience, relationships, work, or even personal goals has historically struck me as positive and healthy. Yesterday, though, I had an experience that made me reconsider this way of thinking.

I have been intentionally measuring “success” in terms of joy these days. This doesn’t mean I avoid hard things or that I do everything I want to. It is simply an exercise of shifting my priority filter a couple of degrees so that the things that carry more joy and health for me rise to the top of my priority list, while things that are simply measures of societal success, without any real joy attached to them, get pushed further down that list.

Although this has been a helpful way of thinking, I am still learning how to integrate this paradigm shift into my regular life. Yesterday, two opportunities floated into my life via email. These things looked awesome. They involved money and work and experience that could open more doors for me down the road. However, if I pursued either of these options, I’d have to completely upend my life and reorganize fast. I would also need to sacrifice an enormous amount of time, cramming my weeks completely full. Although these opportunities were good and I wanted to pursue them, my entire afternoon and most of my evening were consumed in an anxiety spiral, making calls and sending emails and trying to reconfigure my schedule in my head to accommodate these things.

As I wrestled through these decisions, a clearer thought started to form: what if you didn’t take either option? What if you just let the opportunities pass?

I hadn’t considered that path, as obvious as it was. I hadn’t realized that I could just step out of the anxiety spiral and keep living my life, the one I have been quite content in before these options popped up.

This might not sound groundbreaking but if you are a perfectionist, an achiever, or a person with ambition and drive, then you might understand how glittery opportunities can look totally irresistible. They can dupe you into thinking that it would be stupid NOT to grab hold of them, to hoard them for yourself. What if that opportunity gives you the perfect connection or experience? What if you miss out on money or amazing relationships or a promotion? These are the kind of magnetic “what-ifs” that keep us perfectionist-acheivers pursuing success as an end goal, our eyeballs locked on accumulating accolades.  

However, the thought of letting go of these opportunities gave me sincere joy. Right now, a little extra space in my life is joy. Focusing on the opportunities that already exist in my life brings me joy. Those other things gave me stress. I would have said yes to them for all the wrong reasons.

So I said no. 

This is about more than racking up the joy in life. This is about developing a grounded self-awareness that feeds into grounded self-control. When you know your priorities, clarity will always live nearby. You don’t need to be thrown around by wayward emotions because your priorities, your joy, will anchor you. This is the danger of looking outside yourself for affirmation and measures of success. You’ll be tossed around by a thousand different versions of “success” and you’ll spend the rest of your life chasing it- and for what? That’s a recipe for chaos and hollowness.

It might sound way too simple, but ground yourself today in joy. What constitutes joy in your life as a whole? What constitutes joy in this day or week? Those answers will give you clues to your priorities. 

Letting go can become a source of joy because you will be able to recognize, in time, what things are meant for you in this season of life, and what you can release for someone else to enjoy. Even better? Letting go of seemingly good things can make room for even more good in your life.

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