When someone asked Michaelangelo how he sculpted the statue of David, he said “I removed everything that wasn’t David.”
The process of living your life on your terms often happens when you learn to let go and give certain things up so you can be free to do what you really what.
Think of how many different things you’ve held onto in your life just because you’ve already been holding them for a while. We’re afraid to let go because we’re addicted to the illusion of control.
In reality, we don’t control all that much and we’d have more control over our lives by letting go of our deep-seated need to control it. Often, this need for control and certainty comes from an underlying fear. The process of letting go is often the process of letting go of the things we use to mask our fears, run from them, or pretend they don’t exist.
Take a look at these examples and see if you can get ahead by letting go of them.
When I told my mom I’d quit my job to become a full-time writer, I could hear the mixture of disappointment and worry in her voice. I did everything the right way. I waited until I had six months’ worth of cash in savings and my earnings from writing were three times as much as I was making at my job. Didn’t matter. To her, I was making a risky bet. To her, it was just another one of the little hair-brained schemes I tried instead of doing real work.
A few months later she checked in to ask how the writing was going. I could sense the condescension in the text she sent me. I sent her back a statement showing that I’d made $16,000 that month and replied with “good.”
If you’re not careful, you can let the opinions of your parents guide your behavior for the rest of your life. Maybe you had a mom like me who loved you but nitpicked a lot. Or perhaps you had a father like me — an immigrant with strict values about education.
As much as your parents love you, they infect you. They project their insecurities onto you. They can have a view for your future that’s mostly determined by their wants and needs and not yours. Even the most loving and supportive parents might lead you astray simply because they want you to be safe and secure.
When getting advice from your parents, ask yourself if you want to be in their position. When I looked at the way my parents lived I decided it wasn’t for me. I politely said ‘no’ to their suggestions and went my own way.
I put parents as an entirely separate category because they’re a huge driver in your life, even if subconsciously. The more you try to seek their approval, the less likely you’ll be able to follow a path you want.
Speaking of approval, your need for approval is killing your chances at a better future. You can see the need for approval everywhere you look. We’re all signaling all the time. Think of how many things you do, we do, simply because of the way it makes us look to other people.
Is there a giant difference between a Honda and a BMW except for the decal on the hood? Not really. Are earbuds without cords really that much better? No, and honestly the iPhone earphones with the cords are better. Did you buy that house because you really wanted one or because homeownership is a status symbol? What about your job, do you do it because you love it or because society approves of it? Why are we constantly posting filtered versions of our lives online?
Here’s the thing, you can’t escape your need for validation and approval. But it’s important to understand your relationship with approval and decide how much you’re going to let it affect your life.
You want approval from the right people — for me, it’s my family, true friends, my community, and the tribe of people who enjoy my work. You want to pursue paths that fulfill you. Yes, might get status, money, etc as a byproduct, but make sure those things are the byproduct and not the goal itself.
In general, until you let go of that overarching need to fit in with the societal herd, have ‘the right opinions,’ and follow the same path as everyone else, you’ll stay stuck in the same place.
You need to start seeking your own approval. What makes you happy? What do you want to do with your life? You should be at the center and having the things in your life feed you, not the other way around.
Your entire sense of who you are, your personality, is nothing more than the result of the judgments you made about the experiences you had in your past.
Sometimes little moments in your life can shape your future in a major way. Not because the moments themselves mattered that much, but because of the meaning you assigned to them.
In the book Personality Isn’t Permanent, Ben Hardy talks about a conversation he had with a woman who’d always wanted to be an artist. A teacher criticized one of her drawings as a child. After that, she never drew anything again after that because she ‘wasn’t good at drawing.’
You have moments like this that lead to this idea that the past cements you into believing “This is just who I am.” You’re shy because you had some bad social experiences and now you think you’re an introvert. Wrong. You could become extremely extroverted if you chose to.
I used to look at myself as someone who could never finish anything. A smart but lazy person who could never get anything done due to lack of organization. I’ve published three books and hundreds of articles. I’m coming up on my six-year anniversary as a writer. I found something I enjoyed doing but more importantly, I made a decision that the past didn’t have to dictate my future. I didn’t need to hold onto that identity as ‘someone who never finished.’ I just, let it go.
That’s what you’re really afraid of. You’re afraid of losing your sense of self because if you know your entire identity is made up, then you have to face the fact that you’ve been living in a way that doesn’t serve you for a long time when you didn’t have to live that way. That dissonance is tough to deal with, but it’s the only way to change.
I once wrote an article called the Biggest Myth That Keeps People Mentally Imprisoned.
Here’s a quote from it:
Why do you want to reach a place where you’re comfortable and content?
Why would you ever want to reach a point where you have all the answers, you’re perfectly sure of yourself, and there’s no room for growth?
Why do people look forward to retirement, weekends, and any moments that provide an escape or an end to the yin and yang that is work?
You need to give up the need for some outside circumstance to alleviate the tension in your life. It doesn’t matter what you achieve, you’ll never be “done.”
You enter a weird sort of comfort zone by giving up the thought of ever being in a comfort zone again. Stop seeking that comfort altogether. Stop seeking that release. Start seeking a never-ending adventure. The journey itself is the reward.
I thought that I’d feel complete and whole after accomplishing my goal of becoming a full-time writer. Don’t get me wrong, my life is objectively better than it was when I was broke doing work I hated. Success feels good, but the reward itself is anti-climatic. You do, however, get to hold onto what it felt like to climb.
Now? I’m simply trying to rack up the scoreboard just to go through the process. Just because it seems like the most fun thing to do.
So do you.
Until you let go of ‘the narrative’ that comes from society, you’ll be playing society’s game. And it’s a game you can never win.
In short, society has created a bunch of ‘rules’ and other constraints that keep you stuck using a number of different tactics:
Ultimately, you have to understand the narrative isn’t your friends, nobody is coming to save you, and following a dream that statistically leads to unhappiness isn’t a solid bet for your future.
I’m going to say something that you might not hear from other self-help writers.
Many of your excuses are justifiable and valid. And asking you to let go of them is unfair to you. But I’m going to ask anyway because it’s the only viable path forward.
I put thoughts into two categories. The categories aren’t ‘true’ or ‘false.’ The categories are ‘useful’ or ‘not useful.’ Maybe it’s true that I’ll face some hardships in my life because of my skin color, but it’s not useful to operate my life from that perspective. Maybe it’s true that luck and circumstances contribute to outcomes, but it’s useful to focus on increasing your luck and doing what you can to shape a better environment for yourself.
The culture in America has continued to shift to this idea that you can gain power by being a victim. It’s cool to laugh and brag about how much you ‘suck at adulting.’ Problems are worn as a badge of honor instead of being viewed as things to solve. Everyone has a sob story. They always have, except now you can actually gain status by telling them.
Do what you want to do. But forming a sense of self-based on your excuses reduces your chances of actually changing anything to zero. I don’t stand for it and I’m not going to bend to it regardless of what the culture says.
Think about your own life minus the need for approval, minus the need to fit in, minus the bs messages from society, all of which subtly encourage you to make these excuses. You’re either going to live by your excuses or overcome them. Vividly picture what that will look like both ways. And then make a decision.
You need to give up the constant hesitation. You’ve been thinking about starting your business for years. You’ve been thinking about trying a new career or hobby for years.
More information isn’t going to help. Getting your ducks in a row will actually push you further away from your goals. The more you hesitate, the more you build up an identity as someone who hesitates. Your anxiety increases by avoiding ‘the thing,’ it doesn’t make you feel more comfortable about starting.
You’re afraid you’ll make the wrong choice. Maybe you will, but you’ll learn something in the process and if you fail you’re closer to what you want because you’ve eliminated a bad path.
You’re afraid of ‘wasting time.’ You’re already wasting time and you’ll continue to do so for the rest of your life if something doesn’t change.
Truly, you’re afraid that you will try and put everything into a goal only to fail, only to confirm that suspicion that you weren’t cut out for it in the first place.
What do you do with all of these fears?
As soon as you step into something and start doing it, the fear decreases. Even if you don’t get what you want, you’ll understand that your outcomes don’t necessarily say something about you.
If you do follow through with a goal for years like I have, you’ll look back and wonder why you didn’t get started sooner.