Which Is It, Letting Go or Giving Up?

by Cathy on March 8, 2011

Free Child Walking on White Round Spheres Balance Creative Commons

By Pink Sherbet Photography--D. Sharon Pruitt

The other day while talking a friend, we got into a conversation about a project she embarked on a few years ago.  This project was based on her passion, expertise, experience, and represented what she stood for.  She worked with a coach for two years, spent tons of money to produce it in a professional manner, and had her heart and soul invested in the thing.

Once it was finally finished and she got it out there, the silence was deafening.  No one was interested, nobody bought.  Not only was she not going to make money, she wasn’t even going to recoup her investment.   I’d say the experience was soul crushing for her.  After a lot of disappointment, she decided to move on to something else.  Recently she started to see some renewed interest in this project which made her very happy.

When she told me about it I said that letting go of needing the thing to sell might be what opened the space for something to actually happen. When you hold too tightly to things, you cut off their oxygen and they can’t breathe, so how can they survive?

She said that she had let it go, she wasn’t pursuing it, or even thinking about it anymore.

“You didn’t let it go, you gave up on it, which is a whole different thing,” I said.
She paused for a moment– “you’re right, I never thought about it that way.”

Giving Up and letting go are two totally different things.

One reeks of failure, the other requires trust.
One is a type of abandonment, the other is achieved through detachment.

Letting go is bringing 100% of yourself to whatever it is you want to achieve/have and doing everything possible to make the thing successful while at the same time trusting that whatever the outcome is, it’s the one that’s supposed to happen.  And if the outcome you get isn’t the outcome you wanted, go back, regroup and see if there’s something worth fixing, or if it’s time to give up, move on and take the lesson.
Oh, and just for the record, the lesson is usually NOT you suck or your thing sucks.

It’s just that being disappointed sucks.

When we’re disappointed we want to have someplace to discharge the uncomfortable feelings so we find a place to blame which often means turning  inward and blaming ourselves.  This is heart-breaking because there are millions of reasons why opportunities, ideas, jobs, projects, situations, and relationships don’t come to pass.

It’s before it’s time, the timing is off, it’s not the right thing, it’s not the right thing for you, it’s not the right thing right now,  there’s something better coming, you need to tweak it, YOU NEED THE LEARNING THAT NOT GETTING THIS THING WILL GIVE YOU.

That last one is the tough one.  I’ve been through that one a lot and I can tell you there’s nothing like it to build the spiritual /emotional muscles.

Sometimes giving up is what’s called for.
But most times, it’s actually letting go.

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  • Gerri

    I think this is a very important distinction to understand and apply to certain undertakings. It seems to me to be a very nuanced difference, and one I struggled with in the past and continue to struggle with now. But I am begining to learn (with the help of your writings) that just because something doesn't come into my life doesn't necessarily “my fault” the default reason. And yes… it is hard to learn the lesson about not achieving… but you are right… a very important one indeed. Thanks again for a great take on an important issue.

  • CathyWilke

    It is a subtle difference that takes a lot of consciousness to discern. I'm glad the post got you thinking.

  • Hey Cathy!

    I'm a huge fan of letting go, especially of the outcome. It truly frees us. And, as you point out, makes “room” for things to happen. Good attitude to have during sales conversations. People can smell desperation. Thanks! Giulietta

  • CathyWilke

    It is so important to be able to let go during sales conversations–desperation will drown you every time!

  • Deborah Novick

    So insightful and so hard to know the difference most of the time!   Sometimes we don’t give up, even when we need to, because we’re afraid of what’s next!  That’s the opposite of detachment for sure.

  •  You are so right Deborah-sometimes giving up is what’s called for.  It takes a lot of consciousness to see the difference.

  • This was really good Cathy. I tried to explain this to a friend and fell flat trying to explain how letting go was not a “loser” thing to do, but actually how every master craftsman really approaches their work. Thanks.

  • Thanks for stopping by Cory! And I think ultimately the best way to show up for anything is to let go of the result. But it’s usually easier said than done.

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