The Art of Letting Go

by Susan Pogorzelski on December 7, 2009 · 12 comments

Now here it comes,
the hardest part of all.
Guess I’m just learning,
Learning the art of letting go…

Mikaila, “The Art of Letting Go”


A few weeks ago, I was talking to my mom about my innate desire to help other people, often ready and willing to put their needs before my own. I think it’s always been this way — seeing others happy creates a sense of happiness for me, just like seeing them in pain makes me kinda want to hug the hurt away and shed tears side by side. I admitted to her that I didn’t want to lose that part of myself, that compassion, but there were times when I felt myself so deeply affected by others that it was having an adverse reaction on me.

I sympathize, I empathize, and then I swallow those emotions and bottle them up, holding onto them tightly. I hold onto everything too tightly. I’m too desperately afraid to let go, afraid that something will change, afraid that I’ll leave something behind — or be left behind — afraid I’ll have to move on and I won’t be ready.

My mom’s response was wisely sharing a variation of a fable she had heard years ago…

There once was a man who was walking along on his journey when, off in the distance, a faint shout echoed.

“Help!” The voice yelled. “Help, help!”

The man followed the voice until he approached a bridge. As he drew closer, he noticed a man was hanging from the side, holding on with all his might.

“Can you help me?” the stranger asked, fearfully.

The man rushed over and grabbed onto the stranger. “Give me your other hand,” he instructed.

“I can’t,” the stranger replied.

“You have to.”

“No, no,” the stranger said. “I can’t let go or I’ll fall.”

“Give me your hand,” the man insisted. “I’ll help you.”

“I can’t!”

Both held on, but soon the man realized he could do so for little longer.

“My hand is slipping; you need to pull yourself up.”

“I can’t let go,” the stranger cried out. “Don’t let go.”

“I’m sorry,” the man said sadly. “But I have to.”

After some time, the man’s journey happened to lead him back to that same bridge. The stranger was still holding on, too afraid to let someone help him, to afraid to let go.

There are so many messages in this story: there are times when you have to ask for help and times when you have to help yourself.

But there’s one that spoke to me loud and clear, one that I’ve begun to realize is the hardest lesson I’ve ever had to face, a lesson that still lingers, that I’m still learning.

Sometimes, you just have to let go.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Sam December 7, 2009

Beautiful! And as usual, we are on the same page. That balance of selfishness and selflessness, learning to let go, those are things that I’m working on as well. These things take strength and courage, two things that you and I definitely possess, even if we can’t quite admit it to ourselves. Love this post, and kudos to you for learning to let go!


Positively Present December 7, 2009

You really just have to let go sometimes, hard as that might be. Great post, Susan!


Elisa December 7, 2009

It is sometimes in the never letting go, always helping, totally enabling that we think we are helping but instead we are hurting or hindering. That is what I am most guilty of. Thinking that people ALWAYS need me. They don’t learn to depend on themselves. And how much more horrible is that?

Plus, there’s that rough part wherein we lose ourselves. When you are always there for everyone else, sometimes it’s hard to find someone there for you when you need them. 🙁


Beth December 8, 2009

Hi Susan! Wonderful post.
I really think that this happens to me a lot also. Especially working in the nonprofit sector, where sometimes us caregivers forget to care for ourselves. I think it is a great lesson to learn to let go – and most of all, to take care of ourselves in the process.


Akirah December 8, 2009

This is perfect for me as I’m learning to let go of a person who has been important to me for the past three years. Indeed, sometimes you do have to let go.


Susan Pogorzelski - admin December 9, 2009

Sam: It’s definitely a work in progress, but little by little, I think I’m realizing that you can’t help others unless you help yourself first, and that might mean doing what’s best for you first…that might mean letting go. That part is never easy, but maybe it’s the only way to move forward. I’m so glad that we’re on this similar journey together, learning and able to help each other along! Thanks for everything. 🙂

Dani: Letting go IS hard and one of the things I’ve always struggled with. We may not like it, but maybe it’s what’s necessary. Thanks for the comment!


Susan Pogorzelski - admin December 9, 2009

Elisa: Way, way back last November I had someone tell me that I had to let go and let people live their own lives — for better or for worse. I wanted to eliminate that for worse part of the equation, wanted to see them happy, wanted good things for them. But the fact of the matter is that he was right — I can’t be responsible for them, they have to live their own lives. Just as I have to live mine and you are responsible for yours. That was a surprise to hear, actually — I didn’t realize that I might be hurting them as well as hurting myself the whole time.

I wonder if it’s a balance to be reached, as Sam says above — helping others, but letting go enough to let them help themselves, and helping ourselves, but letting up enough to let others help us. Because you’re right — sometimes it’s hard to find those people who are willing to be there for you…but sometimes it’s hard to admit that you need them, though they’ve been there the whole time.

You brought up a lot of great thoughts, Elisa, that has the wheels turning. Thanks for that, and thanks for your comment!


Susan Pogorzelski - admin December 9, 2009

Beth: I’ve always admired people who work in non-profit organizations because of what you describe — you give so much of yourselves, asking little in return. I think in this instance especially, learning to let go of those emotions that you experience is not only necessary, but crucial — part of the taking care of yourself. I’m beginning to understand that there’s a difference between turning off those emotions and not holding them in. It’s something I experienced awhile back at a temp job, but didn’t really understand then. Seems there’s more than one lesson in letting go I’ve yet to learn 😉 I appreciate your insight, Beth!


Susan Pogorzelski - admin December 9, 2009

Akirah: Letting go is the hardest part, especially when it’s such a huge part of your life. That’s the part I’ve always had a difficult time reconciling — how do you move forward with this change, without this person, without this something? It’s why my greatest fears have been loss and why I’ve been so stubborn in my reluctance to let go of the things that matter — because it always seemed like a loss. I still haven’t completely reconciled this, haven’t figured it out, but I think I’m beginning to understand that letting go doesn’t mean losing anything, it just means a change, being able to move forward. Which isn’t always easy, either.

I wish I had some words of comfort for you, but I hope you know that you have people in your corner if you ever need them. Wishing you the very best.


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