Thursday, October 26, 2020

The Wonder of Letting Go

Patricia Soldati, writing in Management Issues recently, points to a key reason why people put up with the misery and stress of Hamburger Management. In an article called The allure of scarcity, she writes about meeting a former colleague who admitted to being fed up and burned out, but who went on to say that he was at least grateful that he still had a job. Here's what she writes next:
Later, the encounter caused me to recall this quote by the Buddhist monk and poet, Thich Nhat Hanh: 'People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.'

Now, if that doesn't describe Jim – and maybe lots of other corporate professionals, I don't know what does. No matter how stressed, stifled, or disgusted, they cling to what is safe…or at least to the perception of what is safe.

The string of thinking goes like this: Even though I'm desperately unhappy, it's a paycheck. I might not find another job.

Then, there's sugar-coating: Anyway, we're all floating in the same boat. I guess I'm really not so bad off.

And the clincher: Besides, making a change would be a heck of a lot of work. I don't have the energy for that.

So you stay stuck, wishing for things to stay the same, but get better.
What logic is there in being grateful for what we already have, if we know we could do so much better?
That is precisely the line of thinking so many people are following today. Each and every day, they convince themselves that the world is a terrifying place, where disaster lurks around every corner. Best be grateful for whatever you have, even if you know you could do better. Any change might unleash the forces of chaos and make things far worse. So they cling tenaciously to their little plank in the vastness of the ocean, even though there may be an empty lifeboat, filled with provisions, only a few yards away. To get to the lifeboat means letting go of the plank, and that is just too scary.

What logic is there in being grateful for what we already have, if we know we could do so much better? Why should we hang on to ways of living and working that produce stress and misery, when all it takes to move towards a better way is to let go of the pattern we are stuck in today? Might change be for the worse? Sure. Nothing in this world is certain. But if we are unwilling to move, things might well get worse where we are today.

The search for certainty is the ultimate in fools' errands.
The search for certainty is the ultimate in fools' errands. It doesn't matter if you call it risk management, strategic planning, business forecasting, or holding to conservative values, it's the same thing: a doomed desire to control your world and keep out anything threatening. All it produces is stagnation, frustration, and very likely the exact things you are trying to avoid. Life is change and uncertainty. Only death is certain and unchanging.

Life is scary, but it is also wonderful, exhilarating, exciting, and full of possibilities.
The first step in making life and work fun again is the simplest—and the hardest—for may people. It is to let go of whatever you have today and move into the future. And what you will most likely find is that many of the things you were clinging to so desperately turn out to be no loss; and some of the best of them bob along with you anyway. You don't need to cling to them. They are part of who you are.

Why add the stress and turmoil of clinging to all the other pressures of life? Why create your own fear of loss to increase the fears that are all around you? Life is scary, but it is also wonderful, exhilarating, exciting, and full of possibilities. You can be like the guy who trains himself to see only threats and fears in the faces of other people, or the one who decides instead that the people around her are most likely a source of abundant joy and surprise, if only she is willing to let go and float with the tide of life. It is always your choice.

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G.T. Miller said...

What an excellent post. I'm currently in the process of trying to streamline my life--not simplify, exactly, but make things more graceful, feel more of a flow. Part of this is in regards to letting go of the things that I want to control--time, finances--and trusting that just continuing to do the right thing, choosing over and over, will help things take care of themselves.

As a polyamorist, I also think this philosophy has a lot to offer relationships. Or, as Sting put it, "If you love someone, set them free." I think someone else said something about "...and if they don't come back, you can steal all their stuff!" but that's another post, I think.

Thanks for the thoughts.

9:39 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for your comment, G.T. Much of the misery in the world of work is caused by people's attempts to control the uncontrollable—whether that means external events or the behavior of their colleagues. Doing the right thing is not only the best we can do, it's probably all we that can do that stands any chance of making our world better.

And, since I've been listening more carefully to song lyrics this week, we could all take to heart the words of an old Dusty Sprinfield song that includes this profound statement: "You don't own me, don't try to change me . . . "

Keep reading, my friend.

11:14 AM  
Anonymous said...

There are times, though, when staying with a difficult, boring, etc., situation is the best choice. The universe sometimes presents a finite set of choices where the best of these is not good.

8:47 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

True, Anon. Sometimes you just have to do the best with whatever arises.

Keep reading.

8:55 AM  
Jason Felice said...

You've started with Thich Nhat Hanh, and here is the perfect Zen saying: "Leap and the net will appear."

9:29 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for your comment, Jason. It is indeed fear of falling that keeps people hanging on to situations that do them little good.

Keep reading, my friend.

10:30 AM  

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