Feb 012011
Learning to Let Go by Indigo

Question: What do a dictator and an annoying house guest have in common?
Answer: They do not know when to leave.

The recent unrest in Egypt has set me thinking. It is not easy to let go and call it quits. In fact, it is far easier to overstay our welcome only to find ourselves thrown out. In social settings, we may have the awareness needed to know when to go. But when the situation involves money and power, it is harder to know where to draw the line. This problem is not only common in our age. Countless people before us have clung onto power and money longer than they should. In fact, thousands of years ago, Lao Zi addressed this issue in the Tao Te Ching.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 9
-Translation by J. H. McDonald

It is easier to carry an empty cup
than one that is filled to the brim.

The sharper the knife
the easier it is to dull.
The more wealth you possess
the harder it is to protect.
Pride brings its own trouble.

When you have accomplished your goal
simply walk away.
This is the pathway to Heaven.

Why We Must Know When to Let Go

As Lao Zi wisely pointed out, when we take anything to excess, it is bound to cause problems. That which was useful and good becomes a hindrance and a burden. If we could just accomplish our goals and walk away, how much simpler would life be? This idea applies to many areas in life including relationships, gatherings, careers and even world events. With this in mind, there are three reasons why we should never overstay our welcome.

1. To Maintain Healthy Relationships

Imagine a party. Initially the host welcomes the guests and everyone has a good time. But all parties have a beginning and an end. As it grows late, the guests will start to leave for home. If a stubborn guest refuses to go after everyone else has left, he could turn into an unwelcome nuisance.

Life is all about relationships. This could include our family, friends, colleagues and customers. Our success in life depends on these very people because it is not just what you know but whom you know. It is therefore critical that you have their support. But when you overstay your welcome or push your luck too far, the people who once enjoyed your company will soon feel otherwise. In such cases, whatever kindly feelings they may have of you will change for the worse. Knowing when to press forth and back off ensures healthy relationships.

2. To Avoid Causing Needless Problems

When we go to extremes and overstay our welcome, two scenarios can happen. Firstly, we can end up becoming a redundant nuisance. In such cases, we may inconvenience the people around us. Secondly, we could cause needless problems by trying to justify our stay. In the process, we could end up saying the wrong things or causing problems for others due to our actions.

3. To Avoid Extreme Measures

A glance through the history of humankind reveals countless revolutions. Why is this so? It is because rulers grew too fond of their power and profited at the expense of those they were supposed to serve. When the rulers lost the Mandate of Heaven, they alienated their people who rose up to remove them.

If we do not leave of our own accord, others will show us or throw us out of the door. They may begin with subtle measures at first. But as frustration mounts, they may resort to more extreme measures to make us go away. When a situation degenerates to such an extent, it can be unpleasant for everyone involved. We may well strain relationships to breaking point in the process. If these ties matter to us, if we do not wish to lose all that we have in an ugly struggle, we should leave when it is time to go. This applies to personal, work and worldly affairs.

How to Let Go

1. Clarity of Goals and Purpose

A successful trader needs to know which stocks to trade, when to enter the trade and when to get out of the trade. To guide him, he has clearly defined goals and a set of rules to follow. This game plan helps him to make decisions that are favourable for him. If he does not stick to his game plan, he could lose all that he has.

Stop when you have achieved your goal or leave when the going is good. Going beyond your goals is not always prudent. Good times will not last indefinitely. If you miss the moment to withdraw, good times could easily change to bad. When that happens, you may end up losing everything you achieved.

Greed has caused the downfall of many throughout history. To prevent greed from getting the better of us, we need to have clear goals. The need for clarity about our goals cannot be overstated. If we go past the mark, and keep on going, we could easily overextend ourselves and end up being vulnerable. It is critical to plan, have clear goals and stick to that plan at every stage of our lives. Every step of the way we should always ask ourselves what comes next. Without a goal or plan, we will end up at the mercy of the fates.

2. The Importance of Timing

It is important to be aware of the times around us. Life moves in cycles. Day follows night, night follows day. Good times follow bad times and vice versa. In any situation, there is a beginning, a midpoint and an end. This can apply to the growth of a human being, career, company, event etc. When the times favour us, we should make full use of it. In the event that the times move against us, we should already have an exit strategy in place. Nothing lasts forever. To think otherwise and to live as if this was the case will only cause us to become rigid and unable to react to change. By then, it is a matter of too little, too late.

3. The Importance of Value

Change does not happen out of the blue. Before any change happens, there will be signs that precede it. These signs could well be feedback from people or some other form of data. In order to stay in touch and to act in accordance with reality, we must heed these warnings as they come. Here, it is important that we keep a close eye on the value we provide.

Whether it is ruling a country, running a business or making conversation, we have to provide value to others. If we cannot do this, it is only a matter of time before overstay our welcome. The form that value takes depends on the context. In terms of business, it could be great customer support. In terms of government, it could be ensuring the prosperity of the nation. In terms of friendship, it could be support through dark times. Whatever the case, we have to find ways to provide value to others to remain relevant.

4. Impermanence and Detachment

Letting go and walking away is not easy especially if we invest a lot into something. Take our loved ones for example. No matter how attached we are to them, there will always be a day when death separates us. This is a fact that none of us can avoid. Seen in this light, everything we have and achieve in life is impermanent. This does not mean that we should not strive for success. We need to do so for our own sakes and for the sakes of our loved ones. After all, our time together is short, so we have to make the best of each moment we have. If we can live each moment to the fullest, we will have less regrets and be able to let go when the time comes.

Taking Action

Do you have trouble letting go of things that mean a lot to you? Are there any other reasons we should not overstay our welcome? What other ideas and suggestions do you have to help us let go? Do share your thoughts and comments below. :)

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  18 Responses to “Knowing When to Let Go”

  1. Hi Irving! Beautiful post filled with awesome tips. Very timely for me as my younger kid is getting ready to go to college and my middle son is preparing to spend a year in Angola. Letting people go as well as some projects can be challenging sometimes. We can get attached to things and situations and get comfortable with how things are. Changes can disrupt this comfort. It’s important to acknowledge the impermanence of things and let people and life run its course.
    Thanks so much for this great reminder and inspiration. Loving blessings!
    Andrea DeBell – britetalk recently posted..Grow the Seeds of Your DesiresMy Profile

    • Hi Andrea,

      Even though I don’t have kids, I know what it is like to have to let go of people we love. It is not easy. Partings and goodbyes are never easy. How much harder it must be for you to be separated from your kids, especially when your middle son is going to spend a year in Angola. Even so, it is through partings that we appreciate the sweetness of reunions. I am glad that you have the wisdom to let go when you should and not try to control things. We carry less burdens that way.

      Thank you so much for sharing! :)

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sandra Lee, Andrea DeBell. Andrea DeBell said: RT @The_Vizier Knowing When to Let Go http://j.mp/ffr4s4 [...]

  3. Irving,

    I have learned this lesson the hard way, and so I am very moved by the wisdom in this post. I especially appreciate this guidance from Lao Zi

    “When you have accomplished your goal
    simply walk away.
    This is the pathway to Heaven.”

    Your example of all the countless revolutions is an excellent one. These revolutions can happen in anyone’s life.

    There is so much excellent guidance in this post. I especially appreciate the point you make about life occurring in cycles. It seems we have forgotten this almost entirely in this day and age. We strive to be “on” all the time. This is harmful to our body, mind, and spirit and to our planet as well.

    I also really liked the point about value. When we can no longer provide value, it is time to move on. That doesn’t mean we are no longer valuable; there’s simply no longer a fit.

    Thank you for this very insightful post.
    Sandra I Always Well Within recently posted..5 Lessons in Love and AppreciationMy Profile

    • Hi Sandra,

      That quote from Lao Zi has always stood out for me and stayed at the back of my mind. I just have not found an opportunity to use it until now. Who would have thought that the unrest in Egypt would inspire me to use this quote in this way?

      When I was younger, I never appreciated that life moves in cycles. It was only after I discovered the Yijing and used it on a frequent basis that this knowledge became experiential for me.

      I love how you have completed my point on value. Yes you are perfectly right. When we can no longer provide value, all it means is that we are not the best fit for the situation. For the sake of the greater good and for our own sakes, it is best to let go and move on.

      Thank you for your very insightful comments! :)

  4. HI Irving,
    This post is filled with widsom. Letting go has been tough for me. It took me a long time to let go of resentments, anger, betrayals, and regrets. But by letting go we become free. We do not have to be victims of our egos. I’ve learned that detatchment is a very healthy thing! Thanks Irving!
    Dandy recently posted..The tragedy of self-deception and the gift of honestyMy Profile

    • Hi Dandy,

      Letting go also did not come easy for me. It took me years before I learned detach when necessary. And the rewards of such detachment are indeed great. We are no longer victims of our egos and we carry less burdens in our lives. This will naturally reduce our stress and lead to healthy living.

      Thank you for your comments! :)

  5. Hi Irving,

    You’ve used three simple words in your article which absolutely jumped off the page at me: “Nothing lasts forever.”

    When this idea truly sinks in, it becomes easier to let things go. As you say, life is all about ebb and flow and there is always another development waiting on the horizon.

    Unfortunately, this might not always for the best… but, that’s the way of things. And this too will pass.
    Scott McIntyre | Vivid Ways recently posted..Don’t Let Low Expectations Destroy Your High Hopes and Big DreamsMy Profile

    • Hi Scott,

      Even though I wish it were not so, it is a simple truth. Nothing lasts forever. These three simple words can have a very profound impact when we apply it to all areas of our lives. Due to our perception of time, it is easy for us to take things for granted. And when things change, we are unable to cope with the change due to our mindset. But once we appreciate the impermanence of life, it will help us to cope with changes more effectively.

      Thank you for your comments! :)

  6. Ah such a profound article. It offers so much guidance. Sometimes we do need to be reminded of things like these because we humans tend to forget that which would give us a happier life.

    • Hi Anne,

      I am glad that you enjoyed my article. Being clear about what is important is vital to living a healthy and happier life. A life without clarity of goals or purpose is unfocused and meaningless. The tinniest change can upset our composure. But a life that has clarity will be able to withstand any storm that comes our way.

      Thank you for your comments! :)

  7. What a timely post for me right now! I am having to let go of expectations and fantasies of the future, and instead take a clear look at what is real and true right now. Thank you!
    Galen Pearl recently posted..Quotes of JoyMy Profile

    • Hi Galen,

      Anyone in your shoes would be unsettled by the changes you have to deal with. But I am sure you have the wisdom to handle things in a superb fashion.

      Thank you for your comments! :)

  8. Hi Irving,

    Gee, you sure are thorough. Excellent post. I just finished up with a client about a relationship issue and I’m going to send her a link to this. I know it will be helpful.

    The only one thing that came to mind when you asked what we might add is that a lot of us have conditioned but subconscious assumptions about relationships, especially certain kinds (family comes to mind.) We think we have to maintain the relationship at all cost, and some pay dearly. So it’s good to examine whether we have a lot of “shoulds” that we aren’t aware of, and make more conscious decisions.

    I also noticed that you mentioned timing and cycles, which is something I just wrote about in my post!

    Way to go. Thanks much, as always. Oh, and I love that quote from the Tao Te Ching. I’m excited to have found someone knowledgable about it.
    Patti Foy | Lightspirited Being recently posted..An Easy Way to Stop Swimming Against the CurrentMy Profile

    • Hi Patti,

      I think it is my Virgo moon that compels me to be thorough. To be honest, it is not as thorough as I would have liked, but if I were to include everything, it would be too long and there would be nothing left to say. Thank you so much for sharing my article with your client. I do hope it helps in some small way.

      Thank you for raising such an excellent point. It is true that in our relationships we have assumptions and expectations that can cause us a lot of problems. Because these views can be subconscious, they might influence us in ways we are not aware of, leading to problems. Not only should we examine our expectations, we should adjust them where possible to fit with the realities of our situation.

      I am glad you liked the Tao Te Ching quote. I dare not say I am knowledgeable. I certainly do not understand all of the chapters and some of them is still hard for me to accept. But life is a journey and as I grow, hopefully I will understand the Tao Te Ching better so that I can share its wisdom here on Han of Harmony.

      Thank you for your lovely comments! :)

  9. I have learned many lessons about letting go. I used to be very attached to my stocks. And have lost thousands of dollars in the process. Ouch!

    I am interested to learn more about the Tao Te Ching. I am pleased to know that you are explaining it in an easy-to-understand manner here. More posts and quotations please?
    Evelyn Lim recently posted..7 Effective Habits From Tossing For AbundanceMy Profile

    • Hi Evelyn,

      Since we are both Singaporean, I can probably understand to some extent the lessons you learned about letting go. Losing thousands of dollars in stocks in not easy for anyone to bear, but at least you are the wiser for it.

      I always assumed you would know the Tao Te Ching better than I would. As I shared with Patti, I am not an expert at it, but as and where I can find relevant quotes, I shall use them to write articles in the future when inspiration hits me. You can be sure of that. I have always been fond of explaining things in a simple manner so that its wisdom can be easily grasped. I shall continue to try my best to do so.

      Thank you for your lovely comments! :)

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