The Difference Between Giving Up and Letting Go


I saw that quote and it made me pause.

I am a fighter.  I am persistent.  I hardly ever give up, but sometimes it’s not about giving up. It’s about accepting what life throws at you. One of the professors that I work for tells the students that you can’t solve a problem you are not willing to accept that you have.

If you are so busy fighting something, you sometimes miss that it’s time to let go and just accept whatever it is.

It’s the semantics that make the difference for me.  When I saw the quote above, it helped me realize that it was not a negative to step back and say, “I can’t do this anymore.  I can’t fight this battle, but I am walking away not with my head down, but with my head up.”

I am choosing to say, “it’s time to let go”.  That doesn’t make me weak, it helps me be stronger.  Not only am I consciously choosing this, but I am leaving space for the next thing.

“Giving up” feels like quitting.  “Letting go” feels more peaceful and fruitful.  

When I do let go, another quote comes to mind, “Clarity is momentum that has no resistance in it.”  The two quotes are not contradictory.

They complement each other because when you do learn to let go, you begin to have more clarity and then things just feel more at ease.  


Life Awaiting


“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” 

― Joseph Campbell

I have read this quote so many times, but I have always thought you have to have a plan. No plan, no accomplishments.

I have been working with undergraduates for over 3 years now helping them think about the life ahead.  Who are they?  Who do they want to be?  I listen to their plans and life goals.  It’s not easy for the students, but the possibilities do seem endless and, most of all, possible.

Not only do I spend my days with college students, I do it at my alma mater, so I rarely forget how I felt when I was that age.

When I first read the quote above, I felt a sense of sadness.  “Letting go of the life we planned.”  Did that mean it didn’t work...that we failed?  As I hear these young students describe their future, I think about the plans that I made years ago.  I felt fairly confident of my direction at that time.  It helped that nobody ever questioned why I was doing what I was doing.

In the class that I help teach, we do an interesting exercise.  After weeks of helping students design their lives forward, we have them pretend they are at their 25th year college reunion.  We have them imagine what it would be like to be 47 and what their lives would look like.  What did they accomplish, what didn’t happen, and what parts of life just happened that they never saw coming?

It’s fascinating to listen them.  The exercise is meant to help them think about those things that didn’t go as planned.  What did they have to let go of?

So back to the quote above.  I don’t see it as sad anymore.  I realize that so many things I didn’t plan have actually been quite magical.  And, yes, there have been things that have torn my heart into pieces that were not magical in any way.

But, it is when I let go, as Joseph Campbell says, that life becomes quite an extraordinary ride.  It is when I stop measuring my life against the plans I had made as an undergraduate and I just become who I am and take each day as an opportunity to be open and experience whatever comes my way that I find I am most at peace. I guess that is living the life that is waiting for me. So much planning and measuring of goals has many times prevented me from allowing life to just happen and to see opportunities that when I was younger I wouldn't have even noticed.

Maybe mid-life is not so much about a crisis over what can no longer be accomplished, but an opportunity to see what surprises we couldn’t even have imagined at age 22.

It’s not easy, though, letting go of the things you planned.  It means giving up the pretense of being in control, it means not thinking that you failed, but just that you are following another path, and it means feeling much more comfortable with uncertainty.

I am in awe of those who have led their lives this way from the beginning, but I have been a very analytical type and it has taken me much longer to let go of the life I had planned.  I don’t know what is ahead, but somehow, that feels extremely peaceful and I am eager to know more about the life that is awaiting me.


Those Memories You Remember Exactly...


I have noticed lately that I dive back into those “remember when” moments when things are tough and I want to think back to the good old days. As I move forward in my career meandering I think back to the days that the kids were still kids...everything seemed easier “back when”.

It’s easy to remember the good old days without remembering the difficulties that came with them.  That’s not fair to the present and it’s not even real.  It’s just my perception of what was.

The other day I was with my younger son watching sports on TV and the Tennessee Titan football team came on briefly.  “Oh,” I said, “I remember when you were a little boy and you had a sports crush on the Titans.  They were the first team you really loved.”

My mind began a lovely tale of moments picturing my young son in his Titan jersey and Titan banners hung proudly on the walls of his room.  It was such a warm feeling to enjoy the memories. I knew for a fact that it was the Titans and no one would be able to question those memories because they were real and factual. I can see everything perfectly to this day and in great detail.

Then, poof, my younger son said to me, “Mom, that wasn’t me.  That was my older brother (name being withheld as both sons will kill me if they know I am writing about them).

“Wait, that wasn’t you?” I asked.  “No, don’t be ridiculous,” he said.

That’s what life is like.  You swear that your memories are EXACTLY they way you remember them. How could they be any different?  You remember every detail.  But, you don’t.

We remember what we want to remember or sometimes we just forget.

I am keeping that thought close to my heart now when I think of the good old days and I want everything to go back to the way it was.  It’s difficult to try new things...some work, some don’t, but they are part of who you are now and where you are going at this moment.

It’s not to say memories are not wonderful and helpful.  I just want to remember to take them with a grain of salt, especially when I am using those old memories to help me learn lessons and move forward.







The Notes Without the Music

“The notes without the music.”   I had never heard that phrase until a few weeks ago.

I have been teaching college students for the last two years and, ordinarily, I create the content of my lecture and then present it on my own.  This quarter, I am working with some extraordinary mentors and I was asked to present their material in my lecture.  It was a big moment for me as it was a bit of a test to see how I would teach with this format. I prepped every day for a week.

It was both new to me and difficult to teach someone else’s content. I prepared as best I could, memorizing the material and presenting it the way I thought my mentors wanted.

Ironically, the topic of my presentation was about emotional intelligence and listening to your gut instincts.  I have worked so hard for the last couple of years to follow those gut instincts and listen to my own voice.  I don’t know if it was because I was new in this particular class or I wanted so much to please my mentors, but I made a mistake.  I didn’t follow my gut.  I memorized the materials, hit every point that I was supposed to, and I didn’t even choke.  But, in the end, I felt like a little of my soul had died. I hadn’t taught the lesson the way "I" would teach it.  I taught it like a lawyer and not the new person I had discovered in myself over the last few years, that is, someone who had found great joy and fun interacting with college students as they make important choices going forward with their lives.

I have been teaching that failure is important and that learning from failure and improving the next go around is how you become the best “you”.

So, in my mind, my latest lecture was a failure because I was not me.  I was trying to be someone else.

In the end, my mentor was kind and supportive, but he smiled and said, “It was the notes without the music”.

That phrase caught me by surprise.  That was it.  He had said in just a few words what I have never been able to encapsulate.

It wasn’t just about this experience. It was about all those times in life when it looks like everything is right.  There is nothing from the outside to indicate what is not working...a job, a relationship, or an experience.  I never had those exact words to describe when something is just missing.

The notes are there, but there is no music.  That is what happens when you don’t follow your instincts.  It’s very hard to describe in words, but you know when the music just isn’t there.

How ironic that the topic of my lecture was exactly what I was not doing.

“The notes without the music” in just a few words reminds me when I need to be aware that even with all the checklists marked, it can still be wrong. Even though it may be difficult to describe why there is no music, what is important is recognizing that it’s not there.

Just having that awareness can be a huge step in helping us to go forward.