Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Letting Go

So much of mid-life and beyond means letting go...

Letting go of the burdens of youth. You go from feeling that "Everyone is watching me!" to the freedom of no one watching you. You're no longer wondering if you'll ever find that one special relationship. By midlife, you've found and experienced love. You may have lost that love by divorce or a breakup or by death -- and have experienced all the anguish that has gone with it -- and yet you have survived. Perhaps you're optimistic that you can find love once again, but you know that you can survive, even thrive, on your own.

Letting go of children as daily responsibilities. Of course, you'll always love and care about your adult children. But there comes a time in midlife or beyond, when you relinquish daily responsibilities, financial responsibilities. Many people I know have one adult child who isn't doing well on his or her own and who continues to demand or expect parental help. There comes a point, however, when loving parents stop rescuing and start encouraging self-sufficiency for the good of all concerned.

Letting go of old dreams. When you turn 40 or 50 or 60, you no longer have a shot at being a young prodigy, of playing professional sports or aspiring to the New York City Ballet. Those old childhood, adolescent or young adult dreams have become outdated and irrelevant to the person you are today. Letting go of the old dream to be a star in a now impossible field or even your current occupation can make room for new dreams and strategies for achieving them.  As you mature, your dreams begin to line up with new priorities: personal growth and learning new skills; finding new, more effective ways to achieve professional goals; finding new satisfaction in who you are now, in family, in friends.

Letting go of outgrown needs. Think about how your needs have changed in the past few years. Are you traveling with less baggage in life? Perhaps when you were younger, you needed more stylish clothes and a greater variety of outfits. Maybe you spent a lot of time and money on makeup, hair color, and shoes. Maybe the concept of sitting home with a good book on a Saturday night was just too depressing to imagine a few years ago -- and now seems not such a bad idea. Maybe, only a few years ago, if you weren't the life of the party or the center of attention, you felt that you had somehow failed. Now, though you still enjoy lively discussions, you're more likely to listen to another's point of view or hear about their achievements without feeling diminished.

Letting go of judgments. This can be a major life-enhancer in mid-life and beyond.  Perhaps you're finding that you're more tolerant of differences, that you can be friends with people whose worldviews and life experiences are quite different from yours.  Maybe you find yourself enjoying people you would have found tedious or worse when you were younger, seeing the goodness under the annoying or eccentric or alien-to-your-way-of thinking veneer. It could be that you've let go of your desire to change the world, to convert everyone to your way of thinking and come to the conclusion that you enjoy people more when you leave them alone and allow them to be the unique individuals they want and need to be.  And you find yourself learning from many of these differences.

Letting go of old hurt and anger. This means finding your way past old grudges and decreasing the burden that carrying old anger or hurt can place on you.  Even in extreme cases, this letting go can be a blessing.  Even in recent years, I could feel the anger rising whenever I thought about the husband of a dear college friend of mine.  My friend Marie Traina -- an award winning young journalist who had incredible enthusiasm for life, who sang and played the guitar beautifully and loved her family and friends unconditionally -- was murdered in her sleep by her husband, a young lawyer suffering from bipolar disorder.  Because he was found not guilty of her murder due to temporary insanity, he has had a full life -- practicing law, remarrying and raising a daughter.  Marie, who was 28 when she was killed, has missed all these years and experiences that we have all enjoyed. She would have been a wonderful mother, an outrageously great Italian grandmother.  She would have achieved so much professionally and would have continued to bring so much joy to her family and friends. But one can't be angry forever. Anger won't bring her back. I've made efforts in the past year to let go to the bitterness I feel toward Marie's husband. It isn't forgiveness and it isn't for him. It's for me and for Marie.... so I can stop thinking with anguish about all she missed in this life and go back to thinking of her with the warm and joyous memories she so deserves. Whether the pain is an old grudge, a slight, or the untimely loss of someone you love, letting go of old hurt and old pain can greatly lighten your load and bring new energy to your life.

Letting go does not mean giving up.  It means opening up your life -- to new dreams, to new possibilities, to new hope -- as you let go of what no longer fits the person you've grown to be and
welcome all the joy that is to come.


  1. You are absolutley right. Letting go does not mean giving up. I am sixty and have not given up trying to make this world a better place.

  2. Wow.. I stumbled upon this and it was exactly what I needed to read at this point in my life.

  3. Why not just let go of life altogether?

    1. don't worry, life will let go of you when it's ready. Meantime, party with the fun people

  4. I was looking, hoping and searching for something to "speak to me" hit me in the brain and heart, that aha moment........I found it, Thank You Dr. McCoy!!!!!!!!!!

  5. I was hoping to find something meaningful. Not here. Why do I say this? Because who cares about "letting go of youthful dreams" or "stylish clothes" and all that? Only a shallow and/or unrealistic person gets hung up on that in the first place.
    How about "facing increasingly diminished capacity to do things that came easily before?" That's the real issue. Youth is capacity: you are more able to learn, you have more energy, you are more competent physically and mentally. Th world cuts you a lot more slack, too.
    So why not talk about the real problems involved in losing youth: loss of memory, loss of skills, loss of favorite places that have changed beyond recognition. The inability to do things you once did with ease. The frustration and boredom that come with diminished capacity.