If you’re the same person at the end of a year as you were at the beginning, you’ve wasted a year. — Unknown
In 2019, I wanted to travel, skydive, triple my client base, and put together a rock band.
I did none of it.
Yet, this year was an adventure — more intrinsic than external. It was memorable, exciting, and didactic.
My biggest learning of the year was the art of letting go. Until recently, I felt proud of my ability to not let people or things affect me much. But all that paled in comparison to what I learned this year.
Here’s what I let go of in 2019.
1. Of People
This year was no different when it came to people entering and exiting my life. What changed was how I viewed it.
We want certain people to be in our lives. But they don’t see things the same way.
Like a girl I had strong feelings for after we kissed. She admitted she enjoyed spending time with me, and I hoped we could get into a relationship.
I kept initiating conversations despite most of her text responses being monosyllabic and most of my calls going unanswered. I visited her when she moved to a new city and kept my days free each time she was in town.
On her birthday, I sent her a song I recorded on the guitar, hoping it would be one of the first things she woke up to. She didn’t respond until the next morning, though she was online all day, thanking people who wished her.
It felt like being stung by a hundred bees. (In fact, I would rather be stung by a hundred bees.)
That day, I realized that the only person putting in the effort and suffering the pain was me. Even if we got into a relationship, it wouldn’t be healthy.
I let her go.
Another person who I considered a good friend let loose a volley of personal attacks when I challenged his political views. It made me reflect on our friendship. I realized that I had become a fallback option for him when no one else was around. He didn’t care about anything that mattered to me nor was he around when I needed him.
I had other friends like him as well. I let them go.
Some people made me feel stressed each time we spoke. Our conversations were excuses for them to complain about their poor health and unfairness of the world, or to dish out life advice to me since they considered me their best friend.
I don’t want to call such people wrong. I was in their shoes for a long time. But not any longer. I don’t feel obligated to fight their battles or try and help them if they don’t want it.
I let them go.
Letting people go without fanfare lets me retain the power to decide my worth. It lets me treat them without malice during our rare interactions. It has taught me to be happy by myself.
I don’t feel inferior or ashamed for who I am and what I believe in. My work, music, bikes, and books are enough. I’ve also connected (and reconnected) with people I like for who they are and who like me for who I am.
It’s unfair to force people to stay in your life against their wishes. It’s equally unfair to force yourself to stay in other’s lives against your wish.
2. Of Circumstances
This year was no different when it came to events in my life. What changed was how I viewed them.
This was Content Sutra’s first full year, and it had its ups and downs.
Our largest client prematurely terminated our contract because they held an internal restructuring exercise. We lost 60% of revenue overnight.
Another client was concerned about not being able to generate leads. My team outlined a detailed plan with stepwise actions and how we could contribute. What followed was radio silence.
Both instances felt frustrating. We felt like we over-delivered but came away worse off. But trying to force things would increase frustration and ruin relations.
Instead, I let go of what lay outside my locus of control.
The setbacks proved to be blessings in disguise. They jolted me out of complacency and forced me to focus on Content Sutra as much as we focus on our clients. We launched a blog, implemented a lead generation strategy and tested it with our target audience. We will continue to refine it in 2020.
When I focused on what I controlled, I learned to fill the present moment with meaningful tasks rather than living in the past or the future.
The only aspects you control are your thoughts, actions, and perceptions. Trying to control circumstances is a surefire way to become miserable and unhappy.
3. Of Attachment
Like any normal human being, I feel attached to things and feelings and end up doing counterproductive things.
I felt attached to the feeling of appreciation from people. So I lived up to unrealistic expectations.
I felt attached to the feeling of showing off my knowledge. So I engaged in futile text battles with people who shared opposing views.
I felt attached to the feeling of getting even with people who wronged me. So I looked for ways to seek revenge.
But these attachments limited my growth. Rather than stepping outside my comfort zone like a hermit crab which outgrew its original shell, I starved so I could stay right where I was.
But when I let go of attachments, I grew as a person. I acknowledged my vulnerabilities and understood that they made me who I am. I could give my 100 percent to anything and walk away without worrying about what others thought. The only thing that matters now is what I think.
I also stopped feeling the burden of living up to others’ expectations. I could respond at my convenience and they didn’t mind.
Attachment to external validation like recognition and appreciation is futile. You will be forgotten when you leave. That’s the truth.
Attachment to our identity makes us delusional. It makes us hold on to hardened beliefs like lifejackets on a sinking ship when in fact, those beliefs are the sinking ship.
Letting go of attachment opens you up to newer (and better) experiences. You can discover what makes you unique and identify where your uniqueness will prove valuable.
I’ve not mastered the art of letting go completely. But I’ve made significant progress in 2019.
Letting go doesn’t come easy. It feels painful, punishing even. You feel you’ll never be the same again. And you’re right. Because in the long run, you’ll feel liberated.
Letting go is not the same as giving up. Giving up means failing to stick to something because you have no energy or motivation left, even if the thing is good for you.
Letting go means you know that something (or someone) no longer adds value to your life. You replace the thing or person with something that makes you better.
Giving up limits you. Letting go helps you grow. (It certainly helped me grow.)
What was your biggest learning in 2019?