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Knowing When to Let Go

accountability personal development professional development Apr 19, 2021

Perseverance is important. You should never aim to quit or give up. But there can be a danger in pushing forward when you should be falling back. We can all get so involved and committed to something, we are determined to see it through no matter the personal or financial cost. It can be hard to stop and recognize that there is a problem with something we’ve put so much effort into doing for so long. 

Knowing when to let go is a valuable skill. It’s a true strength to know when you should walk away. Just like in athletics, we all know nothing lasts forever. No matter how long you play or how high a level, athletic careers end and often you don’t get the choice of when it happens. When you have the clarity and focus to recognize the sport you play is no longer serving you, you can decide to step back. That can be really powerful because you can start to separate yourself from the game.

The same applies in life and in your career outside of sports. Have you ever sunk so much time and money into something that didn’t work and felt ashamed to walk away? Maybe it was a business idea, a relationship, a work project, or even an event or home improvement project. It can be hard to recognize when you’ve hit a wall, and for many of us we may deny we’ve even hit it. To be able to have clarity and see that you need to step back and refocus is key.

Evaluate what’s not working. 

The first step is understanding that the issues exist. What are the challenges here? What isn’t working the way it’s supposed to? Instead of blindly moving forward because you are supposed to, pause and reflect on how things are going. Perseverance isn’t always a strength if you are persevering on the wrong things. 

Be honest with yourself. Why can’t you let go?

If you evaluate and find that something you’ve invested in isn’t working, then you have to face reality. Honesty is key here- you need to be able to recognize in yourself why you are still holding on. Whether it’s embarrassment, pride or admitting failure, it comes down to being afraid. Failing isn’t fun, and it’s never fun to admit it to others. But once you accept reality, you can start to further analyze the situation.

Remember, nothing is a total failure. It’s at the very least a learning opportunity. Maybe you learned something important about yourself. Or you learned something about the work you’re doing that you can tweak for something else. If you aren’t honest with yourself about what’s not working, you’ll never see the positive and you’ll be stuck spinning your wheels.

What else could you be doing?

Understanding what other opportunities you could be applying your time to is a huge part of letting go. When you drop this project, you could free up space to grow in another area. You could be taking on too much, and this project just needs to pause until you have the time to spend on it. Is there a way to take what you’ve learned and apply it elsewhere? Maybe just a small tweak in your approach makes a big difference. 

It’s important to understand the value add in letting go and the time lost on this project or relationship. Once you see all the possibilities, it gets easier to put this one aside and focus your attention elsewhere. 

Talk to Your People.

As scary as it can be to open up about what’s not working, sharing your failures and struggles can be a game changer. They can give you a valuable unbiased opinion on the situation. They can also help you figure out how to tell others, or soften the blow.

Let’s face it, letting go is hard. No one ever wants to give up. But knowing when to persevere and when to step back is an important lesson to learn and apply often. Letting go is about recognizing that there is an issue that can’t be resolved continuing on the way it is. Eventually you’ll have to step back, evaluate and let go. Maybe you end that relationship. Maybe you close that business. Or maybe you retool the parts of the business that worked! Only by stepping back and letting go can you truly see the forest through the trees.