The one thing you can do right now to feel free…or Why Janis Joplin was onto something.

Letting go is scary.

The thing about letting go is that it’s scary. Even if we’re not completely thrilled with what we’ve got already, at least we know what we can expect with it. Even if holding on means living a bit smaller than we know we’re capable of, not being quite as happy as we suspect might be possible, or feeling ever so much more mediocre than we’d hoped, at least we already know what it feels like. And there’s a seductive, if false, sense of safety and control that comes from knowing what to expect if we stay just exactly where we are.

There’s nothing familiar about letting go, on the other hand. There’s a vastness and there are grey areas and at least a bazillion unknowns. Letting go is choosing d), none of the above, while not having the foggiest idea as to what that might look like.

Going home.

In August I decided I was going to move back home to Maine. I started telling my friends and family. I started making plans. I met with a real estate broker. I researched the rental market. I found a yoga studio in Portland that I really liked. I had practically sent a “Save the Date” for my housewarming party. It felt warm. It felt cozy. It felt safe. It felt depressing.

Uh oh. I thank God for my unwavering trust in the wisdom of my emotions. Within twenty-four hours of my realization that my decision to move “home” was making me feel contracted and depressed, I hatched a new plan.

Untethering.

Inspired by a serendipitous overlap with Chris Guillebeau, author of The Art of Non-Conformity (a highly recommended read), in Portland, Maine, and a dinner with Danielle Vieth, my friend who’s living a largely untethered life quite successfully, I decided to let go.

I’m letting go of agreements, conscious and unconscious, that don’t make sense anymore. I’m letting go of a physical home and living anywhere in particular. I’m letting go of the plan I’ve always had to move back to Maine and have babies. I’m letting go of my lifelong obsession with always having a plan. I’m letting go of most of my physical stuff and as much of my emotional stuff as is possible in this moment, too.

(Please note that the choice to write letting go in the present tense is intentional. It’s a process, not an event. Some days my knuckles are white and I don’t appear to be letting go at all. Some days I’m cutting more cords than an obstetrician doing a double shift.)

One must only be willing.

I’m finding myself on a letting-go roll. Once I was willing to let go of the big stuff (my apartment, living my life according to others’ desires or expectations, and not seeing my own worth, just to name a few) I started to feel really free. My willingness to walk away from what no longer serves me (everything from being a New Yorker to outmoded ways of seeing myself) has uncovered a sense of unlimited possibilities bubbling up. At times I feel practically carbonated with sheer potential.

(I use willingness intentionally here, too. In Barbara Stanny’s Overcoming Underearning she notes that one of the major steps to achieving financial success is being willing to let go of your “ledge.” For some, the ledge is a job. For some, it’s a marriage. For some, it’s a business partner. For me, it’s my apartment and the expired agreements that are attached to it. Stanny points out that sometimes it never becomes necessary to truly let go of that ledge, but it’s our willingness to do so that puts into motion the changes necessary to be free.)

The freedom of letting go.

As I begin to peel my fingers off my ledge I feel like I’m being granted permission to be more myself. I’ve had more business ideas, more creative impulses, and more inspirations in the past several weeks since I began this process of letting go than I’ve ever remembered having. Am I waking up from time to time totally terrified and convinced that I’m crazy to consciously choose to be homeless and drive around the country indefinitely? I sure am. But I’m chalking it up to an Upper Limit Problem and moving on.

I feel lighter. I feel energized. I feel hopeful. And I feel free. I always thought I felt free before but I hadn’t realized the degree to which my compass was set to a True North dictated by what I was holding on to and unconsciously allowing to define my life. And my willingness to let go of those things and reset my True North to the magnetism of my own dreams and desires seems to have set me free on a far deeper level. Ms. Joplin was on to something when she sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” When you’re willing to let it all go you find out what’s underneath all of that stuff. When you’ve stripped off enough layers and are truly willing to lose it, then you get to feel free (and go hang out with Bobby McGee).

Your turn.

So, whaddya think? Are you ready to let go with me?

If you answered yes, here’s a quick exercise to get you started. Get a pen and paper and actually do the exercise. Don’t just think about your answers. Just trust me, it works much better when you write it down:

  • Write down something big you’ve been holding on to because it feels safe or comfortable but that, deep down, you know has you shackled.  (I can almost guarantee that the first thing that popped into your head is it. Even if it scares you, write it down. You don’t have to let it go right now. Just write it down.)
  • What do you get from holding on to this thing? Write it down.
  • What would you feel like if you let go of this thing? What would it allow you to do that you don’t feel like you’re able to do now? Write it down.
  • Are you willing to let go of it? Write yes or no. (No is a perfectly fine answer. Sometimes it’s just not time yet.)
  • If you answered yes to the last question, what is one specific action step you can take right now or very soon towards letting go of this thing? (For example, you could write it down and burn the piece of paper as a ritual, you could write a resignation letter, you could put your house on the market, you could have a conversation you’ve been meaning to have for a while, etc.
  • Do the action step immediately, or if that’s not possible, schedule it in your calendar for sometime in the next week.

I can’t guarantee you’ll feel free right away. Instead you might feel nauseous or as though there’s no floor under your feet. That’s okay. Hang out in the void for a while. Cry or write or dance or scream. Or cry while you’re writing and dancing and screaming. Just stay willing to let go. And when the angst and groundlessness passes, enjoy the hell out of the freedom that’s just on the other side.

FREE Teleseminar on letting go.

Want more? Join my mom, Dr. Christiane Northrup, Team Northrup, and I for a free teleseminar on The Freedom of Letting Go on Tuesday, November 16th from 8:00 – 8:30pm EST. Rsvp@teamnorthrup.com to reserve your spot and for call-in details. (If you’re a Team Northrup member there’s no need to RSVP.)

Leave your stories, insights, answers to the bulleted questions, and results from your action steps below. Tell me what you think. I’m interested. Seriously.

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13 Responses to The one thing you can do right now to feel free…or Why Janis Joplin was onto something.

  1. Kate you are such a great writer. I always talk to my yoga students about letting go. Its so hard sometimes. I just went through a huge period of letting go which resulted in the end of an important relationship to me but its amazing how light I feel. Moving on without the weight.

    Thank you, Tracy

  2. Thank you Kate. I love this! I found it especially comforting as I’m in the process of letting go. I recently let go of a job that I’d been holding on to because it felt safe. It’s scary but you are spot-on regarding the freedom that is on the other side of the groundlessness.

  3. Awesome, Kate. I LOVE what you said (and really appreciated the plug for my book)…the photo is priceless. I applaud you on your courage…and especially for inspiring others by sharing your experience. I’m right there with you, sweetie…I totally believe in you. It’ll be fun to see the outcome of your vision quest. If you come to the NW, I’ve got a log cabin guest house that is reserved for you!!! Lots of love, B

    • Stanny! I can’t even tell you how much it means to me to have your support in this BIG letting go of a ledge. WAY back when I first took your workshop there was a quiet voice inside that knew that letting go of this apartment and all that’s tied to it was my ledge, but it’s taken me four years to pry my fingers off! Wow. Better late than never. I’m coming your way for sure so get ready for some giggles and good times in the Pacific Northwest!

  4. Oh how I know your dreams will inspire so many to think about their ledges.

    Recently I made the really hard decision to let our dog go to a new home. We rescued him 3 years ago and have tried to make it work. He has high levels of anxiety and we were feeling like prisoners in our own home. I knew 3 years ago in my gut that we were the wrong home for him, but desperately did not want to give up.

    When I finally made the decision to let him move on so that we all could be happier I felt such space open up inside.

    It was hard to move past the guilt but harder to think about the next 10 years living this way.

    He will be in a foster home soon and eventually will find his special place to live.

    Through the tears I felt joy that this decision opened up. And when I did I realized how much was possible. I started to make other decisions rapidly, one after another and it felt freeing and strong.

    Thank you for this post, and for the books suggestions. I have read Chris’ book and will look forward to Overcoming Underearning.

    Much love,

    Hannah

  5. Wow… What a fantastic read.

    I am already on the path of letting go, after over a decade being shackled. I felt I “had to” and “anyways, I have no choice”.BS.

    I coined a sentence sometime during a sleepless night five years ago.

    “The struggle to free ourselves from restraints, becomes our very shackles.”

    Now, my lizard brain can force me to shut up, fit in and stay hidden in my bed for a month… I won’t listen. I’m not meant to be a cog in a machine and no matter how crazy and seemingly irrealistic my ideas and desires are… I live.

    “Whatever scares you, go do it.” (my friend Derek Sivers coined this one.)

    Now what? Letting go. Resigning. Giving up on what I cherished and treasured but didn’t even realize it was meaningless material stuff.

    The big shift has begun.

    -JB

  6. Hi Kate

    I’ve savoured your email until today because every single word resonated with me. You were in stream of consciousness when you wrote it, that’s for sure. I loved your honesty and your courage. I’ve been without emails for a month and it’s only now that I’ve managed to get back to you. Also, I watched a clip of you singing in NY. You have another talent, and no doubt you will do what feels right for you. It’s a case of going to the edge of the ledgee and jumping, right? Or being pushed off!

    All the very best, and Happy New You.

    Love always – Kate

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