Letting Go Is Magic
Written by Yasmeen Yahya
Photo by Jazmin Quaynor
I’m not programmed to be a “free spirit.” I don’t typically enjoy just “letting go,” “going wherever the road takes me,” or whatever else people more fun than I say. I love to plan, organize, and, above all, have control over everything. Perhaps it’s because I have an obscene amount of Capricorn in my natal chart or perhaps it’s because I’m an only child who likes things her way. Whatever the case is, I have a habit of stressing over situations I am not in control of. If there’s a chance of failure (i.e. not going the way I want) I need to be in the driver’s seat, literal and otherwise. However, my therapist blew my mind when she gave me yet another piece of life-changing advice. She told me to imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t try to control what I cannot.
This advice was unearthed when I was expressing feelings of anxiety after a social gathering that involved my friend, my boyfriend, and me. I explained that the whole time I was worried about how they were getting along and what I would say to fill in gaps in the conversation. In return, my therapist asked, “how do you think you would have felt if you did not try to control how your friend and your boyfriend behaved?” Cue mind explosion. My therapist reminds me of this “let go” mindset when I express that I am feeling anxious over factors I simply have no control over. I have integrated this mindset into my life and, now, I want to share this wonderful magic of letting go with you.
Focus on what you can control rather than what you can’t. Let’s say you have to confront someone at work about an issue and you feel uncomfortable about this confrontation. You’re sweating over it, counting down by the second until your set meeting with this colleague. You’re visualizing a montage of the worst possible scenarios. What if this halts our production? What if they think poorly of me after this? What if I damage our relationship because I am bringing this up? You are what-if-ing your sanity to death in an attempt to control the situation. The worries act as an attempt to control how your colleague reacts to your transparency when, of course, you can’t.
Instead, focus on what you can control. In this instance, you can plan your talking points. You can control your tone and your word choice. You can prepare possible solutions to this problem. You can seek advice from a trusted source. However, you cannot control how your colleague reacts. It’s true that not knowing is uncomfortable, to say the least. Fear of the unknown is simply a part of the human condition, but you don’t have to let it control you. You can actively fight against it.
As I mentioned, I relish control. However, learning to let go has, as a result, dulled my anxiety from an overwhelming noise to a quiet buzz, invited productivity in places where productivity is needed, and allowed me to retain a more positive attitude. Asking myself, “what can I control?” in stressful situations has dulled my anxiety because I don’t have to stress unnecessarily. It has allowed me to adopt a “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” mentality, which I used to find impossible.
Finding controllable variables creates productivity. By noticing what you can control, you already have a to-do list ready to go. So, think about the situation at hand. Have you planned out speaking points? Do you need to prepare documents? Ultimately, find what you need to do so you can confidently tell yourself that you are doing the best you can.
When you’re doing your best, it is easier to retain a positive attitude regardless of the outcome. Let’s say you didn’t get the job that you prepared so much for. It’s not an ideal situation and you’re really bummed about it, which is completely understandable. Not everything happens the way we expect and it can be disappointing. However, you know that you put a lot of thought into your cover letter and resumé. You practiced interview questions and made sure you brought extra copies of your work samples to the interview. You did your best to bring confident energy into the room. You did everything in your power to ensure that you were the best candidate you could be. You can’t control whether you get hired or not and in this case the hiring team decided to go “in a different direction,” or whatever. Though, when you keep in mind that you did the best you could, this perceived disadvantage won’t damage your self-image, even though it stings at the moment. In any situation that you perceive as a failure, remember that being hard on yourself is not conducive to growth.
As I always mention when discussing mental health, this mindset comes with practice. Just recently, I was discussing my past (toxic) employment situation. I was going on and on about what I should have done. I should have asked more questions. I should have spoken up when I was disrespected. The person I was speaking with stopped me in my tracks and said something to the effect of, “sometimes you do all you can and things that aren’t great are still going to happen.” She reminded me that sometimes situations just suck. Yes, I could have done certain things differently. However, there is an endless list of possibilities for what I could have done differently. It is harmful to my self-concept to obsess over what I did wrong instead of being patient with myself by way of adopting a growth mindset.
By letting go, I have developed a greater sense of agency in regards to unfavorable circumstances. Instead of thinking, why is this happening to me? I can think, what can I learn from this? Though, don’t get it twisted, I’m still slightly a control freak. I can’t promise that I won’t start to sweat when I am in a moving vehicle that I am not driving. I also can’t promise to not hover over my boyfriend’s shoulder when he’s cooking for me. But I’m working on it. I’m growing.
Yasmeen Yahya is a writer living in Austin, Texas. Her work reflects her passion for social justice, finding balance in a chaotic world, and simply navigating life as 20-something in the big city. You can find her work here at Pass/Fail and at Pants Optional. When she isn’t writing, you can usually find Yasmeen organizing something, listening to an audiobook, or delving into her latest obsession. This month, it's the wonders of therapy.