Once, a long time ago, I changed the strings on my guitar and was in the process of getting it back in tune.
I kept cranking on the tuning heads to tighten the strings, but before I could get all six strings tuned, a few of them would slip and go out of tune again.
I could feel the sense of panic tightening my chest. I’d never had that happen before.
Even worse, what I didn’t realize was that every time the strings slipped, the neck was actually curving forward a little bit.
All I could think was, “WTF?”
Also, “Shit, shit, shit!” because I had no idea how to fix it and no idea if I’d already ruined my precious guitar.
Thankfully a friend knew what to do. The first thing he did was to tune down all the strings until they were completely slack.
Then he adjusted the metal rod inside the neck of the guitar to straighten it back out.
Only then did he tune the strings back up.
Sometimes, the only way to move toward your goal is to go in reverse.
Of course, going in reverse looks an awful lot (or exactly) like moving away from the goal, so you resist.
But if you continue to push forward in ways that don’t work, eventually you will cause damage. You’ll realize you’re exhausted and heart-broken. Or maybe depressed and cynical. Or ill and in physical pain because you’ve worn your body out.
It’s not easy to move away from your desired destination in the short-term so that you can get there in the long-term.
You need an enormous amount of trust. Trust that even if you have to take a detour, you can still get there. Trust that you can know the difference between a necessary course-correction and a backing-off out of fear. (Nothing wrong with feeling afraid, mind you, but changing course isn’t the best remedy.)
Trust that even if you never get there, you’ll get someplace else just as good, if not better.
Even deeper than that, often we’re unwilling to stop pushing because we’ve tied our self-worth to accomplishing our goal.
Rampant in our culture is the belief that racking up achievements is how we prove that we’re worthy of the space we occupy in the world. So not pushing means risking non-achievement, which means risking not being worthy.
So we hold on and keep pushing toward our chosen destination. The thing is, sometimes you just can’t get there from here.
Loosening all your metaphorical strings feels excruciatingly painful. Initially it can feel even more painful than continuing to push forward.
How do you know it’s time to take a big step back? When it feels like stepping back would be a disaster, the end of the world. When you repeatedly catch yourself getting frustrated but tell yourself to keep trying just a little bit longer. When denial is part of your daily routine.
How do you go from pushpushpushing to being willing to let go?
Sometimes the transition happens out of necessity – burnout, depression, and fatigue are great catalysts.
Whether the catalysts are there or not, whether you’ve been pushing for a long time or not, you start by being willing to feel your emotions without dulling them.
Follow the threads of frustration, sadness, anxiety, anger, fear…they may point to some reality that doesn’t look the way you want. Or to some outcome you’re unwilling to let go of. It’s not about eliminating these emotions, it’s about listening. Your emotions are messages about what you want and need.
Then, connect with unconditional love. Imagine your heart filling with it. Imagine what it would feel like to experience it.
Unconditional love is what will make it easier to stop and heal if necessary, because you don’t have to do anything to be worthy. You just are.
From that place, it will be easier to see what next step will be best for you. Trust your heart – it won’t lead you in the wrong direction.
Letting go in this way doesn’t mean abandoning your dream. It just means learning to move toward it in ways that don’t cause damage. And in ways that honor your worth and who you really are.