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What makes letting go so hard

November 17, 2023

I love heels. They’re so elegant, so sophisticated, so…impractical, at least for my life, (heels down an allotment?!) which is why I rarely wear them.

It’s all about the shoes
Woman standing on cobblestones, rubbing her calf after removing one of her high heeled pink shoes.

Outfit choice starts with comfort and that’s determined by what’s on my feet. Can I dance all night in them? Will they keep me dry? Could I run in them if I had to? 

As a teenager, I once sprinted across the cobbled market place of my home town in a classic pair of 80s stilettos to catch the last bus home. Like Cinderella fleeing the ball, but I don’t remember Cinderella hobbling with bruised insteps for the next two days!

My favourite footwear nowadays? Indoors, it’s a funky pair of ultra flat Converse; outdoors, walking anywhere, I lace up my practical, mega-soled walking boots. 

But that doesn’t mean I don’t own heels. Oh no. I have plenty closeted in my wardrobe, including hand dyed satin wedding shoes, used for just 8 hours one special day 22 years ago.  All these pairs, unworn for another season, yet loved, and still there because it’s really hard to let them go.

Actually, it’s not about the shoes

The difficulty letting go isn’t really about the shoes. It’s about letting go of something far deeper: the person who in dreamy moments I might have been, or a little bit of me would still like to be. A nostalgic hankering after a time or style that isn’t mine, never has been and never will be (they’re all very ’40s, a hark back to mend and make do, ‘proper’ dancing to big bands, all pulling together with a Blitz spirit.)

That’s the thing with letting go. It’s rarely down to the presenting issue. 

The real release button is often tangled up in things like emotional attachment, or nostalgia, personal identity, guilt or obligation, perceived control, low self-esteem, peer pressure, a lack of alternatives, substantial prior investment, or fear of the unknown. What a daunting list! No wonder it takes time and effort to find and loosen the knots keeping you stuck.

Five stages of letting go

I see five stages of letting go:

  1. understanding what’s going on;
  2. reaching a place of acceptance, forgiveness or closure;
  3. visualising an alternative future
  4. which is attractive enough to compel you to take action;
  5. and the oft forgotten celebration when you achieve the change.

You can work through this on your own, for example, understanding can come through journaling, but sometimes it’s helpful to voice things out loud. 

That’s where a coach can help. I guide you through each stage to see your situation from different angles (starting the process of detachment), look for gifts and opportunities in a change, and encourage and celebrate the steps you take, all with the aim of making letting go an easier process for you in future.

Some examples of letting go

Examples of things my clients have recently let go of include toxic relationships, limiting beliefs about a lack of local work opportunities, responsibility for everything and everybody, and self-recrimination for ‘bad’ career decisions.

Retiree Claire was struggling to leave behind her full-on life running a successful business, and the identity that gave her. She says:

“I was finding it very difficult, uncomfortable feelings and adjustment and the shock of it all!! Celia helped by being there as I offloaded and explored, she introduced me to saboteur work which was helpful and really helped me to not feel alone in this strange place of adjustment.

A new me emerged and a different way of living with less focus on the doing, I was able to slow down and let the days unfold, realised there was no need to replace my working self and I found more connection to the being me.”

Autumn: the season for letting go

In Five Elements Acupuncture, each season represents a phase in the cycle of creation. Autumn is associated with clearing and letting go of the past. Trees shed their leaves; it’s a time of release so we can take a winter of rest (real or metaphorical) and welcome new opportunities into the space we’ve created. 

So I’ve put my heels (well, most of them…) in the charity bag. It’s Christmas in comfort from now on. 

I can already feel myself breathing more easily with the acceptance of who I am, and the knowledge that I’m being authentically me every time I reach for my boots. 

What do you need to let go of that would help you breathe more easily, or be more authentically you? Get in touch if you would like help exploring this.

About me

I’m Celia Clark. I’m a career development coach based in the dreaming spires of Oxford. I help you think clearly about your job, in all its ups and downs, so you can be happy and successful in your work.

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