Don’t hold on to something when you should let go

After tripping over a cord and plunging backward, I learned the urgency of letting go. My memory recorded the stumble but nothing else — not the fall or hitting ground. Like a train passing through a tunnel, my brain went blank for a few seconds. Because I held on to something I should have released, my life would go through significant pain and financial expense.

Lesson #1: If Emperor Napoleon had let go of his obsession to invade Moscow (in winter) he might have remained on the throne until he died. He also wanted to conquer England, America and even Australia. A century later, Hitler made the same mistake — couldn’t let go and sent armies to Moscow. If Richard Nixon had let go of his desire to wipe out the other party, he would have served out his second term instead of resigning.

Your finest achievements require you to let go of something else. You release the comfort of high school to head to college or your first job; you leave trusted colleagues to take a promotion; a great relationship sometimes requires letting go of one that’s just OK. Often, our first reflex is wrong—we hang on and squeeze tighter. This automatic response can be deadly.

Let go … when the same sales pitch produces fewer sales and weaker relationships. How you landed past clients won’t always work with new ones. How you persuaded investors and partners might be less successful as markets evolve. Things change — release the old and update how you see your world.

Let go … when the same people keep pushing you to overindulge. Balance and moderation are worthy guideposts, yet we all have memories of certain friends or team members who always seem to be there when we throw caution to the wind and get a ticket, a warning or a crushing hangover.

Let go … when your body moves into a new phase where bones and tendons heal more slowly. Admit that what you used to do is not what you should do now. Your new workouts might release the jarring and pounding in favor of more stretching and balancing.

Let go … of things you cannot safely or skillfully perform at home or at work. You don’t have to avoid all power tools or mountain bicycles but it’s worth adding safety features and insisting that someone else is involved when you clean gutters or overhaul a product.

When I took that fall, my reflexes insisted on hanging on to something — anything. The smart thing was to let go of the switch but I held on. The safe thing was to release the handle but I held tight. Unfortunately, it was my own hand that kept the lawn mower running as I fell backward.

Doctors, nurses and friends swore that I was lucky. It took a few days but I finally agreed when I saw the surgeon’s handiwork. I know now to practice letting go ahead of when needed. Whether the conference room or the backyard, rehearsal will combat natural reflexes.

Epilogue — Lesson #2: Days after leaving the hospital, my mental doom and gloom lifted when the doctor pronounced, “This is healing well.” I felt optimism and wholeness. With a limp I turned to that old mower with evil intent and revenge in my blood. Wrench in hand and wire cutters at the ready, I began dismantling the mower with bloodthirsty intent. Off with the handle and electric wiring — it felt great. And then the stubborn wheel assembly slipped from my hand smacking my reconstructed toe. Words came out requiring apologies to neighbors. With near unbearable pain, a second life and business lesson crashed into consciousness — it’s best let go with gentleness and serenity rather than vengeance and resentment.

Rick Griggs is the former Intel Corp. training manager and inventor of the rolestorming creativity tool. He speaks on mastery, balance and innovation. or 970.690.7327.