by Mark Gorkin, LICSW
Part I of this two-part essay focused on my format for illustrating the concept of "Letting Go" during a 20-minute after dinner keynote for the career transition/support group, Forty Plus. I reviewed both the dynamics and dangers of not being able to "let go": "if you have invested so much time, money and ego in one right person or position, and you can't step back and gain a new perspective...then you are setting in motion the 'erosive spiral,' that is, the groundwork is being laid for apathy, callousness and despair, my phrase for the burnout process."
I also outlined six key psycho-social tasks and tools for "Managing Loss and Change." And finally, the essay fleshed out "Three Psycho-Social Meanings-Manifestations of "Letting Go":
1. Emotional Acceptance and Open-Mindedness. Typically, it signifies cognitive-emotional acceptance that a desired position or person, objective or dream is not going to materialize or not going to play out as you had hoped. You are no longer trying to control or compel another person or a particular outcome. And after a period of emotional catharsis if not soul searching, sometimes encouraged by venting to a third party, other times facilitated by confronting an antagonist, one is prepared to consider a new line of thinking or a different course of action.
2. Personal Defeat and Defensiveness. For many, "letting go" is a personal loss, for example, a loss of position or property as well as a confounding or humiliating loss of identity, power and prestige. When experiencing a loss of personal security or sense of control, not surprisingly, people will hold on. Some will cling even if holding on is now holding them back or having them stuck in a hole. Remember, harboring a feeling of injury or victimhood may not just leave a bitter taste in the mouth. An inability to let go often sets the stage for chronic anger and resentment transmuting into holier than thou self-righteousness.
3. Precursor to Losing Control. Finally, for people not comfortable with facing and sorting out strong emotions or for folks having a low "out of control" threshold there's a palpable fear about letting go (and engaging with their vulnerability): once the floodgates are open, they will be inundated by and may ultimately drown in those unstoppable, convulsing waves of emotion.
And the remainder of the first article (and a story shared with dinner guests) focused on a dangerous turn of events in my father's mid-career path – organized crime came pounding on the door of his place of work. He was forced to look elsewhere for employment; a dramatic instance of corporate reorganization or what I aptly called "frightsizing!"
Confronting Your Intimate FOE: Concept and Exercise
Examining the above "letting go" list, I believe one more dynamic deserves our attention:
4. Willingness to Risk, Reveal and Explore. In contrast to #3 above, our final conception of "letting go" means giving up a significant degree of order or control, but without feeling helplessly "out of control." In fact, this degree of freedom is usually predicated upon a basic feeling of safety and sufficient trust, if not a sense of confidence and competence. This inner strength is often built on trial and error learning. In fact, a key ingredient in this exploratory position is a willingness to be less than perfect and to also appear awkward, be wrong or even "fail." Of course, especially when faced with significant uncertainty, you may "aware-ily" jump in, that is, you are taking a risk, with both awareness and some wariness...but not enough to hold you back. And sometimes, when you really have that sense of relaxed attention and flexible focus, letting go means "going with your own energy and the group flow."
Actually, the final third of the after-dinner presentation in surprising fashion brought to life the notion of "letting go" as a willingness to take a social risk. More specifically, I challenged the attendees to let down a professional persona and share their imperfect humanity through my four word group exercise: "Share an Embarrassing Moment!"
The tables of eight seemed to spontaneously divide into two or three clusters. After the initial surprise and silence, the room quickly was abuzz with energy, intimate huddling and charged body language, dramatic gestures, along with frequent bursts of laughter. One story seemingly inspired another: "That was good, now let me tell you about the time..."
I suspect the group was ready to engage quickly with the exercise because small group problem solving is a staple of the Forty Plus experience, though non-Forty Plus members were also in attendance. Also, a number of people had heard me before; they knew to expect the quirky and unexpected when the Stress Doc presents. Finally, the opening material on the dangers of not "letting go" and dealing with loss and change created a poignant tension in the room...People were ready to break it.
Benefits of Confronting Your Intimate FOE
Now, consider these "Five Benefits of Transforming Fear of Exposure into the Fun of Embarrassments,":
1. Engage in Rapid and Risky, Intimate and Mutual Sharing. Revealing an embarrassing moment quickly affirms our mutual humanity, despite age and gender, ethnic and cultural differences, etc. Letting down, if not letting go of, your "professional" or "have it all together" mask often helps others reach out to you and frees them to also risk sharing.
2. Accept our Imperfections. Such group sharing, especially with an empathic audience, helps people realize they are not uniquely awkward, dumb, clueless, etc. You are with folks who not only have "walked in your shoes," but likely have had similar bunions. And the sharing of flaws and foibles often builds a bridge between humanity and humor. As the great disability pioneer and humanitarian, Helen Keller noted: The world is so full of care and sorrow it is a gracious debt we owe one another to discover the bright crystals of delight hidden in somber circumstances and irksome tasks.
3. Embellish Your Story. During post-exercise analysis, participants frequently confirm that once into the story-telling, it was not hard to add if not exaggerate details, making the experience a bit larger than life. Memory is not absolute or fixed; the more we share a story, especially a retelling that allows for a manageable level of emotional catharsis, the greater the potential for perceiving the past from a renewed, less burdensome perspective. Once half empty, that proverbial looking glass may become half full.
4. Affirm Courage and Mastery. Actually, such public revelation helps make the incident in hindsight seem smaller, less scary or "embarrassing." By seeing some humor in the situation or not taking the awkward moment personally – perhaps finally realizing there were elements out of your control – you are confirming psychiatrist Ernst Kris sage observation: "What was once feared and is now mastered is laughed at." And as the Stress Doc inverted: "What was once feared and is now laughed at is no longer a master!"
5. Be an Accessible, Self-Effacing and Spirited Leader. The best leaders understand that you don't only command by dazzling people from the mountaintop; coming back down to earth, sharing your flaws and foibles, not only confirms your humanity and courage but makes you an individual people both can relate to and respect. And sharing a laugh at your own expense may also prove a wise and confident investment. It's a feisty strategy for deflecting those critical slings and arrows: "Ha, I can poke fun of myself a lot better than you ever can!"
In closing, four key meanings-manifestations of "letting go" have been presented. The first three initially appeared in Part I of this two-part series, and are summarized above: 1) Emotional Acceptance and Open-Mindedness, 2) Personal Defeat and Defensiveness, and 3) Precursor to Losing Control. And the final usage is the focus of this essay – 4) Willingness to Risk, Reveal and Explore. And the latter was illustrated by the small group exercise: "Share an Embarrassing Moment" along with five benefits resulting from such an exchange: 1) Engage in Rapid and Risky, Intimate and Mutual Sharing, 2) Accept our Imperfections, 3) Embellish Your Story, 4) Affirm Courage and Mastery, 5) Be an Accessible, Self-Effacing and Spirited Leader. Surely, learning to courageously and maturely "let go" will enhance personal freedom, build interpersonal bridges and help one and all...Practice Safe Stress!
Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" , a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is a one-of-a-kind "Motivational Humorist & Team Communication Catalyst." The "Doc" is an acclaimed keynote and kickoff speaker known for his interactive, inspiring and FUN speaking and workshop programs. The "Stress Doc" is also a team building and organizational development consultant for a variety of govt. agencies, corporations and non-profits. And he is AOL's "Online Psychohumorist" ™. A former Stress and Conflict Consultant for the US Postal Service, the Stress Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress and of The Four Faces of Anger. See his award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com -- called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR). For more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email email@example.com or call 01-875-2567.