The art of letting go

Kathryn Wheeler
By Kathryn Wheeler,
updated on May 22, 2023

The art of letting go

How can we tell when it’s time to let go of what’s holding us back, and take a step in a new direction?

When we were young, and were asked to imagine where our lives would go, it’s likely that a lot of us had a similar plan plotted out: a classic tick-box route, one that’s been drilled into us our whole lives.

There’s no denying that a degree of stability and predictability can be helpful, even desirable – but the reality is, many of us deviate from a ‘perfect’ timeline, due to circumstances, necessity, ambition, the pursuit of something more, or simply because it’s not who we are.

It could be a career change, relationship breakdown, a journey of self-discovery, a growing passion, or a new life – and we can switch courses at any time, letting go of the baggage of the past, our neat timeline veering off with new ventures and essential changes of plan.

As we come to the end of another confusing and challenging year, we arrive at the natural point of reflection that comes each December. But this year, perhaps more than ever before, many of us will be taking the lessons learned from recent events and considering our next steps. In one example of this collective experience, in a report from the job site Adzuna, it was estimated that a quarter of UK workers were considering a career change in 2021 – and, with that, the lifestyle, relationships, and self-purpose upheaval that can come with it.

Here, with the help of a life coach and two people who have embarked on brave and life-altering journeys themselves, we explore what happens when you let go of the past, and let the winds of change take you where you need to go.


When is it time to let go of the old?

“You may find it’s time to make some changes in your life when you’re feeling lost, directionless, and misaligned with who you are. It can manifest as an uncomfortable feeling, or when you realise you’ve deviated from your goals,” life coach Angele Tilly explains, when asked what the signs are that it’s time to make a change in your life.

“A few signs to look out for are: being moody all the time, the same problems coming up again and again, ruminating, regrets coming up, and feeling like you are not progressing in your life.”

It might be alarm bells going off in your mind, telling you that you need to get out, and to do it now. Or it could be a niggling feeling, something that’s telling you that the place you’re in right now isn’t quite right for you, and that you could be happier.

That was the case for Felicity Pryke, when she decided she wanted to ask for more.

“I was living a seemingly wonderful life, full of music, travel, and fine food. To the outside world, I was happy but inside I felt empty. I chose not to have children – not a decision I regret, but it left me wondering exactly what I had contributed to the world. Nothing in my life had any permanence, I felt I had no legacy to leave.”

Feeling disconnected with a sense of purpose, whatever that may be for each individual, can leave us feeling untethered. So, Felicity made a choice. She left her marriage, and old life, behind.

“I spent the next few years picking up the pieces, working out which ones to keep and which pieces to discard, and putting them back together in a new order. The truth was that I had simply outgrown the life I had been living. I studied the science of happiness, and realised that happiness was not just to be found in hedonic pleasures, but also from having meaning and purpose in life.”

Five years later, Felicity is a yoga and happiness teacher – running her business Finding Felicity – where she works to pass on the things that she learned herself.

“It’s like that tiny stone in your shoe; you forget it’s there, but every now and then it makes itself known and irritates you. Then it disappears and you forget to shake it out. I know that so many people have that little niggle that something isn’t quite right. And I truly believe that you shouldn’t need to set fire to your life to find that niggle.

“I had to cause a lot of hurt and destruction to people that I loved to scratch my itch. I refuse to believe that there isn’t a better way, and that has become my life’s mission: to guide people to build a life they don’t need to escape from, and become healthy, happy, and well beings.”

What’s stopping you?

Of course, there are so many obstacles that we face before we’re can let go of the life we used to live, and to bring in changes. It might be financial, social, or a sense of duty and responsibility. What Angele sees often, though, is something else.

“When the time has come to change direction, fear will be the first obstacle to show up. And it is a very normal human reaction,” she says. “Your brain is built to keep you safe, so you will be questioning if a change is needed, and if going for new and unknown is better than old and familiar. Once your decision has been made, you will probably challenge it again, wondering ‘What if it doesn’t work out?’

As Angele explains, you can overcome this fear by having faith in yourself and the decisions that you made. “If you took the decision to change, it means it was time for you to change. Whether it’s going to be a smooth process is irrelevant here.”

"It’s like that tiny stone in your shoe; you forget it’s there, but every now and then it makes itself known and irritates you"

In search of something new

But, sometimes, the moment that inspires you to make a change isn’t when you realised something is wrong, but instead when you stumble across a new kind of happiness that you want to pocket and cultivate in your life.

Brian Frederick started his professional career as a lawyer, finding himself pigeonholed into litigation. “You have to be a particular sort of person, basically someone who enjoys a heated argument, to be a litigation lawyer. That’s not me,” he says.

In 2014, he got into mediation, discovering that he was a natural peacemaker. But then lockdown struck.

“We were all locked in, and some kids – aged about six or seven – in our neighbourhood thought we (the adults) must be sad. They began to ring our doorbell, and run away. But when you went to the door, instead of getting annoyed at being disturbed, I noticed they’d left a little bouquet of flowers, tied with a sprig of coarse grass. They were trying to cheer us up!

“I sensed that they were hiding, so I started to speak to the empty air and have a conversation as they hid, and then gradually they came out and we decided that they still ‘couldn’t be seen’, and we continued this game. I christened them the ‘flower fairies’ which they loved, and this carried on for a few months during that summer.

But this heartwarming encounter did more than just cheer Brian up during a tumultuous time, it became that moment, a push to try something new.

“As I went for walks in the nature reserve, a story about the ‘flower fairies’ formed, and I began to write it in the autumn.”

Brian had written before, mostly academic and marketing copy – though he did nearly have a thriller published when he was younger – but he had never considered writing a children’s book, and it was now that he threw himself into a creative venture, starting with Siggy Loves Sausages.

“The books are hoping to reflect the kindness and joy that the little girls brought to my door. For myself, this journey has been about finding the joy in my own life, and now doing something that brings me happiness. I think – just like when we give presents at Christmas – that there is great joy and happiness to be had in one’s life by giving to others.”

The art of letting go

The change that you may want to enact in your own life might not be as big as that of Brian and Felicity’s, it might be as simple as letting go of guilt and indulging in a hobby that used to bring you joy. But, no matter what the size of the action, the ability to set yourself free of whatever it was that was holding you back, and to move forward with confidence, is something that takes bravery, determination, along with a dash of hope.

So, ask yourself, if you listened to that niggling feeling at the back of your mind, what would it tell you, and where you go next?

Need a helping hand on your journey to letting go of the things holding you back? Connect with a life coach using lifecoach-directory.org.uk

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