Achieving Success By Letting Go

Have you noticed lately that more and more “spiritual teachings” are becoming main stream concepts and ideas? The latest example I saw was an article in my weekly LinkedIn news update. It was The Art of Letting Go by Tony Schwartz, a popular blogger for the Harvard Business Review and writer of amongst others Be Excellent at Anything.

In his article Tony writes how “letting go” initially seems to go against our need to feel safe, in control and successful, and that it is usually associated with giving up and failure. However, from his own experience Tony gives several examples when letting not only felt the appropriate thing to do, but also freed a lot of energy that otherwise would have been tied up in projects or endeavors that had no real prospects. Instead of failure, he describes letting go as “careful prioritizing.”

Tony’s stories reminded me of an example one of my MBA Professors gave many years ago to illustrate that often not hard work is the basis for success, but as he called it, chance or coincidence. The story was about a sales manager of a Dutch aircraft manufacturer (yes, the famous Fokker company), who was send to Asia to look for new business. Notwithstanding his careful planning and dozens of meetings with potential customers, he had no result whatsoever and after several weeks of hard work and stress he was ready to let it all go.

Then something unexpected happened the night before he flew home. While he was sitting at the hotel bar sipping his beer, finally enjoying some quiet time, another guest started to chat with him. To make a long story short, that guy happened to be the CEO of an airline in need of new airplanes and after a few drinks they agreed to meet and a deal was closed a couple of months later.

I had similar things happen in my life. For two years I tried everyhing to sell my house, without any result and I finally “gave up” and withdrew it from the market. A few months later, one evening, a neighbor’s friend rang our doorbell and asked if we were still willing to sell the house as he was very much interested. The sale was closed within a week. The same with jobs. Not once, but several times it was only after I stopped applying, new jobs appeared.

But also in my daily work I see that when I let go, my life runs much smoother and results seem to come much more easy. What about you? Do you have the same experience?

When to let go?     

So, when do you know it is time to let to go? Tony has four questions to help with that:

1. Do I have a feeling in my gut that this dog just won’t hunt?
2. How important will this seem to me in six months?
3. How important will this seem to me in two years?
4. Is there a more enjoyable and productive way I could be investing my time and energy right now?

If the answer to 1 and 4 are “yes,” or the answers to 2 and 3 are “not much,” he lets it go. In my experience you could even skip questions 2, 3 and 4 and only ask yourself how it feels to continue with a particular effort. If you feel resistance you better think twice before putting in more time and hard work.


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