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Thursday, February 16, 2012

When to Hang On - When to Let Go!

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By Scott VanHoogstraat

I believe a life-long challenge for any adult human being is the decision: when to hang on...when to let go. When we are small we are given things and for most of us life is handed to us on a platter (not always a silver one). We learn from a very young age that taking is good and soon we develop a keen awareness that unless I "hang on" to what I'm given, someone else may come along and snatch it from me.

Case in point: Halloween: 1968. I was the master candy-gatherer! By the time I was 8 I had mastered the art of the knock, the ask, the grab and take and the door to door. I loved candy. I loved to gather. But there was a danger looming around every corner at home. My older brother. I knew even at 8 that if I didn't hang on to every last bit and bite of my candy that he would find a way to find it, eat it, stash the wrapper and act like nothing ever happened. I became selfish and hoarding and did everything in my power to hide it and hang on to it and never let it go. I actually got a knickname for the clinging: "the death grip". No one and I mean no one would be able to snatch my candy from my hand and no one was going to get any. Halloween 1968 my Dad walks in the room and sees me throwing a fit for not sharing my candy with anyone else and he gathers it all up in my bag, goes out back into the woods and scatters it to the wind (and wild animals). I cried and steamed and mulled over what I was going to do. "At first light I'll walk out in the woods and find every last piece and it will be mine, mine, mine!!!!" None of this would have happened had I learned to 'let go', to share and give and care.

No one every told me or showed me that there was a time to hold on and a time to let go. The thought of letting anything go that I was given was not in my book. I was fine as the taker, but when would I learn to surrender?

Then came adulthood and thousands of circumstances in front of me making me decide whether it was worth hanging onto or whether I should let it go? Should I let it go when people hurt me or reject me or talk bad about me? Should I let it go when others get the promotion or the breaks in life and my life goes from one very hard challenge to the next? Should I let it go when it would be much easier to just step over others to get my way? When my pride is screaming out to me to "hang on or else", then I am faced with the constant dilemma... "is it worth it?"

There's something very nice about the times in life when we "have not" and have to "go without". The times in life when we are just getting by, when materialism is stripped away from us and we are left with family, friends, our body and our breath. It's not hard to let go, to surrender, to give up and evaluate what's good and real during these times.

It's when we "have it all", "have no worries", "life is good" and we don't have the needs that we find ourselves truly struggling with the hanging on. You see when I was small I had to worries and everything was handed to me and yet I had a "death grip" on what I wanted. Now I am old-er and have very little and anything I have I would give and share with anyone, anytime.

What am I hanging on to that is keeping me from living life to the full?

What should I let go that will truly make me happy and "open handed'?

There are times in life I will have plenty and times I'll have not. My goal is to let go during both. Until next time....
Scott VanHoogstraat is the Editor in Chief of and writes about growing older gracefully into the second half of life.
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