LETTING GO VS. HOLDING ON: How Do You Make the Right Choice?


A young child asked a woman how old she was. She answered, “39 and Holding.”  The child thought for a moment, and then said, “And how old would you be if you let go?”  Scary thought.

I don’t know about you all but I have found this “Letting Go vs. Holding On” to be a hard dilemma.  There are many situations that simply demand a little more persistence from you and me.  There is a Japanese tree that sends roots down deep into the earth for three years (with no visible above-ground growth) and then suddenly shoots up to extreme heights apparently overnight.

Growing up, Dad used to tell us the story of splitting a rock.  He would say, “You can hit a rock with a sledgehammer and wedge 649 times and it won’t budge, but on the 650th time it will split wide open.”  This would quickly be followed by a lecture on the value of persistence.

I have since learned as an adult that there are official names for “Tenacious Sledgehammer Effort”.  It’s called the power of “cumulative impact” or “hitting critical mass”.  All that is needed in these situations is patience, persistence, and continued effort.

Holding On Is Not Worth the Headache

On the other hand, sometimes when you are trying to split that rock, you are NOT using a sledgehammer; you are using your head.  (We have all had the experience of banging our heads against a rock.)  Baby, in those instances, you need to get a clue that that rock ain’t gonna split, but your head probably will.  Give it up!

Or it may be that that plant that you think is taking deep root and is going to bear much fruit is in fact a weed and you are spending a lot of time on the wrong thing.  You need to cut your losses and get out.  So then, how do make the right choice?

  1. Try to assess the situation on its own merits, apart from your habituated response to it. When faced with a stubborn obstacle, we all have automatic responses that are often based on our personality.  Is your most instinctive reaction to bear down, do more, and push a little harder?  Or is it to quietly back away, not make waves, and follow the path of least resistance?  Try to assess the situation on its own merits, not just do “your thing”.  Separate yourself from your most natural, instinctive response and think through your choice based on the merits of the specific situation.


  1. Assess the benefit/reward ratio. It’s something all good decision-makers do.  They ask themselves, “How much is this going to cost me (financially, emotionally, mentally, timewise, etc) and what is going to be my benefit?”  The problem of course, is that no matter how precisely you think you have this ratio calibrated, life will intervene, and your perfect ratios will simply be educated guesses.


  1. Finally, sometimes it is a matter of principle to stand firm, regardless of the cost. Sometimes, it’s an issue that simply has no price tag.  You must bear up, suck it up, and not give up!  There are many examples in history of people who stood firm and at great cost.  The cost was not the point.  The victory was.  The signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged their sacred honor and their fortunes.  And that is exactly what it cost them.  Most died in abject poverty and lost all they had.  They meant what they said when they chose to stand firm to honor their principles—regardless of the cost.


“Holding On” is often a smart choice.  And there are some good things to hold on to: good attitudes, memories of good times, good relationships with good people.

But “Letting Go” is also often a good policy.

Do you know how they trap monkeys?  They put a coconut in a container; the container has a small mouth.  The monkey reaches in for the coconut; he can grasp hold of it, but he cannot pull it out.  He stays stuck there (refusing to “Let Go”) until his captors show up.

So, what should we “Let Go” of?

  • We need to let go of the need to control. As one of my clients said, “Being in control is an illusion anyway.”  Wise woman.
  • We need to let go of the need to always be right. (This is especially hard when you really are right all the time! Smile.)
  • We need to let go of resentments (which are self-formed prisons). Clara Barton, the famous nurse during the Civil War, when asked about someone who had hurt her, said, “I distinctly remember forgetting that.”  It was a conscious choice.
  • We need to let go of beliefs that hold us back. (Especially the “I Can’t Because Beliefs”.  They tend to be self-perpetuating, self-fulfilling, and sometimes invisible.)

BUT, do we need to “Let Go” of the Need to Always be 39?   You must be kidding!!!  39 and holding?  Hold on, baby!  Hold on!




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