Wasting your time and energy trying to resurrect the dead

Within the interpersonal realm, surrender is the willingness to leave our position to join the other. 

To make the empathetic leap and see things from somebody else’s perspective. 

But in the intrapersonal realm, meaning, that which goes on exclusively within our own minds and hearts, surrendering means something different. It’s the willingness to leave our ego and join the only reality there is. 

And make no mistake, this is a skill. Surrendering is a muscle. It’s something we have to practice on a daily basis, both in the macro and the micro. 

Here’s a quick assessment to help you assess your own relationship with surrender. 

Do you obsess about things that don’t go your way, or do you move on with your life quickly and without guilt? 

Do you debate trifling issues that are irrelevant to your current situation, or do you stay focused and unperturbed by the debris? 

Do you whine about interruption and create a swampy backwater of unproductive energy, or rise above the noise and forget it ever happened? 

Do you feel instantly abandoned and devastated at even the slightest rejection, or is your beingness so solid that the routine of everyday life does not derail you? 

Clearly, this is not a scientific tool. But if your answers tended towards the first part of each question, perhaps your relationship with surrender could benefit from some additional attention. 

It’s certainly a better use of your time than fighting reality every step of the way. 

Remember, the more you let go in your life, the less stressed you’ll be. 


Are you ready to leave your ego and join the only reality there is?

The dream finds itself reduced to a mere parenthesis

Age and ambition have a complicated relationship. 

There are certain people who, as they get older, will stop dreaming, period. 

Others will put their dreams in a box so they never spoil. 

While others will actively kill their dreams out of fear or guilt. 

And my personal favorite, the people who do dream big, but have literally zero intention of ever even beginning to lay the groundwork for making those dreams a reality. 

Now, there is one other camp of dreamers on the list. People who do still dream as they mature, but with significantly less attachment and expectation. 

Very different posture. 

Having recently found myself in this last camp of dreamers, allow me to share what it feels like. 

Instead of believing that happiness depends on getting something or becoming someone in the future, we are more honest and realistic about ourselves. 

Instead of acquisitively driving our dreams from a place of ego, we accept and delight in the fact that our dreams are humbler than we originally thought. 

Instead of demanding the world give us everything we desire, we adopt a more realistic attitude about how to attain the things we want, or if they’re worth attaining at all. 

Instead of harboring illusions that our dreams will save us and set us free, we find the majority of our fulfillment en route to the goal. 

Instead of forcing ourselves to accomplish things by society’s arbitrary time standards, we abide by our own sense tempo and rhythm and velocity and trajectory. 

Proving, that we’re still dreaming, but with less baggage. 

What’s more, our dreaming process is more spacious. Meaning, we keep slack in the system. We keep whitespace on the dream canvas. 

Because who knows what will happen? 

Life rarely conforms to our wishes, and it’s important to allow for some emptiness so there is room for the unexpected dreams to pop up and steal our hearts away. 

Those dreams we never could have predicted but realize we can’t live without. 


Will your dreams remain dreams when you insist on their being fulfilled instantly?

Tie me into a bow and sail off into the sunset

People leave your life sometimes. 

Not by dying, necessarily. They just go away.

And it isn’t a thing you can control or predict. All you can do is react.

Reminds me of my favorite coming of age movie. Gordy says of his two best friends from middle school:

As time went on, we saw less and less of each other, until eventually we became just two more faces in the halls. It happens sometimes. Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant.

The question is, how do you react when people leave your life? Do you become upset that you never got the closure you were looking for?

Maybe you get angry that you don’t fully understand everything there is to be understood before somebody turned their back. Or you interpret that person’s exit as a horrendous violation of the rules of friendships and a callous disregard for your emotional wellbeing. Or you demand a final airing of grievances, so you can have the last word.

Maybe you don’t actually want closure, but vindication. A nice tidy explanation that clarifies why you’re the one who was wronged.

Look, all of these reactions are normal and healthy. Nobody appreciates being ghosted. Who among us doesn’t want to tie every friendship up in a neat bow and sail off into the sunset?

If only human beings were that black and white. If only our expectations didn’t get in the damned way.

But the reality is, people leave our life sometimes. And in fact, if somebody has clearly made the decision to move on, even without your input, you can fight as much as you want, but eventually, you’re going to have to trust their decision and let them go.

It’s not fair, but it’s also not about you.

People are going to do what they’re going to do.


Are you waiting for somebody to provide with an excuse, just so you can find a way around it?

Fled out to afflict mankind, filled with hope.

Shawshank is my favorite movie of all time.

It was a film about institutionalizing people. 

Not only physically within the walls of the jail, but also mentally and emotionally and psychologically. Inside their own heads and hearts. 

Brooks, the elderly prison librarian, finally finds out that his parole is up after fifty years. But his first response is to grab a fellow inmate in a chokehold and put a knife to his throat. He cries that killing someone is the only way they’ll let him stay. 

It’s the most heartbreaking scene in the film. Brooks is officially institutionalized. 

Red’s haunting speech says it all:

Man’s been here fifty years. This place is all he knows. In here, he is an important man, an educated man. A librarian. Out there, he is nothing but a used up old con with arthritis in both hands. Couldn’t even get a library card if he applied. Believe whatever you want. These walls are funny. First you hate them. Then you get used to them. After long enough, you get so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized. They send you here for life, and that’s just what they take. The part that counts, anyway.

Brooks is the despondent personification of how organizations, not just prisons, but many large institutions, are committed to the dulling of the individual.

To paraphrase the great folk song:

They can be so cold, they’ll hurt you and desert you, they’ll take your soul if you let them, but don’t you let them. 

The problem is, the fish often don’t know they’re in water. One telltale sign is their relationship to permission.

Here are a few examples.

If you’re the passive naysayer who comes to meetings solely to shitting on other people’s ideas, you might have been institutionalized. But if you’re the impatient initiator who creates contagious energy, generously amplifying the work of others, you’re not.

If you’re the distrustful cynic who has a long list of all the things we’re not allowed to do here, you might have been institutionalized. But if you’re the brave creator who would rather ship something risky and beg for forgiveness later, you’re not.

Shawshank has another great scene at the end of movie about this.

Red, now a free man, asks his new boss at the grocery store if he can take a restroom break.

To which his boss replies, listen, you don’t need to ask me every time you go take a piss. Just go. Understand?

Prisoners like him don’t know any better. Thirty years he’s been asking permission to piss, and can’t squeeze a drop without say so. He’s an institutionalized man.

The good news is, it’s never too late to unlearn. You’re never too old to be free.

Yes, it took your heart and mind a long time to get this way, and it will probably take a while to unfuck them.

But it is possible.


Have you liberated yourself from the prison, or merely switched to a different institution in which you are not free?

To what extent is your journey one of internal control?

Cults are scary because they suck you in, but also because they don’t let you leave. 

There is simply too much psychological pressure. 

Members can’t just come and go as they please. People are strongly encouraged, and often times physically forced, to be committed and obey the rigid rules of conduct. 

It’s like that aggressive store owner who doesn’t let you leave without buying something. Or when you go to cancel your contract for some technology service, only to find out that all your website data is deleted, and the company denies you access and ownership to your account, making it impossible for you to leave them for another vendor.

Of course, this is not about cults. This is about coercion, power and pressure. 

Particularly in a social setting, where the tribal energy can be very difficult to resist. 

Think about the last time you were part of group, a club, or an organization, either personal or professional, that you decided to leave for whatever reason.

Were you afraid the people would criticize and judge your decision? Did you feel shame and sadness for not following through on your implicit commitment? Or perhaps you felt trapped under the weight of expectations? 

That’s completely normal. And healthy. Hell, only sociopaths don’t have feelings like that. 

However, one of the ways we set healthy boundaries is by staying strong in our decisions despite social pressure. Embracing our inner confidence to have certainty about our decisions, whether or not they disappoint others. 

It’s really hard. Not everybody is comfortable resisting majority influence and subverting social norms. What’s more, some people in your group will demand to know why you’re leaving so they can mend their heart and have clarity with the situation going forward. They will insist you tell them why you’re leaving because they deserve closure and resolution. 

But sadly, closure doesn’t exist. Boundaries do. 

Goldsmith calls this halting the journey. In his book about creating meaning and achievement, he writes:

Like cross country skiers, we’re stuck in a set of tracks that someone else has created with a particular route in mind. But the evolutionary journey from surviving to thriving requires a sort of global positioning system. You have to understand how to seal the doors behind you. 

It doesn’t mean you should act callously and inconsiderate of other people’s feelings. But it does mean that you should make your journey one of internal control, not outer. That you should be vigilant about excising out of your life any investment you truly believe has reached a point of diminishing returns.

Better to courageously abandon something you have clearly outgrown than to stick around too long and pay a premium on opportunity cost. 


What support would you need to have in place in order to remember that you have a choice?

Begin with the worst possible situation and let it flood your senses

Seneca once wrote that the greatest peril of misplaced worry is that in keeping us constantly tensed against an imagined catastrophe, it prevents us from fully living. 

Perhaps it’s time we found a better place for that worry. 

To make the mental railroad switch, so to speak. 

Because even though it’s toxic energy, it’s still energy. Which means it can be channeled in a productive manner. 

Ellis tells his patients to begin with the worst possible situation and let it flood their senses. It’s a cognitive technique for desensitizing themselves to a diversity of frustrating situations. 

Instead of pretending not to be worried, they try following their irrational thoughts as far as they can possibly go. Because it might just prove to them just how ridiculous they’re actually being. 

For example, let’s say you’re running five minutes late for an early meeting at the office. 

How far can we follow that worry? 

Here we go. 

By running late, the client will get upset and close their account, which will piss off your boss and result in you getting fired, leading to your unemployment, which will send you into a pathetic spiral of depression, at which point your wife will walk out on your sorry ass, leaving you behind with no money, job prospects or friends, forcing you to move back in with your parents, who will resent you for disrupting their blissful retirement, which will soon create so much guilt that you will have no choice but to off yourself in the bathtub. 

All because you were five minutes late, you pathetic loser. 

Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? 

Next time you feel the weight of worry bearing down on you, go for broke. Go through your own hierarchy of mildly, moderately and intensely anxious scenes, and you might find yourself more relaxed than enraged. 


How are you developing your ability to endure difficult feelings and learn from them?

People come here to make it, not make friends

The older we get, the trickier friendships become.

After a certain age, our schedules become more compressed, our priorities become more focused, our energies become more limited, our filters become more discerning and our values become more secure. 

Meaning, there is a finite number of new relationships we have room for. 

And so, we have to learn to approach our relationships with a sense of acceptance and trust. 

A few examples. 

We accept the changing tides of our friendships. Trusting that certain people come into our lives for a season for a reason. 

We accept there will be companions that we outgrow who we don’t know how to replace. Trusting that by letting go, we create the space in our hearts for new ones. 

We accept that soliciting new friendship is going to make us feel deeply vulnerable. Trusting that the process will pay dividends in the long term if we put ourselves out there. 

We accept that many people are unwilling to accept the burdens and risks of friendship. Trusting that when we reach out to them, it will be more meaningful that just sitting at home perpetuating our own disconnection and loneliness. 

We accept that some periods of solitude will be inevitable. Trusting that the more we know what matters most to us, the more we’ll become a beacon to people who are looking for a friend like us. 

It reminds me of something a friend once said about moving to a huge city in his thirties:

People come here to make it, not make friends

Maybe so. But lest we forget, we’re never alone in this world unless we want to be. There are no strings attached except the ones we choose to tie. 

Yes, the older we get, the trickier friendships become. And yes, the voluntary nature of friendship makes it subject to life’s whims in ways our other relationships aren’t. 

But there’s no reason to sentence ourselves to a destiny of loneliness. 

We just have to try harder. 


What’s your system for keeping your relationships alive?

Compounding the sluggishness of your evolutionary crawl

There’s a difference been adaptation and evolution. 

Adaptation is a specific process of adjusting ourselves to become better suited to our environment. It’s undergoing modification to fit our new circumstances. 

Evolution, however, is a broader term that refers to any change in anything over time. It’s the gradual development of something from a simple to a more complex form. 

But the two ideas work hand in hand. Despite their differences, the theme of both concepts is the same. 

Letting go. 

It’s about not getting stuck on something we first envisioned for ourselves. Because if we insist on consistency all the time in all things; if we are over reliant on our winning strategy for every endeavor, we will never adapt or evolve. 

Personally, my mistake was being way too religious about how I earned my money. It’s my stubbornly entrepreneurial and relentlessly independent personality. Profitable as that may have been, it also put limits on where my success could come from. 

And the epiphany was, oh wow, working by myself has finite earning potential. Not to mention a cap on overall job satisfaction. 

And in order to become better suited to the changing environment, in other words, to adapt, my career needed to diversify. Which meant working in a real office at actual companies, joining teams and collaborating with other human beings, in addition to running my own enterprise. 

It was far more complex than sitting in my living room in my pajamas making art all day, but ultimately more satisfying and less lonely. 

Such is the nature of evolution. We stay consistent in the micro, honoring our skills and talents; but we change in the macro, remaking ourselves as we grow and as the world changes. 

What do you need to let go of to keep moving the story forward? 

Once you figure that out, just know this. Each of us needs to find the balanced commitment to whatever our primary goal is, but with a willingness to pivot quickly when necessary. 

Because evolution doesn’t necessarily favor the strong, it favors the most adaptable to change. 

If we can learn to do that slowly and constantly, we will triumph. 


What has always been heroic about your work that is now preventing you from growing?

At the peril of your soul, we take this to satisfy ourselves

The was a famous legislation passed in the seventies that provided enforcement for something called a satisfaction guarantee warranty

After all, the customer is always right. This act stipulated that businesses would have to refund the full purchase price regardless of the reason for dissatisfaction. 

Carlin famously named this the advertising lullaby, meaning, the whole purpose of marketing is to lull consumers to sleep. And it may have been revolutionary at the time. But fifty years later, there is massive proof of just how ubiquitous our satisfaction guaranteed consumer culture has become. 

That worn and tired phrase is more than just fine print at the end of an advertisement, it’s an entire mythology. Since the legalization of the satisfaction guaranteed concept, people have become deeply demanding of fulfillment in all of their interactions, not just their retail purchases. 

Each of us keeps mental ledgers of our disappointments and diminished expectations, and demand payback when the debit column gets a little too high. 

We embark on this quest for unrealistic satisfaction, poised in a great ballet of expectation, only to get our hearts broken again and again. 

But that’s the challenging part. Life is not a retail shop. Once our experience fails to match up to our impossibly high standards, we don’t get our money back. The product is not replaced within thirty days of purchase. 

How do we cope with that? 

Cameron’s book on finding inspiration urges us to ask ourselves a question to become more intentional around the idea of fulfillment:

What choice can you make right now that would fill you with pride and satisfaction? 

Her question is a hopeful reminder that although life is not set up to meet our meaning needs, we can still wield some control. We can still engage in the enterprise of paying singular attention to something we really want to bring into existence, big or small, no matter how shitty everything else is at the moment. 

Perhaps it’s time to amend that famed legislation to something a bit more realistic. 

Satisfaction is not guaranteed. 

The only thing we are guaranteed is the possibility of satisfaction. 


Where can you express appreciation instead of expectation?

The dull mist of worry hanging in front of his eyes

The four most liberating words in any language are:

Not my problem anymore. 

Like the entrepreneur who sells his company, but still gets phone calls from old customers who have complaints about their products. Not my problem anymore. 

Or the longtime board member who resigns from her volunteer role, but still gets emails about mundane issues that need voting on. Not my problem anymore. 

What about the property owner who sells his condo, only to learn about real estate tax hikes and waterline construction. Not my problem anymore. 

Or the broke and drained painter who gratefully takes a stable day job but keeps hearing news stories about how the gallery marketplace is tanking. Not my problem anymore. 

Each of these little moments of freedom happen for the same reason. 

Somebody somewhere set healthy boundaries. 

They bravely accepted that their golden goose was done laying eggs, and they made the risky choice to get on with their life. 

Whyte names this experiencedaring to rest. He says how to rest is to give up on the already exhausted will as the prime motivator of endeavor, with its endless outward need to reward itself through established goals. To rest is to give up worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we are there to put it right. 

This is the type of rest that awaits us on the other side of surrender. It’s the reward for the difficult work of letting go. And it’s completely liberating. 

The best expression of this freedom is the departure of an outgoing president. 

The nation’s newly installed chief is escorted by their predecessors out of the capitol after the swearing in ceremony. They gather on the stairs on the east front of the building and wave to the whole world. 

And while the new president waves to the crowds, putting on his best executive face, but secretly terrified how the hell he is going to do this impossible job, the former president looks around as if to say, not my problem anymore. 


What can you let go of right now so that you can regain your freedom?

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