Making Room – a case for letting go

Gina Catalano Tandem Leadership

Every so often when a client tells me they desperately want something. A new job. A great business. A better life. I ask them, “How much? What are you willing to give up in order to reach that goal?”

For most of us, adding something new in our life requires making room or creating space for that dream to grow.

  • Replacing your old sofa? The old one has to go.
  • Seeking a promotion? Rolling in late every day and complaining about your boss won’t cut it.
  • Want to lose weight? Being committed to your mental and physical health may mean swapping out your couch potato time for meal planning and exercise.

Which leads me to this confession. Around kindergarten I taught myself to ride a bike. It was a neighbor’s bike and my parents didn’t know. They thought I was too young for bicycle riding so I learned on the sly and rode whenever I could. No amount of begging could get them to bend. And then one day, it happened – all in the form of a bribe. Our dentist recommended to my parents that I have an appliance put in my mouth. To my embarrassment, at seven, I still sucked my finger (not my thumb – but my curled index finger). Apparently, now that my permanent teeth were coming in, it was ruining my bite and all but guaranteed orthodontia.

I wasn’t one of those kids who dragged their blanket around sucking their thumb all day. No one outside of my family even knew. In fact, I would have been mortified if anyone at school had known at all. But, it was the only way I could go to sleep. There had been many attempts at deterrence – most notably painting my finger with a foul tasting substance. In that case, I simply sleep-walked my way to the bathroom and washed it off.

So my parents sat down and made me an offer. It was $125 to have the apparatus put in my mouth and $50 for a bicycle. If I could stop sucking my finger, they would buy me a bike. The economics weren’t lost on me. While we weren’t poor, we definitely lived a modest life. My dad was a school teacher who worked in the cannery during the summer. With four kids a total of five years apart, money wasn’t lying around the house.

How much did I want that bicycle? I stopped that very night.

There was no crying or lamenting the loss of my nightly ritual. I knew in my heart the upside far outweighed my current distress. Quite frankly, if there was drama, I can’t recall. I just remember the absolute joy in picking out my Schwinn Hollywood with chrome vendors and wire saddle baskets. Riding my bike was sheer heaven. (Ironically, as the oldest, that set the tone for my siblings. From then on, each received their first bicycle on their seventh birthday. But that’s a story for another day…)

I was reminded of this recently when listening to a national park ranger give a presentation on forest fire ecology. Someone asked how long it takes for the forest to rejuvenate after a fire. He said that it depended on how much “trash” was left from the fire. “Trash” is the sterile debris created from a very hot fire. With no nutrients, it covers the tree and plant seeds underneath making it difficult to grow. It is not until that “trash” disappears that the seeds can access the water and sun they need to thrive and grow. Our old habits, like the forest fire debris, can hold us back from changing and developing.

It’s a kind of “mental hoarders” thinking that tricks us into believing that changing your circumstance won’t require a new set of skills and habits to achieve success.  Or even tougher, leave some habits behind.

As with my new bicycle or a new forest growing from the ashes, there is a certain truth. Making the choice to let go of what no longer serves us gives the strength and foundation pursue a new dream or achieve a goal.

Where do you need to make room for something new in your life?