Let it go

By January 15, 2012 Insights

The saying (and the Sting lyric) goes that if you love someone, set them free.  This really never made sense to me. How do you let go of someone, or something, if you truly love it? And why would you?  And yet we tell people all the time to just ‘let it go’ when they get too attached.

I’ve been pondering this idea a lot since it relates to the way I’ve designed my life over the last few years. Living between two countries, renting out my San Francisco cottage with all my ‘stuff’ and living in someone else’s furnished rental, saying good-bye to friends every few months means that on a regular basis I’ve had to learn to let go of quite a few things that I love.

And you know what… it’s OK. In fact it’s fabulous fun great hard as hell, but worth it. I’m finally able to understand the meaning of setting free the things you love. It’s not about walking away; it’s not about being desireless, it’s not about testing the bonds between you and something or someone else. It’s about allowing space to let other experiences in and seeing where that leads.

Designers and marketers come up with ideas, concepts and strategies all the time. It’s what we love doing and we frequently fall in love with our ideas. Often the most challenging thing we are faced with is letting go of those things we love.

I love analogies. So I imagine a kite. If you hold onto it because it’s fragile and beautiful, you made it and you don’t want to lose it, well fine. But who else gets to play with it? No one. And how to you discover its potential. You can’t. But if you set it free, the experience of helping it soar is amazing. You never let go of the string, the thing that connects you, but you don’t fight against the playful breezes either, or it falls and falls apart.

We must trust our instincts to know what is beautiful and what might fly, and then allow it to travel and see what heights it can reach. We have to release our assumptions about what is ‘right’ or ‘best’ or ‘safe’ and allow for ‘what might be.’

I’ve watched design teams present concepts with such absoluteness that the client felt trapped and the project never left the ground. And I’ve seen the opposite where like a kite with a broken string, a good concept was sent off without keeping a tether to the original strategy and misguided influences took it in a dangerous direction.

Setting an idea free isn’t walking away and letting others determine fate. We can’t completely let go of the connection we have to something we love. Nor should we hold on too tightly. We need to learn how to give ideas and concepts the freedom to flourish and fly with the input of others while gently keeping them from losing direction, or getting tangled and burned up in a power struggle.

On the other hand, learning to let go completely does have its place. In that case the question is “how much do I really love this?” How many times have I laid out the things I’d love to have with me on a trip and then had to say no to that cute little blouse that was going to bust my weight limit? (every time and I swear one day that blouse is coming with me).

In business, we can’t let a bad decision, a bad client or a bad outcome destroy our passion for the work that we love. Sometimes we have to just ‘let it go.’ Learn from it of course – write a more buttoned up proposal next time; vet the next client (and don’t burn bridges ending the previous relationship); analyze the case study. Then let it go and move on.

A few years ago, I found a piece of paper that my mom had kept in a drawer, on which she had written, “LET IT GO!” I loved this deliberate reminder to not hold onto ideas and opinions too tenaciously (as we Klarquist girls have a slight habit of doing – full disclosure). I keep it with me always – one thing I can’t let go.