Letting it Go: Way More Mrs. Nice Guy

by Grace Bonney

Design*Droits-Humains | Letting Go Essay
In college I proudly worked as one of the most successful shoe salespeople at Williamsburg, Virginia’s only Birkenstock store. I worked there mainly because I wanted a discount on shoes (I was a pretty devoted hippie), but also because I liked that our boss referred to me as a terrier. Being compared to a dog doesn’t sound like a good thing, but what he constantly referenced was my tenacity, toughness and inability to let anything (like a sale) go.

As a petite southern woman, I find most people assume that I’m going to be as sweet as sugar. And to be fair, I think I was raised by a family that did a very good job instilling in me the value of manners, politeness and treating people the way you’d like to be treated. But one of the things I struggle with the most about myself is my inability to let things go. I think my diminutive stature has played a big part in my development of a fairly steely interior (I don’t think I look particularly menacing on the outside) that was part of my early attempt to show people I was louder, stronger and tougher than they thought. That interior unfortunately expresses itself all too often as a need to speak up or correct people when I think they’ve done something wrong, unfair or unkind. Sometimes that’s fine. But sometimes that does nothing but frustrate me when the best thing for me to do would have been to let it go and walk away. So for this month’s essay theme (each one of us is embarking on a personal challenge) I decided to work on letting go and being a nicer person.

This challenge might sound overly grandiose or conversely too simple of a challenge, but it’s one I’m glad I undertook because I learned a lot about myself and how much stress I add to my own plate by creating problems where there don’t need to be any. While this challenge taught me a lot about myself personally, it exposed one of my biggest professional flaws: avoiding difficult work by creating small fires that need to be put out elsewhere.

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Click through to read the full article and the steps I took to learn to let go…

Most of us have enough stress in our lives. Whether you’re running a business, raising a family or working a tough job (or all three), life throws us enough curve balls that daily stressors are almost a given. So why is it so easy to fall into a trap of creating more for ourselves?

Here is my primary problem: I have an awful little switch in my brain that goes off when someone does something that upsets me. It’s probably not awful in of itself, but my response to it being triggered is. Here is a quick list of the things that pop up in my inbox every day that lead to me getting upset, stressed out and involved in discussions I should be walking away from instead:

  • Emails sent to “Gracie”, “Bonnie”, “DEAR BLOGGER” or another blogger’s name (ie: a cut and paste mass press release).
  • Any hints of sexism that pop up in emails from people that discuss my gender or size or make reference to something being “sexy” when it has no place in a press release.
  • Emails that ignore something I’ve already said to someone or show that someone hasn’t read anything I’ve written to them before
  • Repeat press releases with errors/misspelling and inaccurate remarks from an agent that I know a good friend is spending their hard earned money on.

Sure, some of these things are annoying and possibly warrant a response. But what I realized about myself was that in taking on these tiny battles every day, I was creating unnecessary stress and distracting myself from the work that I really needed to be doing. So I gave myself a challenge for one week: I had to ignore every single thing that upset me and let it go. Instead of correcting or arguing or sticking my nose somewhere it shouldn’t be, I had to simply say thank you and move on. The only exception I allowed myself was a 2 minute window to feel my emotions and write down something if it really upset me to revisit later. And you know what I found after 2 minutes? I really didn’t feel so upset anymore.

After a week of writing friendlier emails, ignoring things I’d typically feed the “need” to correct and embracing the idea of just letting things go, I realized that 9 times out of 10, I was simply failing to put myself in someone else’s shoes. It’s rarely someone’s intention to upset someone else with a misspelling, incorrect name or by missing a paragraph of someone’s email. Haven’t I done the same? Absolutely.

Simply taking the time to make “letting go” a muscle I used on a daily basis, turned what seemed like a challenge into a learned behavior. It had not only the effect of increasing the amount of kindness and patience I focused on practicing, but it was hard evidence that half of the upset in my daily work life was something I did to myself. What was so bad with letting something go anyway? I had convinced myself that letting go meant “losing” in some way. But we’re not all in a war. There isn’t a daily battle to keep score- and by operating with that mindset I was closing myself off to meeting new people, making new s and having real discussions with people rather than making assumptions.

My takeaway after a week of changed email behavior taught me three major lessons:

1. It is always a good idea to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. I was being so narrow-minded and needlessly sensitive to assume that anyone else’s error was about me or wanting to bother me. Most of us don’t have time for that sort of needless drama and I shouldn’t either.

2. Being kinder and more patient with others allowed me to do the same with myself. Working through all those feelings taught me a lot about the way I operate and let me work through what was really under all those emotions. The majority of which were about feeling tired, stressed out or failing to adapt to and accept change more completely. Cutting myself a little slack to understand where those feelings came from and then working through them reminded me that I should be doing the same with every person I’m coming in with each day.

3. If something is truly upsetting, I should work to change it, rather than complain about it. I’ve always been someone who prided myself on problem solving, but too often I fall into a spiral of just talking about the problem, rather than fi it. So with the remaining few “upsets” I had written down after my week, I’ve decided to turn them into a larger project I hope to make happen this fall. Actions speak louder than words and after taking away my frustrated words for a week, I see how much more valuable it is to act kindly and with a purpose than to just talk about it.

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  • Grace,
    I appreciate how you have the courage to bare your thoughts and feelings like this…it’s a courageous thing to be able to do that. I’ve had to analyze habits of my own that weren’t doing me any good and through that process, learned that it is hard work but such important work. I’ve had to work on not “filtering” everything so much. Meaning, taking situations and not seeing just the flaws, mistakes or bad parts. I’m making progress; it feels good to be overcoming that distortion. I call it soul work :)

  • Amen! I was just thinking about how by focusing my attention on things that should be minor annoyances (or just facts!), I create a lot more misery for myself. This is so timely and is inspiration to continue to push those negative thoughts I have aside and just “let it go!” Thank you.

  • Great post!! I love how you point out that when we assume someone’s intent was to challenge or harm us, we are often end up responding from a needy, insecure place. This is gold: “Most of us don’t have time for that sort of needless drama and I shouldn’t either.” Amen!

  • Thanks so much, Grace. I too have very similar thoughts and started, recently, trying to let things go. It’s a process because I can see what will happen if someone doesn’t do this or that and then they’ll be at this point; which could’ve been prevented had they just listened. :) Regardless, I’m right there with you and appreciate your article. Know you’re not the only one who is going through this right now. I wish you well in your journey!

  • This is such a lovely post. Often we react to things without taking a moment to think about it. I think not only are you helping out other people by putting yourself in their shoes, you are also saving yourself a LOT of sanity.

  • Grace, your essay made me think so much :). I enjoyed reading your essay that it’s so authentic and positive. Probably resolving the problem into small pieces could help.. in my case, I tend to be scared to meet new people, to step forward where I have never been. I just postpone to make decisions or convince myself that I can’t do that. But when I ask myself “why am I feeling negative?”, then “where does it come from?”, “why does it exist?”.. I really don’t find a reason to be so scared actually after all. So I try to write down my “braking” emotion and decompose it to find solutions to get over it. I hope to be stronger :). Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  • I create my own stress by ruminating – you know how it is when you replay conversations and imagine what you should have said in that moment? Or imagine if only you’d done this other thing instead. Too much wasted energy!

    And like you note, ascribing motivations that require mind reading. Maybe that typo or incorrect name is a simple mistake rather than evidence of rudeness or not caring. Or maybe they are having a bad day that has nothing to do with us.

    It’s like dragging a bag of heavy rocks around – love the idea of just cutting ourselves and others some slack. Better to assume we are all doing the best that we can.

  • Grace, as a 5′ 1″, female, blonde (lots of dumb jokes), 95 pounder, let’s just say: I can relate…big time. I also have a difficult name to pronounce, so it’s like I’m living in constant annoyance with just showing up. I have found that people describe me as “direct, spunky, fearless” which can be good, however sometimes it’s exhausting. Thanks for your essay. It can be difficult, in this rapidly changing world of gender norms, to know when nice is “good” and when nice is “bad”. So I’m glad you reminded us that it’s simply okay to just let…it…go.

  • I could sit here and type a long comment, but the bottom line is, I simply LOVED this essay. Thank you Grace.

  • Oh the name misspelling drives me nuts! I’m often tempted to reply to colleagues (who had to spell it correctly in some way to get the e-mail address in there in the first place) and misspell their names, but as yet, I’ve just seethed and tried to be polite. I do think I need to learn to let it go, but maybe just the once…

  • Thanks you so much Grace. I have been working on this too and discovered how much there is to learn about my issues by focussing there. I like to use this reminder: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”

  • What a great article. This lesson took me most of my 20’s to learn. Such great points! I love “letting go isn’t losing” and “avoiding difficult work by creating small fires.”

  • Grace, thankyou so much , I have suddenly realised I am not alone. I think mine stems from wanting to stand up for the underdog and has manifest itself into me thinking everyone is out to get me. I need to chill out, sit back and laugh. Again thankyou.

  • This is a great post and thanks for saying what many of us are too embarrassed to say about ourselves! I’m working on being nicer, which sadly doesn’t come naturally – ha! It’s too easy for me to get all worked up about things that don’t really matter or that are really not my problem to fix. My new mantra, and it’s helping is, “not my circus: not my monkeys”.

  • These words are both humbling and a strong challenge to the stubborn-at-heart (re: me). I appreciate the juxtaposition of being able to maintain tenacity in your work while letting smaller, inconsequential items go. It is not a compromise of standards, but more a necessary element of understanding: be proactive in your interactions instead of merely reactive.

  • Thanks for sharing this.. I am currently working on the same issue..and I notice
    that if I ignore things like this for 24 hrs..the feelings are gone.. and if they aren’t
    then it is genuine and I need to do something. love your podcasts also.

  • This was just incredibly, gracious, open, and honest, and it came at a crucial time in my day/week/life, as these things often do. I’m also a small woman with a tendency to fierce over-reaction. Your post was both abstractly and particularly helpful. Gratitude!

  • Thanks Grace – An inspiring post! I was think about this in a wider sense recently after reading so many message boards where people are so insistent about being ‘right’, and ‘making a point’. A bit off topic, I know, but it made me think about how much energy can be wasted by engaging in this kind of (empty?) debate, whether it’s commentating on someone else’s grammar, appearance or beliefs. I’m all for online communication, but the frenzy that people can work themselves up into? Like you say – Just walk away… Oh, and the reading of ‘those’ message boards? I decided to walk away from that too ;)…

  • Love it Grace! There’s obviously a lot of us who struggle with similar thought patterns! Thanks for sharing and always “giving” yourself to your readers so honestly.

  • How did you know exactly what I needed to read today?? Thank you for this essay, Grace. I relate to every word of it. :-)

  • Thanks for sharing Gracie — oops, Grace :p I have to admit this is something I struggle with too, mostly because I can’t stand how few people seem to be able to read an email. But you’re right — I’m sure I’ve done exactly the same thing!

  • What a great topic to bring up! When I feel like I need to let smaller stressors go, I think about the energy I could be putting towards helping something bigger than me….
    (Love lesson #3).

    Sometimes I think of my mom when she sold daffodils to fundraise cancer awareness causes too…I remind myself of that all the time to keep perspective.

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