It has been three years since Frozen was released. I’m aware that people around the world have grown a wee bit tired of hearing “Let it go” on endless repeat, but alas, I’m not one of those people. I still listen to the soundtrack regularly and I’m the person who will insist on singing it just to annoy you. It’s so catchy! I simply love the movie and as a self-confessed musical theatre geek, I faithfully worship all things Idina Menzel. Yes, this means I will watch the Beaches remake even though I am as skeptical as everybody else. (I mean, why? Why are they even doing this?)
I am however getting really, really tired of hearing the words “let it go” used so gratuitously in everyday life. Is it just me, or has what was once a positive message become devoid of all meaning? We’re supposed to let go of everything these days. Anger, expectations, your ex, anxiety, fear, gluten, grief, regret….Don’t like your job? Quit. Not happy in your relationship? Leave. Not happy with the way you look? We can fix that too. Here’s a plethora of health and beauty tips to help you literally change everything about your appearance. We’re continuously encouraged to “take fresh start” or “re-invent ourselves”. It’s as if our personal happiness has been turned into a commodity just like everything else in the modern Western world. We should just throw out everything that causes us even the slightest discomfort and buy something new. Until this passes its expiration date as well, that is. We share this deep-rooted belief that we can build ourselves up to be whoever we want to be. No limits. I’m not a big fan of this cherry-picking. You don’t just get to keep what makes you feel good and let go of what doesn’t. Life isn’t a trip to the super market. We’ve gotten very good at pointing out all the “shit we don’t need in our lives” and learn to look at the past with “no regrets”. I really do want the best for everyone, but I’ve grown tired of hearing people continuously proclaim that they “deserve better” whenever something doesn’t go their way. Good for you, but I’m just not feeling it. There’s a fine line between empowerment and entitlement. We’re sometimes so quick to “let go” of the past that we forget to draw lessons from it. As a species, I think we’re doing a remarkably bad job at it.
It seems to me that “Let it go” has become the anthem of not willing to accept anything that doesn’t fit into our conceived idea of how the world works or how we think it is supposed to work. “Let it go” has become the mantra of our inability to face discomfort. All of the sudden, everything is “toxic” and should be avoided at all cost. Even food has increasingly become the enemy standing in our way. Really? We all know that one person that tells you to “be in the moment” and “accept things the way they are” even when your house is on fire. I’m sorry, but your faux enlightenment reeks of escapism and I do not like it. Sometimes, I feel like I cannot even finish a sentence before somebody slaps a “Let it go” in my face. I truly don’t mind motivational quotes on Facebook, but you’re really annoying me if you bring them into a conversation every time I share something that upsets you. Often when people say “Let it go”, what I am hearing is “I have absolutely no desire nor time to deal with this shit”. Of course, everybody has the right to refuse to engage with your crap – I don’t want to deny anybody that – but we should at least be honest about it. Instead, nowadays you can throw in a very non-committal “let it go” and get to feel good about yourself for being helpful. Except that I don’t find it helpful at all, I find it hurtful. Is this really the best we can do? You’re often just using “letting go” to keep the other at arms length. This doesn’t feel like empathy to me.
When did we collectively stop making the time to listen to each other? We seem to be consistently engrossed with ourselves and “dealing with our own issues” to the point that we have simply become “too busy” to care. Our entire social safety net is now professionalised. Want some advice? Pay a life coach. Need somebody to listen to you without judgment? Pay a therapist. Everything is payable. Time is money. It frightens me. Did we really stop looking out for one another?
When did happiness become so ridiculously fetishized anyways? We set unattainable goals for ourselves and then struggle to achieve them. On top of all the other “-shaming” everybody keeps going on about, it seems we’ve gotten ourselves into massive “emo-shaming” as well. Not to be confused with the shaming of emos – which Google tells me is an actual thing – I’m talking about how we are not allowed to express such basic human emotions as pain, grief, doubt, anxiety, regret…These are icky, disgusting feelings that need to be resolved immediately. How? By letting go of them course. I can even help you do that but only if you pay me. I’m sorry, but I’m not buying it. The problem is that nobody tells you how to let go. It’s being treated as if it’s button you press. It doesn’t work that way. You cannot magically make “letting go” happen on command. When we’re not taught how to deal with our negative emotions and are simply told to “let it go”, we often fail and we externalize them instead. Needless to say, this leads to a whole array of other problems, from violence to addiction. I’m not making any of this shit up. Loads of people more intelligent than me have written about this countless times before.
Moreover, we’re continuously expected to be strong and self-sufficient. We should solve all of our problems on our own and show no weakness. This is bullshit of course, because we’re all hopelessly needy and vulnerable people. This is such a big part of being human and I refuse to be shamed for it. We’re allowed to need things without being called demanding. Can we therefore please also stop our obsession with complimenting people on their strength all the time? Again, I appreciate where this is all coming from, but just like “letting go”, it seems to have gotten out of hand. Sometimes, when somebody tells me I am a strong person, what I’m hearing is “I’m so happy you’ve got this shit covered because I have neither the desire nor time to help you”. This is another story for another time, but I just want to point out that it can be frustrating.
I am not against change, I am really not. Change is the name of the game. Nobody should feel stuck in any relationship – personal or professional – that makes them miserable. People make mistakes. People outgrow relationships. It happens to all of us. We suffer. It takes tremendous courage to admit this to ourselves and to dare take the giant leap into the unknown. We suffer some more. I applaud this bravery, I really do. It’s hard stuff. We all have our own path and make the choices that are right for us. What works for you will probably not work for me and vice versa. There’s no single answer to a problem.
But aren’t we putting “starting over” on too high a pedestal? Aren’t we too often looking for the magical reset button? Is our individual happiness really the highest good? Are we increasingly stuck in a global tragedy of the commons? I’m all for self-love. Treating ourselves with kindness and compassion is one of the hardest things we’ll ever do. I’m still learning. The point is that I’m afraid that in our ruthless quest for personal growth, we sometimes might end up building ice castles instead. Kingdoms of isolation where we can be the queen. What if the freedom we gain is just an illusion? What if we get so wrapped up in our own stories that we are jeopardising our capacity for connection? I’m talking about human warmth. I’m talking about our ability to be someone you can lean on and trusting others enough let them carry you in return, even if it is only for a fleeting moment. This is such a rare gift yet oh so very much needed. It doesn’t come with any guarantee and that’s exactly what makes it so difficult. But it can be oh so healing. From the moment we are born, our survival hinges on connection. We will always need each other. Why is this such a taboo? I don’t think we ever truly stop being the child who just wants to feel safe in somebody else’s embrace. It affects nearly everything we do yet I don’t feel we’re having an honest conversation about it. This is really not the time to get into this further, but I feel that Schopenhauer got the closest with the hedgehog’s dilemma. Ah, the eternal dance we are condemned to. But this is another story for another time.
Back to today’s story. Sure, letting go may make us happy. It’s infinitely attractive after all: a nice and safe place where we can truly be ourselves. We all want that. But at what cost? Is it truly possible to be alone and free? We need to be able to confront the chaos we cause to get there as well. We cannot deny that our actions affect others. Look at the debris Elsa left behind. Her flight condemned the whole kingdom of Arendelle to an eternal winter. She almost kills her sister. If you ask me, this is a very high price to pay for “letting go”. Even Elsa had to realise she wasn’t truly free.
At this point, I do want to apologise for hijacking Frozen and submitting it to my limited, self-serving analysis. I am not doing the movie any justice. It’s also a very limited reading of how I am experiencing the world, and I’m not doing society any justice either. This isn’t supposed to be my “J’accuse”. I’m learning as well. The truth is always in the middle. I’ve tried to re-write this piece so many times, to include more nuance, more positivism, but the hard words remain. I suppose this is pain just wanting to be heard. Ahem, didn’t I promise this would be fun? It’s just been a very shitty year for me and I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions. This concludes today’s rant, but part of me still feels like punching the next person who tells me to “let it go” in the face. I’m so over it.
In order to come to terms with the “letting go” epidemic, I had to change the vocabulary. I don’t quite remember where and how my heart started singing this song but when it did, I softened. The song is “Let it be” by the Beatles, written by the magnificent Paul McCartney. I think he was on to something. It’s such a simple tune, yet such a powerful message. This is absurdly far-fetched, but please bear with me on this one, ok? Maybe, instead of forcing change onto our lives by letting go, why don’t we just try to “let it be” and be open to change instead? The great thing about this approach is that this doesn’t require any action from us whatsoever. We don’t need to “do” anything. This intangible “letting go” that you are struggling with because you cannot make it happen? Let it be. Change always comes. We can trust the process. Speaking of vocabulary changes, I feel like we have got to come up with better ways to describe periods of self-reflection and growth other than “working on ourselves”. I think it’s a really awful way of talking about it. It’s just another way we implicitly put pressure on ourselves. We can do better.
There will always be times in our lives when we are ready to turn a new chapter, but why so aggressively burn the pages of what is behind us? You might need to revisit these pages eventually or you risk loosing track of the plot entirely. With “let it be”, I have found a more gentle approach. Instead of pushing ourselves to let go of our negative emotions, let them be and engage with them instead. If we are truly honest with ourselves, we know that they are here to stay. They are an intrinsic part of who we are and they are not problems to be fixed. This is something that has taken me a long time to fully understand. We’ve adopted such a linear approach to life that we believe we cannot be ready for something new until we have fully resolved the old. We constantly put pressure on ourselves to “move on” and be “over” things. What does it even mean? Maybe life is just way messier than that. I’m just going to accept that some things are simply never quite over and let it be instead. Instead of slamming the door shut on the past, I’ve adopted an open-door policy, very much inspired by Rumi’s powerful poem “The Guest House“. I have looked at my past with the bright and hopeful eyes of a 20 year old. I’m looking at it with slightly more beaten eyes in my 30s. There’s nothing to do but look forward to having another glance in my 40s, 50s and so on and see how I feel about it all then. I simply don’t know. So I’m letting it be and not going to stress about it. And maybe – just maybe – this can open enough space in our lives to help us find each other again. Let it be. Such a crowd-pleaser is just begging to be sung together.
Sometimes we don’t grow by changing our circumstances, but we change our circumstances by growing. We do this by learning to sit with our discomfort, and instead of trying to discharge it, maybe we should try to embrace it with all of our love and see what happens. There will be an answer. Let it be.
In this spirit, I would like to dedicate this post to the incomparable Paul McCartney. What praise can I say about this man that hasn’t already been said more eloquently and by people far more important than me? Thank you for sharing your talents with the world, Sir Paul. My life wouldn’t be the same without it. You are a generous performer and I am very grateful to you for it.
While I was working on this piece, Paul McCartney shared in an interview with Rolling Stone that he was depressed after the Beatles split, which is around the same time he wrote this song. My first reaction was “Now wait, Paul, you’re kind of stepping on my point here”, but I’m actually quite happy it crossed my path when it did. Maybe there aren’t really any cheap semantic tricks to avoid the black hole. Perhaps it’s just the price we pay for living and growing. But when big changes in our lives become inevitable, I feel slightly more inspired and comforted with this song in my heart.
“Letting go” was not what set Elsa free. It was love.
Take it away, Paul! Ophelia out.