Financial Life Focus

How to clearly navigate your financial life

Letting Go

Because there is no better alternative

I am a massage-junkie.

While it's not something I get to do very often, it's a big treat. Last night was my night. Thai massage is my go-to modality: being put into various yoga postures and stretched. As the therapist started manipulating the shoulder, rotating it front to back, she encouraged me to let go. LET GO?

How do I take the accumulated stress (my shoulders are tighter than drum skins) and become jello?

In the moment, it struck me that the act of letting go is universal—who isn’t chock-full of things (blame, shame, guilt, anger) that might be better off in the circular file? While I am focusing on letting go of the tension and stress in my shoulders, I am trying to understand where all that stress came from in the first place. I think I have an idea: I am holding onto things that I'd be better off without. 

I grew up in a house of mourning—my parents lost their eldest child. And while I was too young to remember him, the impact reverberated in my childhood. If I look closely, I can still see the impact in my thinking and feeling today. The loss was devastating to my parents and touched everyone else in the family, but in ways that are unique to each of us. In my own case, I don't need or want to continue to carry it further into my future. It doesn't help me grow—it just weighs me down. It needs to go.

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We all have experiences that have left scars we carry into our daily lives. They often impact our relationships with our spouses, children, friends, and colleagues. They may affect how we deal with money and the decisions we make in our careers. We make decisions based on fear or hurts that have their roots long ago.   

I'm not a psychologist, so I can't offer a clinical explanation of why. But as Al the butcher (my first boss when I worked in his shop after school) used to say, "Why do you hit your head against the wall? Because it feels so good when you stop!" 

We keep doing what we do because it's our normal, it feels comfortable, even if it creates intense discomfort. We become comfortable in our discomfort. I have decided that it takes entirely too much energy to continue to carry these things around with me. It is time to stop all the head banging and give the wall a break.

My first step is to write down those items that keep my thinking glued to the past and examine them.  If, as I believe, they have worn out their welcome, I will create, like I have in business, a new plan.  Just like losing weight required new thinking, new action and a rewiring of beliefs—the same is required here. A written plan to improve my life, my thinking, my feeling and my actions—I will be happier for the loss of the bad old days....and trust that by letting go, something better and healthier will fall neatly into place.

Michael F. Kay, a Certified Financial Planner, practitioner and a CPA, is president of the firm Financial Life Focus.

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