There’s a Buddhist parable I share in Awaken Your Genius: It’s about a man who builds a raft to cross a raging river and safely reaches the other side.
He picks up the raft and starts walking into a forest.
The raft begins to snag in the trees, impeding the man’s forward progress.
But he refuses to let go of the raft.
This is my raft! he says. I built it! It saved my life!
But to survive today he must let go of the raft that saved his life yesterday.
Over the course of my life, I found myself carrying around rafts that no longer were serving me. For example, in 2021, I decided to leave my tenured position as a law professor in order to pursue writing and speaking full time.
It was painful to let go of that particular raft—to leave a career that I once loved. I felt anxious giving up the security of tenure and the safety net of a guaranteed paycheck for life.
But as long as I kept one foot in academia, I would remain tethered to the path I had followed before. I couldn’t fully step into who I was becoming because my academic commitments were depleting my limited supply of time and creative energy.
The rafts we drag around expand far beyond our career choices. A raft can be a relationship that has run its course. A raft can be a successful product or service that you created, but it isn’t what it used to be. A raft can be a pattern of behavior that brought you to where you are today, but is now weighing you down.
Leaving your raft is often painful and jarring. There’s a certainty to it. You’ve carried it around for years, if not decades. It makes you feel safe and comfortable.
What’s more, when you’ve invested time and resources into building a raft, the sunk-cost fallacy kicks in and prompts you to stay the course. (I’ve spent two years on this project, so I can’t quit now!).
And then there’s our ego. When we’re being rewarded for carrying around a raft, we fear becoming irrelevant if we let it go. If I stopped doing this thing that I’ve been doing for years, if I abandon the title of professor or senior director, what will I miss? More importantly, who will I be?
But letting go doesn’t mean forgetting. Quite the opposite: Letting go requires remembering your past. The time, money, and effort you expended to major in art history, go to law school, or start a business—these aren’t costs. They are gifts, from your former self to your current self.
Was your job a failure if it gave you the skills you need to thrive? Was your relationship a failure if it taught you the meaning of love? Was your art history major a failure if it gave you the tools to appreciate creativity?
Say thank you to the raft and let it go.
Let what’s dying serve as fertilizer for what’s awakening.
P.S. The ability to let go is so important that I devoted an entire part to it in my forthcoming book, Awaken Your Genius, which will be out on April 11th. In the book, I share practical ways to eliminate who you are not, so you can begin to discover who you are. If you haven’t pre-ordered it yet, you can do so here.