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The courage to walk away from your dreams
Why letting go is the ultimate act of courage
Why letting go is the ultimate act of courage
“But sometimes the bravest thing we can do is walk away. Walk away knowing that we have not seen it all, that there is still so much left for us.” F.E. Marie
It was something I never expected would happen; I left the publishing house holding my peace lily, a hessian bag containing my farewell gifts and box of magazines I had edited while working there. Since I could read, I’d dreamed of becoming a magazine editor. I spent my McDonald’s wages as a teenager on subscriptions to Frankie and Vanity Fair magazines, hoping one day I could work behind the scenes to make the magic of a magazine come to fruition. I had aspired to become an editor in my thirties, anticipating it would be a long and arduous slog. So when I became the editor of WellBeing at age 24, I was in disbelief for a number of reasons. Surely I’m not experienced enough, mature enough, worthy enough or talented enough to have earned this, right? And among that negative self-talk, something deep within my bones whispered quietly that it was too good to be true.
When you want something badly, your mind can create a story around that dream. Then, if you’re fortunate enough to achieve said dream, once you’re in the midst of it and things are not quite what you had anticipated, your perception may be skewed. Things might look dramatically different to others who can see what’s happening from the outside looking in; you can’t read the label when you’re inside the jar.
At these times of uncertainty, confusion, disbelief or denial, it’s more important than ever to draw on your inner wisdom: your intuition. You’ll no doubt have a gut feeling something isn’t quite right. You might not be able to intellectualise the feelings, signs or signals, but something will feel off.
But just because the signs are there, it doesn’t mean you’re ready to acknowledge them and subsequently act on them. We all know someone who has overstayed their welcome in a relationship, a home, a job or a friendship because they weren’t in a place physically, mentally or emotionally to let go. But are you ever truly ready? I posed this question to my sister. I felt like I was working in the “wrong” job, in the “wrong” relationship and living in the “wrong” city. “Ally, you’re never going to be ‘ready’,” she responded. Turns out, my sister was right.
Bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert has a lot to say about courage. In 2016 she described the situation of acknowledging you’re not where you want to be as a profound moment of realisation: “not this”. “Maybe we will have to admit that we are in the wrong job. Or the wrong relationship. With the wrong people around us. Living in the wrong neighbourhood. Acting out on the wrong behaviours. Using the wrong substances. Pretending to believe things that we no longer believe. Pretending to be something we were never meant to be,” explains Gilbert.
“All you know is that some deep life force within you is saying, ‘NOT THIS’, and it won’t be silenced. Your body is saying: ‘NOT THIS.’ Your heart is saying: ‘NOT THIS.’ Your soul is saying: ‘NOT THIS.’ But your brain can’t bring itself to say ‘NOT THIS’, because that would cause a serious problem. The problem is: You don’t have a Plan B in place. This is the only life you have. This is the only job you have. This is the only spouse you have. This is the only house you have … But still, beating like a quiet drum, your body and your heart and your soul keep saying: NOT THIS.”
My “not this” moments came in spades while I was at WellBeing, and once my brain caught up, I began the process of setting myself free through letting go. Despite how much I was at war with my mind, I resigned from my job. I ended a relationship. I moved interstate.
A big part of what held me back from leaving WellBeing for quite some time was fear; namely a fear of failure. And the fear was still there, even stronger, when I did actually walk away. Just because you overcome a fearful obstacle, and start to move on, it doesn’t mean that things are all rosy; it’s a bit like a lingering hangover. All you know for sure is that the courageous step you just took means your situation is no longer “not this”.
Martin Luther King Jr famously once said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.” I still can’t see the whole staircase but I’ve taken quite a few steps since I left WellBeing. The steps aren’t any less terrifying to take, but I know they’re all stepping stones of moving on that are part of the process, with my capacity to continue fostering courage leading the way.