Dear Ivy: Let Go

My Dear Ivy,

I realize as I write these letters that I’m asking a lot of you in the thoughts I’m sharing here. But one of the things I hope I’ve made clear so far – and will try to make clearer – is that you don’t have to be perfect.

This is another big one. You are the daughter of two perfectionists who have a great deal of difficulty letting things go, and you show every sign, thus far, of following closely in our footsteps.

But sometimes, that’s just what you have to do. Sometimes, less-than-perfect is enough.

Frankly, sometimes that’s what it takes to learn. It has become a cliché to observe that “failures are our greatest teachers,” but it’s overused because it’s true. As your mom is always telling your brother and sister with their violin practice, you learn way more by playing something through – wrong – and then working through it to get it right, than you do just by playing it through correctly the first time.

That’s true in violin practice, and it’s true in many, many other areas of life.

Let go.

This is especially true when what you’re doing is for the sake of someone else’s approval. If you’re anything like me, there will be things that are worth doing for yourself because you want them done absolutely right. There’s a point to that, but it’s also possible to obsess over getting all the details right, to such an extent that you miss out on the enjoyment of the thing to begin with. It’s possible, as another cliché goes, to “make the perfect into the enemy of the good”  – that is, to let your search for perfection prevent you from ever getting where you wanted to be in the first place.

In a sense, this one is advice I’m giving to myself as much as I am to you, because I’m not very good at this. I’m the one who starts many projects, but rarely finishes them because they never quite turn out as well in real life as they did in my head. I have a habit – which I seem to have passed on to all three of my children – of obsessing over one thing until it’s exactly where I want it, to the exclusion of other things that might also be important, and might be getting neglected in the meantime.

As we’ve discussed in these letters, throughout your life there will be many people who put expectations on you. You’ll need to learn how to manage those expectations, to the point where you won’t be able to deliver perfection every time. But more importantly, again, if you’re anything like me, the one with the highest expectations of you will be yourself. And you’ll need to learn how to manage those expectations, as well.

Cultivate the art of letting go. Cultivate the practice of looking at a thing you’ve accomplished, and saying “Yes, this is good enough.” We talked earlier about regrets and the fear of more options. Instead of giving in to those fears, cultivate the art of bringing things to a conclusion, closing the book on them, and moving on to the next thing.

And as you do, I’ll be there waiting to congratulate you on your victory, and cheer you on as you dive into the next big thing.

I love you.


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