“There’s an important difference between giving up and letting go.” -Jessica Hatchigan, author
The biggest difference I’ve noticed is that giving up is often considered the “easy way out.” People usually view letting go as the exact opposite. “Giving up” often carries a negative connotation, while “letting go” is commonly regarded as positive.
My grandmother (Nanny) wrote a letter to her four daughters in November of 2006. After she passed away in 2010, my mom found the letter in a folder of cards and bank statements. Nanny used to keep old cards that she liked from birthdays and Christmases, and this card happened to be mixed in with her collection:
The inside of the card said:
“I thank you and couldn’t love you more than I do now. I feel like time is passing so I have to say it now. Forgive me in my old age. I’m just not feeling well, and we have to thank God we’ve been together so long – I know I do!
I’ve always enjoyed my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, so kiss them goodbye for me. Don’t feel bad. God has been good to me, and I’m not myself anymore. I miss your dad more every day.* With all the ups and downs and illness, we had a good life together. With his hard work, he left me independent and we always managed a vacation. Those were my best memories.
Love you all,
Mom and Dad”
On the surface, this appears to be a goodbye letter from Nanny. It seems as if she’d had enough of getting older, and as if she was giving up. Actually, it almost reads like a suicide note someone would write just before jumping off of a bridge. Luckily, Nanny didn’t live within walking distance of a bridge, and the world would end before she got behind the wheel of a car. (Plus, she wasn’t suicidal – she was just old.) But that was obviously not the case with this letter, and I don’t believe for one second that Nanny was giving up. I think she was letting go.
She was letting go of the pain she had felt since her husband died. She was letting go of the loneliness she mistook for independence. She was letting go of headaches and doctors appointments and her family having to take care of her. She was letting go of almost eighty-two years worth of memories, and although a majority of them were probably joyful, she knew that she’d eventually be unable to remember every single one. She felt fulfilled with her time on this planet, and she sensed that time was winding down. Nanny hadn’t “given up” on life; she was just preparing everyone for the inevitable.
There’s that old saying: “You have to know when to walk away.” So, why not walk away when you still have all your chips? “Chips” meaning anything from brain function to physical health to memories. (It’s like a poker analogy.)
That’s what I want to be able to do at some point in my life (hopefully in the distant future). I want to be able to say to myself: “Okay. I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do in this life, and I am completely satisfied.” To be able to let go of life, essentially, and have no regrets or misgivings about anything I’ve done would be the ideal way to feel before I die.
But that’s letting go – giving up is a different story. You give up on laptops that won’t turn on. You give up on television shows that don’t go anywhere and frustrate you (ie. The Event). You give up in hide-and-seek when you can’t find anybody. But you don’t give up on life, or on people. I’ve decided to stop trying to be friends with people who don’t return the effort, but I’ve never given up on a person. Anybody is capable of anything at any given moment.
As Nanny’s letter shows, you can let go of life. You can reach the point of complete fulfillment and simply cash out. In a similar sense, I believe you can also let go of people. When you’ve experienced everything you’ve wanted to experience with a person, you can put an end to the relationship (romantic or platonic) and part ways. As author Deborah Reber writes in Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, “Letting go doesn’t mean that you don’t care about someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only person you really have control over is yourself.” This is why, I believe, you can learn to let go of misunderstandings, misfires, and regrets as well – something upon which everybody, including myself, can improve.
I am fundamentally a realist, but the idealist part of me sometimes refuses to let go of the concept of perfection. This results in me being unable to accept my failures, my shortcomings, and even occurrences that are out of my control. I am by no means a control freak – and I do realize that nothing and nobody is perfect – but I believe that if you try hard enough, life can be as satisfying as you’d like it to be. Satisfying to the point at which you can one day step back and say: “Okay. I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do in this life.” Satisfying to the point where you can let go.
So, what is the difference between giving up and letting go? In theory, the two are essentially the same. However, I believe that the true difference between them lies in practice – in the way a person conducts him/herself when carrying out the action – and in the way it is viewed by objective parties. Sure, I would agree that giving up is a single action while letting go is usually a process, but I would contend that a person’s demeanor and disposition are instrumental in the differentiation of the two.
*Note: My grandfather passed away in 1990, before I was born.