How to Get Over Not Letting Go

Posted 08.15.2012

There’s a really interesting think piece in the New York Times this week by Carl Richards titled “You Probably Have Too Much Stuff.” In it, he tells the story of a guy named Andrew Hyde who, in preparing for a trip around the world two years ago, sold everything he owned except for 15 things. (Here’s his list.) Hyde’s list of things he owns is now up to 60 items and he doesn’t expect that it will grow much beyond that.

Inspired by Hyde’s example, Richards writes of getting rid of some of his own stuff and what he’s learned by doing so:

“When we hold on to stuff we no longer want or use, it does indeed cost us something more, if only in the time spent organizing and contemplating them.”

The cost of owning too much stuff is opportunity cost. It costs time, money, energy and attention to keep track of a bunch of stuff. Opportunities to do other things are lost because of that.

The same is true for leaders who hold on to things that they should either stop doing or give away to others. If you’re a person in a designated leadership role, there is almost certainly a small but high impact list of things that only you can do given the role that you’re in. (And it’s probably less than 15 things.)

What’s the opportunity cost for you, your team and your organization of not letting go of the things that aren’t on your short list?

The common denominator answer is probably growth. For you, not letting go means that you’re not growing into the full impact you can have as a leader. For your team, you not letting go stifles their growth and development. For your organization, you not letting go means you become a bottleneck that constrains growth and progress.

So, how do you get over the reluctance to let go? If you’ve considered the opportunity costs of not letting go, you’re already on your way. A next step is to consider the wisdom of the late, great Stephen Covey who wrote that it’s easier to say no when there’s a deeper yes burning within.

What do you need to let go of and say no to to get to the bigger, deeper and more important yes for you and your team?