Letting it Go v. Giving Up

It’s a thin line, a shiver of a difference, but it changes the road you are on from a long hard climb up a scree-strewn path to a road you have chosen, maybe not for its easy travel, but because you are willing to walk where it takes you.

It’s the difference between Giving Up and Letting Go.

Whether it’s a decision made in your studio, your buzzing mind, your hollow heart or a closed-in hospital room, giving up is coming face to face with who you are and how much you can give. It’s often unwilling, exhausted, and the only idea you have left. And sometimes it’s made out of fear, anger and retribution. You give up when your effort is no longer rewarded in any way you can recognize. There are no new ideas, no breeze that feels fresh. It’s a feeling of churned up dirt. It may be laced with a feeling unworthiness and emptiness. But not the good kind.

Letting go feels different. Letting go may be shaded by sorrow, but it is lit by strength. Letting go comes from self-knowledge and the ability to give up control, give up expectations of how much you can steer the outcome. You may care, but you have weighed the choices carefully, balanced your ability with how much heart you have left, and you have chosen. Deliberately.

You open your hands, your heart, and breathe in deeply when you let go. You choose. You know it may hurt, but you also know that you are not going to carry that burden any further. Letting go feels open.

Giving up and letting go can both be uncomfortable, but giving up tastes like ashes and letting go is a long cool drink in the desert. You may still have a long way to walk in the hot sun, but you know where you are going.

-Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and art journaler. She’s done both giving up and letting go. And letting go is done with open hands and open heart, and giving up is done with clenching fists and fear.


34 thoughts on “Letting it Go v. Giving Up

  1. I love these definitions of letting go and giving up. I let go of a decade long career and the outcome of that career. It felt like giving up at the time because I just could not make it work in this economy (except that I’m not a quitter), but I know I chose a healthier path instead. I felt a deep sadness and disappointment, BUT I felt relieved. It was like getting a divorce from an abusive person that you just KNOW will not change and start respecting you. After that, a funny thing happened. I got wings. My spirit soared, I began to enjoy my new fiancé (art career). It feels really good to be empowered enough to let go of a bad path and decide to choose one that already has been respecting me. 🙂

  2. I’ve been in a situation where the only option was to give up. It took me much longer, and much heartache to let go, but when I did there was such relief! I think there’s a huge diference in the emotions each engenders.

    While we may be forced into giving up, we cannot be forced to let go. We can, however, choose to do either.

  3. I’m not sure I entirely get this. I think in terms of “stopping”, and that’s really about it for me. For instance, for quite a while I played a couple of musical instruments, then at another point I stopped, and since then I’ve spent that time in other ways. Letting go or giving up…I dunno, maybe both. Or neither. Too complicated.

    • It’s a deeply-lodged emotional difference. Very different feeling in your body when you do each one. I’m delighted to spring something new on you–or something you can just shrug and give up.

      • I guess I don’t do that. I don’t see stopping something as an emotional event. In the words of a puppet:
        “Do or don’t do.”

        • “. . . but don’t try.” Yep, I remember. But if, instead of a musical instrument, you stopped talking to a parent, you might have to check in with yourself to know if you feel guilty or relieved.

          • “There is no ‘try'”! Of course, we’re quoting a puppet here…

            I never stopped talking to a parent; maybe that’s it. Of course, by some measures I never started either. I was never close to my parents, but not in a hostile way. We were just different.

  4. Perfect timing Quinn! I just let go of something last night and felt such a weight lifted. I gave up being responsible for something that was not my responsibility. I wanted to be helpful but it wasn’t appreciated and I started to feel aggravated and resentful. I had the “aha” moment, let it go and will now re-focus on me.

  5. Read this with my morning coffee, and thought what revealing writing, so well phrased. It ended up as the fodder for my quiet thinking time. When I came to comment, I realized it’s a re-post, and one I;ve read before, but I had no recall of it. I’m glad you posted it again — a gem that could come up every few months, and not be too often.

    • It is a re-written re-post, so I could use the photos again. And i liked the comments from the original. I wrote a new post, then realized I’d used the title before and checked out the old one. Even I had forgotten it!

  6. This simple explanation of the difference between letting go and giving up is liberating. Though there is no decision in my life at the moment that requires knowing it, I feel more liberated somehow. I know that future choices will have a new foundation in thought before making them and that I will feel so much more content with whatever choice I make.
    This is a life altering “aha” for someone who hates to give up. (That would be me.)

  7. Yes once again your words have hit the spot.

    You have helped me realise that I haven’t given up, nor have I let go . . . what I’ve done is shelved. Even laying aside has a little sadness attached, but oh the joy when I pick everything up again! And it will be soon, and better than before because some dreams are worth it.

  8. Quinn:
    I LOVE your definitions of “Letting Go” and Giving up. I like to think of it as I GET to “let go” and I HAVE to “give up”. Letting go is my choice and one that I make very deliberately, giving up feels like failure. In my Visual Journaling classes, I have an exercise that I call “Letting Go to Live” One page is filled with things in your life you need to Let Go of, the next page is filled with the things you need to keep to Live your best life. I find it very healing.

  9. Precisely what I needed to read this morning; knowing some language to describe the process of “leaving” or “changing” my participation in a situation is a huge aha for me. The key is awareness of what is my motivation/guiding energy source for the new steps I am taking. Clarity of intention is a phrase now on my word prompt noteboook page…and I will free write some 20 minutes bits to align self to the concept. Truly, Quinn, this is the piece I have been seeking as I make some major shifts in my journey, Thank you.

    • Letting go is planned, discussed, agreed to, understood ahead of time. Letting go is filled with understanding of limits and ability. Giving up is spur-of-the-moment, often done as retribution, and with no planning, short- or long-term. Giving up is a habit that’s destructive in the long run, and often destroys progress already made. Having a goal is important, yes, but no goal can be successfully reached without self awareness. That’s the key. Self awareness in planning, choosing, and determination.

  10. I just have to say thank you for post on giving up or letting go. I am dealing with this at the moment and I like how you phrased the letting go. That is exactly how I have come to see it and it comforts me to know I am not alone in how I perceive this. Again, thank you!
    Keep up your wonderful work!

  11. This is exactly what I needed to read before bed tonight. I’ve been struggling in a relationship and I finally said “enough, no more” last week. I couldn’t get it straight in my head if I was giving up or letting go. I know now that I am letting go. Thank you dear Quinn! My heart is peaceful.

  12. Oh my…are you psychic? That is the most perfect thing I needed to wake up and read. So true and written with such simple clarity. You really are an amazing virtual friend to have. There is such a fine line between the two paths,it’s how you train your mind to decide which one to take….that takes a lot of heart and strength…..this rings metaphorically and literally in my life at the moment. If you could take a fleeting glimpse or snapshot you would chuckle! Blessings,you have made my day and I haven’t even got up yet!xxxxxxxxxxxxx

    • Not a psychic–but it makes me laugh to think of me with moons and stars and a crystal ball. I used the phrase in a post last week, and began to think about how hard that difference is to choose, and how confusing it can me to see the difference.

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