Letting go of balloons (and other life lessons learned)

When I was little, my friends used to write letters to strangers, put them in helium balloons and release them into the sky hoping that at some point they’d hit the sun, explode and their notes would flutter down onto the front doorstep of a Spanish country farmhouse or an Indonesian temple. I never participated because letting go of my balloon made me anxious.

While I’m sure my friends now look back on that game with environmental guilt – clearly the reason their potential Indonesian friends never wrote back was because their balloon notes had ended up lodged in the windpipes of a flock of migrating geese – I recall that time as one of the first signs of my lifelong struggle with the act of letting go—be it a balloon, a person or a stage of my life.

I remember watching an episode of Oprah where some overzealous life coach with an aggressive haircut demanded we do things like “embrace the unknown” or “jump into change head first” in order to really let go of something and be “okay”. At the time, those tips didn’t sit too well with me. I’d always been told that embracing strangers could end up with me in the back of an unmarked van, and that the act of jumping headfirst into things is virtually a spinal injury waiting to happen.

Change is not something I’ve ever embraced. It’s something I’ve always postponed or worked around like a pending driver’s exam or an orthodontist’s appointment.  So when it came time to walk away from my job as a host at MTV, I prepared for the worst.

There’s a feeling that consumes me in the anticipation of a shifting of my life path’s tectonic plates. It’s a nervous anxiety I can only compare to the sensation I experience before I go on a first date – panicked backpedaling, reevaluating why I had agreed to it in the first place and resisting the urge to just call the whole thing off and spend a night with my true love: a Pizza Hut Triple Crown pan pizza.

It was that feeling that I was preparing for when I decided to leave my job, and it was that feeling that I was bracing for when I subsequently decided to give up my living-beyond-my-means apartment.

I don’t know if my moon was in some sort of mind-altering house or if it had something to do with the fact that I recently switched from regular milk to almond milk but I had just let go of two important parts of my life and that dreaded feeling was nowhere to be found. No nausea, no Pizza Hut and no I was not slipping Ativan in my Diet Cokes.  In fact, I was actually feeling the faint nudge of a budding seedling of excitement.

This is not to imply that what I was letting go of was inconsequential or insignificant in any way. In fact, I’ve since realized that the crux of this whole thing hinges on precisely the opposite idea: My five years with MTV, my experiences, friendships  – everything I feared I’d be letting go of  – have all been cemented by the reciprocated weight of their importance to me and mine to them.

And with that in mind, I now understand the excitement that comes with cautiously jumping feet first into the unknown, assured that everyone and everything that means something will be coming along with me. Leaving behind only the adolescent hang-ups – the irrational worries, fears and anxieties – to blow away like some note in a biodegradable balloon.