A friend of mine recently experienced a couple of entrepreneurial hiccups that have left her emotionally and financially drained. Those experiences have shaken her ego a bit and provoked some deep internal reflection. She called me this week to talk about the insights she’s gained from probing around in the dark shadows of her psyche. “You know,” she said, with the kind of raw emotion that often accompanies the discovery of hidden truths, “I think the hardest thing for me has been letting go of the dream I was clinging to. I really wanted to create these great businesses and lead a team to victory. But it didn’t turn out that way. It’s been really hard letting that dream go …”

The author Té V. Smith wrote: “No one warns you about the amount of mourning in growth.” I’ve been thinking about growth and mourning lately. It’s the part of growth that we don’t consider much when we say we want to grow up. Like the way we used to dream of being adults as kids and now, on so many days, we long to shed the complexity of our grownup lives and go back to the playground. Recently, while on a family vacation in rural Minnesota, I reflected on letting go and stepping forward, and wrote some thoughts down. I called it, New Shoes. I guess it’s a poem of sorts.

New Shoes

I meditated, eyes open, looking out the window into the fog that rested on the water of Lake Superior. Staring across the lake into the window of my soul, I cried. Not because I was sad but because I was growing. Like a new pair of sneakers, we know we’re growing because our toes poke the edges of our shoes — I cried as my growing awareness poked the limits of my being, expanding my tiny heart … opening my constricted soul. It stretched my consciousness, and stretching hurts. But it pales in comparison to the pain of being small. Like cramming my size 13 feet into size 10 shoes, it hurts. So I cried and I was growing. And the fog was lifting. Or perhaps it was being lifted by the rays of the sun, which one by one — isolated and alone — seemed to descend and lift a layer of fog. And I cried because growth is a process of losing ignorance and all loss hurts. But new shoes are fun. And so I cried with joy. And the fog slowly lifted as I stared across the lake …

Getting new shoes as a child was a traumatic event for me. My mom had very little money and I had very big, crazy feet, which seemed intent on wearing through my shoes faster than the feet of other boys did. My poor mom did the best she could to save enough money to keep up with my growing feet, but, inevitably, I’d end up wearing my shoes until I wore holes in the sides. My mom would patch the holes with duct tape and send me back to play in my patchwork shoes until my feet just wouldn’t fit in them any longer. I patched a lot of holes in my life that way — finding interim solutions that never really fixed anything but allowed me to keep going. Two divorces, bad food, good wine, and a life of bells and whistles became my adult version of that duct tape on a lifestyle that, like a pair of old size-thirteens, was wearing thin.

We don’t often associate mourning with growth. We know growth can hurt — no pain, no gain — and that breaking through barriers and going places we haven’t gone previously can be scary and painful. But what about all we leave behind: stories, jobs, trophies, friends, old belief systems? The stuff we say we’re not but, in so many ways, actually are. Our lives are a complex web of identifiers, things we point to as proof of our unique existence. As we grow some of that gets lost, making the experience of growth one of moving forward, but also a death of sorts. The closing out of old chapters as we move on to new ones requires we make peace with what we leave behind … and to do that we have to mourn, which can hurt. I think that’s what Té V. Smith meant when he said that no one warns us about this mourning. It just kinda sneaks up on you one day as you’re going along happily growing. Like a painful skit in the Jackass movies, life catches you by surprise and smacks you square in the heart with the realization that a part (or parts) of who you thought you were no longer are.

Recently my wife, who’s on a sabbatical from her medical practice, called a company for whom, a few years prior, she had built a complex diagnostic protocol. She identified herself, “Hi this is Dr. Christy!” expecting the usual familial response. Instead the person on the other end of the line paused before replying in a puzzled tone, “Sorry … Dr. Who? What’s this regarding?” I noticed a sadness in Christy that night. I gave her a hug and asked what was wrong. She shared the story with me and then said, “I know it’s silly. But it hurts.” I remember the first time I called Live Nation and was asked by a new secretary to spell my last name. It felt like someone had taken my ego out for a long ride into the Vegas dessert and roughed it up. Like Christy, I felt silly to feel hurt by something so intellectually insignificant. But it hurt nonetheless. All mourning does.

In this way, growth provokes mourning, but mourning also provokes growth … the growth of letting go and leaning into life and its lessons. This is why the mourning is important. It’s why we can’t fake our way through life’s lessons with a politician’s grin and a nonchalant “it is what it is.” Life certainly is what it is, but what’s equally true is that it’s not what it’s not. And growth is very often not easy. So we mourn, and through the mourning we learn the lessons life has to share and, perhaps equally important, we learn how to be there for ourselves in times of need.

Many of us are going through some kind of growth right now, moments in which life is asking us to let go of an experience, a person, or a dream that we’ve been holding onto tightly. This comes to us in the form of divorces, job changes, foreclosures, diseases, missed targets at work, watching our children grow up, or saying goodbye to loved ones who’ve passed on. This week I invite you to be authentic to those experiences. To admit that letting go is hard. To allow the truth that growth brings mourning and to allow yourself the space to grieve as you grow. I invite you to be there for yourself, just as a good friend might be, to hold your own heart with the tenderest of thoughts as you slowly let go, and to grow … supported by the knowledge that we are all in this together.

Big hugs of love,

Jason

  1. as always, your blog was timely, and means a great deal to me….I have been going though a series of growth spurts and changes in my life, and it is nice to know that I am not alone in having some of the feelings I have been experiencing….I was never one who found it easy to let go—-but I am learning…
    peace, love, and light to you an yours xxoo
    wendy.

  2. Thank you Jason, your New Shoes analogy and the image of patching old ones with tape, had me examining when I’ve attempted to hold on to the old before breaking free and allowing the new and unfamiliar space within me.

    With Gratitude,
    Shauna Marie MacDonald

  3. Robyn Murrah says:

    This is truly my favorite blog you have done!!! I have learned through my now 50 years of life, that without pain and mourning, we just simply do not grow. It must hurt before we will change and accept. Thats just the way it is. Thank you Jason for putting this topic into such a way to help ease and comfort while going through it!

  4. Wow you have made me howl tissues at the ready. Thank you for identifying my sadness but I obviously have been doing so much growing lately I should be ten foot high. I have never felt this emotionally messed up before but then again I’ve never been 49 before
    Thank u xxx

  5. Nailed it ! This gave chills down my body as I look back just these last 5 months of my life and as I stand where I am today this puts it in perspective understanding the growth process I went through in my life.. As I grew into my new sneakers…….I thought I was dying at 37. It was the horrible and Honestly I never thought I would have made it out alive as I was in the moment back then. Today, I stand with peace clarity, and happiness which I was lacking for the last 17 years of my life. This touched home and I will print this and be able to reference back. Thank you.

    • Jason Garner says:

      Thank you Michelle for sharing your beautiful story. I’m glad this writing connected with you. Big hugs of love – Jason

  6. Joe Heitzler says:

    Once again yet another blog that has such meaning especially for the mourning aspects associated with my growth. From an individual whose life has literally been rocked no eating no drinking limited speech no work limited socializing scared adjusting to it all and along comes another heart wrenching fully appropriate message your blog is like going to church and the message point of the pastor seems as if it were written solely for me yet the entire congregation feels the same. Once again thank you for this insightful and heartfelt message. When growing up I used card board boxes as inner soles in my shoes once they developed holes in them.I can totally relate to Christy’s phone call as well. How can the world just stop for one second seems so impossible. Love you guys, Joe

    • Jason Garner says:

      Thank you Joe. We’re all in this together, each of us with our unique version of the same journey. Big hugs – Jason

  7. Jason – thank you for this incredibly insightful article. As I read it I asked myself the question, “Have I mourned the changes that are perpetuating my growth?” I couldn’t definitively answer the question…I’m not sure if I have or not. In your estimation, how do you know if you have mourned or not? I’ve been sad, but if anything I believe that the sadness was unproductive because I likely retreated from it instead of opening up to it. Thank you again and I just signed up for updates – your words truly resonate with me.

    • Jason Garner says:

      Thank you Ken. I appreciate the thoughtfulness of your response. The question you asked is a great one to live with for a while. I wouldn’t chase the answer, just breathe and enjoy the question. I think you’ll find the answer comes on its own, when the time is right. Big hugs of gratitude – Jason

  8. Wow and amazing… this was a perfectly timed email to receive at this time in my life. Your words are prophetic yet kind and gently. Thank you for sharing this amazing information. Mourning during growth is a new concept to me that I need to embrace and experience. Blessings of love and light. With much gratitude.

  9. Dean Wilson says:

    Thank you for sharing this part of your life. For me acceptance of things as they are has become my most important lesson. This does not mean giving up on aspects of my life I deem to be important. Having the courage (patience) to change those things I can (must), accepting what I can’t, the wisdom to realize when I am flogging a dead horse…
    I am somewhat estranged from my two children. I take responsibility for the situation, I have always been available to them, however not necessarily accessible. That changed seven years ago. I have been able to make amends to my son, there are the beginnings of a relationship. Still very awkward. Many roadblocks to my daughter, the thought I abandoned her is perpetrated. In actuality is was myself I abandoned with my family as the casualties.
    It has been over twelve years, I will not let go of the hope that at some point there will be a way to rectify the hurt I caused a young girl. For me, the willingness to know the difference lies in my heart.

    • Jason Garner says:

      Thank you Dean. I have lived the side of this story as a child whose father left at a very young age. I never did reconcile personally with my father. After his death I spent many many hours of therapy and meditation focused on experiencing peace and love around my memories and feelings. I believe, as you said, that the answer lies in our hearts. At times that means the reconciling of two hearts and, in others, it is simply the reconciliation of our own heart with love and compassion. Big hugs – Jason

  10. Thank you! I loved this and it was very much needed. It’s time to close that chapter as their are so many more chapters to be written. I have been holding on to something that I didn’t deserve by a mean spirited person. Today, I release it all and step into my new shoes ??

  11. So beautifully written and so true! From personal experience mourning has definitely led to personal growth in ways I never even knew were possible. Self love has been at the core of my journey and has really expanded the possibilities of living an authentic life. The best is yet to come!

  12. Thanks Jason….. I have just in the past week sold most of what I own and moved on a one way ticket to Berlin.
    I dont know German at this stage, am struggling with the expansion and growth of my world as well as trying to find somewhere to live, a job, not knowing anyone etc…
    It is a trying time that is causing a great deal of anxiety that I am trying to accept in its own nature for what it is. I also know that it is growth. I trust that I can make this work and find the life that I desire.

    Cheers.

    • Jason Garner says:

      Wow William, those are serious life changes. There is a mantra of sorts that I say in times of immense change that goes like this: may I have the courage to venture into the unknown, may I be at peace with all I find, may self-love guide the way. Sending you big hugs of compassion and courage on your journey. – Jason

  13. This is one of the most beautiful pieces I’ve read in a long time. Thank you.
    – from someone who’s feeling the need for new shoes. 🙂

  14. I guess somehow I missed several of your writings must be a computer glitch.
    This writing about mourning and growth and growth and mourning once again hit a most sensitive note with me as I face the realities of my daily cancer challenges.
    I cannot swallow my esophagus is sealed shut my mouth opening is minimal hard to brush my teeth my vocal cords are paralized so I have a trachea in my throat and I have a g Tube thru which I eat.
    My/our social life ( Sandra my angel wife) has been seriously adjusted my work life has disappeared my weekly life has 11 therapy sessions to maintain the status quote of challenges that chemical and radiation have caused to keep me alive.
    So I also had the same shoe challenges as you.
    I thrive and I marvel at the wisdom of and your gift of expressing these realities as expressed in your writings.
    You are a unique and talented gift from God and I thank Him for placing you and your family in my/our lives.
    Love ya buddy,Joe

  15. I experienced this within the last year. It was so hard to let go of my dream of being a dancer (competitive!) Especially when I was so close!! I kicked and screamed and yelled at the world…..I was ready to give up. And one day, I just let it go. Not completely…..looking back on everything still hurts. But i mourned my dance career, and realized that I couldn’t live like this forever. That same year 3 people that I knew died, and I realized that life was too precious. Too precious for me to be sitting around and wallowing. I made the decision to get better, do something else with my life, and basically LIVE! Live well! Now, I have a job, I’m looking for a place with my husband, and we are planning at the end of the year to start a family.
    Thank you very much for being in our lives Jason. I don’t know what I would have done without you or your book at that time. Much love

    Ray:)

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