How Letting Go Was My Secret to Success

I was the first in my large Puerto Rican family to attend and graduate college. As such, it was my duty to help Latina girls proudly travel the bicultural bridge, while keeping a connection to their roots.

I did it through La Mariposa (The Butterfly); it was my life’s calling. La Mariposa is a groundbreaking empowerment program I created in 2016, by way of a nonprofit I co-founded called Together for Latinas, to help empower young Latinas in taking down barriers and succeeding in life.

It took me 8 years to create it. And, it took me another 3 years to let go of it.

Letting go wasn’t easy. I didn’t want to. But spirit conspired, in the way that it always does. My husband was transferred to Sweden, splitting my focus between my family in Stockholm and my organization on the east coast of the United States.

I felt an inescapable sense of worry about the burden of making sure the program reached those who needed it nationwide. My board was unwavering in its dedication and effort, but we needed more marketing and distribution resources to succeed. Supporters started expressing concern. Distance fueled my anxiety. Instinctively, I knew I needed to quit as the leader, but how could I let everyone down and be left a failure?

I had Founder’s Syndrome. It was hard to see how anyone but my team could take the program to the next level. If we couldn’t make it a success, who would?

But it was time to let go. To do that I first had to overcome certain misconceptions. 

Misconception #1: Good Leaders Don’t Quit

The Hispanic/Latinx population desperately needed programs like La Mariposa. As a Latina girl and young woman growing up in the ’80’s and ’90’s, I didn’t know of Hispanic role models who released their projects for the greater good. To overcome this fear, I searched for positive examples of such leaders – and happily, found many of them. This taught me that the process of letting go was more like “graduating” than “quitting.”

Misconception #2: Many Will Be Disappointed

Everyone at Together for Latinas established deep relationships with our benefactors, supporters, and communities. I didn’t want to let them down. Nervously, I began to communicate my intention and asked for help transitioning the work. To my surprise and utter delight, everyone I asked understood it was the right time and was relieved and happy to help. I feared letting them down and instead allowed them to have a deeper stake in the program’s success.

Misconception #3: No One Cares Like I Do

Part of having Founder’s Syndrome was believing that I am the only one who cares enough to make my life’s work a success. To help me overcome this misconception, I needed to do the same thing I encourage all our workshop participants to do: give the inner voice an outlet. So, I wrote freestyle, unhindered, about the question: “If we don’t make it a success, who will?”

And I realized in my answer that our next step was to find the organization that will.

For several months we had been in talks with a partner, One Circle Foundation, that could help us cast a wider net. When I told its founder about my decision, she said the program “would be in caring hands” with them. It was as if the cupped hands I had often envisioned in meditation were extending their reach through the phone. I found people who care as I do, and who also have the resources to make that caring a tangible reality for others who need support.

The answer was right in front of me. I just needed to be posing the right questions to the right people. Meditation and awareness helped me get there, and so did reaching out to friends and colleagues.

Often what we need is right in front of us. All we have to do is notice.

And, once a curriculum developer, always a curriculum developer. Here is my step- by-step journey and advice towards that noticing.

Step One: Understand why it’s time to let go. Write, nonstop, without lifting the pen or censoring thoughts. Let the words flow freely onto the page until the reasons emerge.

Step Two: Create an intention. Choose an internal message to serve as a guiding light. (Mine was “La Mariposa will succeed beyond what I can imagine!”)

Step Three: Identify any misconceptions. Create a list and positive affirmation for each, imagining what it looks like releasing the work as a great success (positive examples in your field can help). Acknowledge all your feelings. Is there a sense of relief or peace? Post the affirmations where you can regularly see them – visualization is a powerful life tool.

Step Four: Repeat steps 1-3. Repeat until there is alignment with the intention and the success envisioned.

Step Five: Make a plan. Identify stakeholders who can help create a roadmap.

Step Six: Execute. Identify the person or entity who can deliver the vision (remember they may be right in front of you!), plan the transition together and communicate it to all constituents and stakeholders.

Step Seven: Celebrate! Have a “releasing” party and acknowledge everyone’s role in the transition and its success.

Step Eight: Complete the circle. Practice self-care. Identify a way to capture this important milestone and the contributions you’ve made (for example, write a letter to yourself or craft a poem).

Releasing our work intentionally does not mean we have failed it. On the contrary, it’s a stepping stone to growth and greater potential. By viewing releasing as a way to graduate from our work while promoting it to the next level, we can create our own success story.

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Published by

Nancy Roldán Johnson

Author of La Mariposa: An Empowerment Program for Adolescent Latinas, Founder of Together for Latinas, Inc., Vice President One Circle Foundation

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