One of my all-time favorite Sesame Street songs is “Put Down the Duckie.” Never heard of it?
Perhaps a little background is required to remind you (or bring you up to speed) of the history of the Rubber Duckie in Sesame Street. “Rubber Duckie” was, after all, Ernie’s signature song, debuting on the very first episode of Sesame Street. A few years later, in 1970, it actually hit #16 in the Billboard top 100. Fifteen years later, Ernie was still singing this tribute to his bath-time pal.
You’d think that after all that time, Ernie would have outgrown his self-indulgent obsession with Rubber Duckie. Obviously, someone on Sesame Street DID think so, and in 1986, Hoots the owl tries to help Ernie with the difficult and painful challenge of growing up – and growing beyond his Rubber Duckie. Ernie’s trouble is that he wants to do something new (play the saxophone), but finds that impossible to do with Rubber Duckie in his hand. The song explains it all. (Go ahead and take a few minutes to listen to it if you can’t remember it!)
Amazingly, you and I have a whole plastic bucket load of Rubber Duckies – relationships, ideas, places, hurts, and hang-ups. Habits that gave us security in the past, but don’t serve us well now. As Hoots says, “you’ll never find the skill you seek till you pay your dues.” Putting down these duckies is essential to developing a meaningful and rewarding life.
Letting go lets us reframe our experience
Part of the security of things we know, of our habits, of our familiar hurts comes from the stories we tell ourselves and others. Have you ever noticed how just about every story you tell about yourself puts you in a good light? Even if I am relating a story about a tragedy, usually I am the innocent victim…the unwilling recipient of forces and actions being done TO me. I’ve often commented that I’ve never heard someone who got fired from a job tell how it was all their own fault. No, the reasons for the firing are usually about the character and actions of co-workers, a manager, or even the evil corporation in total.
We tell stories that way because we have a Rubber Duckie (or two or three) that shames us, embarrasses us, or in some way endangers our being accepted by others (if it were to be exposed). When we can let go of the fear of rejection, we can accept our shortcomings and take responsibility for our failures. Only then can we tell ourselves (and others) stories that frame our experience authentically.
Letting go helps us focus on the present
Even if we start to reframe our experience with more authentic stories, we can still have another lingering Rubber Duckie: we can be stuck in the past. The collective wisdom of sages, songwriters and psychologists is pretty unanimous on this: “Let bygones be bygones.” The past is useful in our stories, but we need to make sure we don’t continue to live in those stories. Letting go, and even forgetting, actually helps us meet the challenges of today more creatively.
Letting go gives us the capacity to receive
This is obvious, but for some reason I certainly need to be reminded. Nothing can get into a closed fist. I have only so much emotional bandwidth. If I’m consuming that nursing grudges, harboring hurts, or keeping the sting of rejection alive – I have no capacity to take in the next experience (whether it is pleasant or painful). I can’t start my dream job if I stay at the current “gets-the-bills-paid-but-I-hate-it-job.” I can’t build new, good habits without knocking down old, unproductive ones.
One notable sage put it this way: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, there won’t be any new wheat growing.” It’s a pattern of life in nature, and it’s a pattern in our lives too: Letting go – letting something die – is usually necessary for something new to come into our life.
So, go ahead. Put down the Duckie. Start by making an honest inventory of ideas, attitudes, fears and triggers that are rooted in the past. Then, begin to replace those with the best things from your present. Start to play something new.
Take a few minutes and jot down some of the things that come to mind when you answer ‘What’s my Duckie?’