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Mostly, the world teaches us to hold on. To acquire; to take good care of what we've acquired; to want still more; to believe strongly; to persist.

But sometimes, says Au-Deane Cowley, what we really need to do is simply let go."Nothing is sadder than holding onto the things we've outgrown," says Cowley, associate professor of social work at the University of Utah, who spoke at a sack lunch seminar this week at the Women's Resource Center.

"Our survival as people and as a planet may depend on us learning to let go."

The things we should let go of fall into five categories, says Cowley:

A settled-for attitude. Children, early on, learn to squelch their natural spontaneity and curiosity. Wom-en, in addition, learn early on to please. But every time we pretend to be less smart, every time we take the smaller piece of cake, argues Cowley, we settle for being mindless, joyless and loveless. Selfishness and self-love are not one and the same, she adds.

"We need to stop supporting just other people's dreams and start on our own."

Being "right" instead of happy. We need to let go of early self-definitions that are self-defeating, says Cowley. One of her clients, for example, is a 5-foot-2 woman who sees herself as too tall, because in the sixth grade she towered over the rest of her class. Although such self-definitions may feel like "security," a better word would be "stagnation," says Cowley.

The "power" of innocence. Women are rewarded by society for being weak and helpless, she argues, but such innocence only serves to make them childlike.

"We need to be good at self-care. . . . Most of us know that if we want to be rescued, we have to rescue ourselves."

Wishes and dreams instead of reality. We need to become "dis-illusioned," she says. "We need to stop keep trying to make what isn't so, so," and instead accept what is.

Oppositional attitudes. Instead of being competitive, says Cowley, we need to be "affiliative," celebrating the world's differences instead of expecting everyone to be like us.

"We need to attach ourselves to something bigger than our own egos."

For women, one of the hardest processes of letting go concerns their children, notes Cowley, who says she made a conscious decision early on as a mother to raise children who didn't feel they couldn't survive without her.

"Now I have a bunch of kids who don't need me at all - and I love it."

Beware of "misguided nurturance," she warns. "Misguided nurturance is pouring a second cup of coffee for someone who only wanted one. It's patching the jeans of a person who had finally gotten them to look the way they wanted them to."

"When we feel good about ourselves," Cowley adds, "it's less important that other people need us."