The back view of a young woman with long hair as she faces a beaming sun. She has her arms raised above her head and has broken a chain that was binding her wrists. You can still see the shackles on her wrists.

Let Go!

26 June 2023

I am reminded of the lyrics sung by Brian Cadd – “let go, it ain’t worth it if it hurts you.” I grew up listening to my parent’s music and this one has stood the test of time (in my humble opinion).

I reference it because of its relevance to our way of working and our workplace cultures. Those who tend to look backward, who remember the ‘good old days’ and cling to them like they were better, more effective, safer, easier, or just a preference tend to tell themselves a story of ‘past greatness’ but I wonder if it is a fact.

Letting go and moving forward is not easy. It often requires new learnings, new mindsets, high levels of curiosity, a good dose of courage, and a preparedness to step out of one’s comfort zone. And while that is true, I don’t believe we have a choice.

Our world is moving way too fast to spend time looking backward and longing for the past. Of course, we must learn from the past, but holding onto the old ways of working can hinder personal and professional progress and growth, and that ultimately “hurts you.”

Working with leaders and team members from across industries of all different shapes and sizes, I have observed some patterns of those who tend to hold onto the past with a fierce grip:

  1. Their personal worth and value are inextricably linked to past achievements; they tend to replay the “glory days’ (another great song, thanks Bruce Springsteen) and focus on the role they played and why it was so impressive, impactful, or important
  2. They lack curiosity, choosing to stay in the safe lane and doing what has worked in the past in preference to learning new (and normally improved) ways to deliver the outcome
  3. They are oppositional, priding themselves on being the ‘devil’s advocate,’ finding fault in new ideas and processes and asserting that ‘it is not broke, so let’s not try to fix it’
  4. They are frightened of being exposed to either not knowing or not understanding the new way of doing things and therefore stay in their comfort zone where they may be the resident expert
  5. They yearn for certainty and are extremely uncomfortable with ambiguity

So how do you let go?

Accept it is not humanly possible to go back, regardless of how much you wish things were the way they used to be, they just aren’t and will not be again. Reflect over the past three years, and consider how much you have had to change, adapt, try new things, and learn new ways of working – all driven by the global pandemic. Remember that we are continually evolving and that nothing stays the same and you have let go of many past practices many times before.

Flip your mindset into thinking of change as an opportunity. Ask yourself, how can this idea or new way of working help me? How can I share my experience and add value to the final solution? What small steps can I take to learn about new ways of doing things? And importantly, ask yourself ‘Is holding onto the past adding value to how you work and how you work with others?’

Decide to respect and love the past (as without it you would not be where you are today) and to let it go. Become curious and interested about the future. Recognise you have always been growing, evolving, and changing, and looking backwards will not help you to move forward.

And to end with one more song option, the master who left us way too soon, David Bowie offers in his song Changes:

Pretty soon you’re gonna get a little older
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time

Let go, let the future in and reap the rewards.

Kerryn Fewster

Kerryn is the Founder and Director of Change 2020. She has consulted extensively in the area of Transition and Transformation. She places emphasis on strategy development and solution implementation to minimise people and operational impacts associated with major change.

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