Letting Go of the Past

ass-whooping

A few weeks back I accidentally published this post in rough draft form. Mortified, I trashed it immediately. It had a long way to go before I would have been willing to put it out there. However, a friend caught it and asked why I had deleted it. Too personal. Too confessional. However, his comments resonated. He said it was “thoughtful” and he would be “proud to have come up with that.” Writing it did help me sort out a few things and maybe others can find something that works for them. Marsh Gooch, thanks for the push.

What happened to my once impervious exoskeleton of cynicism and sarcasm mixed with a pinch of scorn? Is losing my ironic distance and signature snark a result of age and maturity, greater self-confidence or having life hand my ass to me a few times? The answer is all of the above, but nothing like an ass whooping to effect change. My big takeaway from the last decade is life sucks when you’re going through the worst, but the lessons learned are invaluable.

Moving forward is the only answer. For too long I held onto the past, wading in yesterday’s waters and wallowing in regrets and resentments. That reluctance to let go hindered any advancement. However, letting go of the past is imperative. I’ve got four kids all at different stages of need and development. I’ve got a wonderful fiancée. Plus, I need to figure out how to keep making money for the next 20 years and have that last for 20 more after that. Big challenges require a forward focus, not a dithering and frightened stare at the past.

I had a vision recently of me holding on desperately to a past I couldn’t recapture no matter how hard I tried. Same guy, same suit, same job, hoping to sustain what he had always known and always done, never suspecting that his winning strategy had been failing him for years. I had developed the wrong approach to handling life’s challenges. My only solution was to do the same thing again and again and again, only with more force and more determination. And the results never improved.

For a big chunk of my career I created far too much baggage. I needed an office, a suit, a staff, and a day packed with meetings to do whatever it was that I did. When I was booted from one high level job I didn’t have the self awareness to let go and move on to the next phase of my life. I thought all I needed was a hand on the rungs of the next ladder. Why couldn’t I climb right back up from where I had fallen? Life would pick up and go on as it always had. Wrong!

When I got tossed to the pavement once again I started to hear the lessons life was trying to teach me. Still, I didn’t quite catch everything and attempted to battle my way backwards to what used to be. The next big job never materialized and I found myself still wondering what the hell went wrong.

After years of moving forward in a single direction my road had moved sideways long before I knew I needed to turn. The resulting pain came from offroading through a bumpy, boulder-strewn section of life while expecting the way to be smooth and paved. Funny how decades of a single winning strategy can blind you to the critical lifesaving necessity of a new direction and new tactics.

I need to flail and fail a little longer before I began to get the first simple signs of a new freedom and a way forward. Of course, I was so caught up in the past I nearly missed them. Then one day I bombed a CitiBike down 7th Avenue with my computer, phone and everything I needed in my messenger bag. In that adrenalized moment as I jockeyed between cabs and delivery trucks I knew things had changed. I didn’t need an office. I didn’t need a suit. I didn’t have to waste my time in endless meetings. I could work wherever I found wifi and an outlet. And maybe coffee.

That was the day I realized my old life was dead and gone.

Change and acceptance are hard. It means adjusting to a new way of doing things and reevaluating expectations for my life and my career. Letting go takes practice and perseverance. There is no magic answer. I have worked hard on creating daily habits that expedite the process, looking forward rather than backward. Exercise. Meditation. Gratitude. Reading. Writing. Setting goals. All of these contribute to a renewed sense of purpose and accomplishment.

This sometimes painful process has opened up a host of new possibilities and opportunities. Instead of one straight freeway ahead of me I see a lot of different paths with unseen twists and turns. There is no autopilot, but the view is much more scenic and the ride more interesting. I move forward every day a little nicer, a little kinder and full of gratitude for the road ahead.

 

 

 

2 comments

  1. Marsh Gooch · February 6

    I’m glad you posted this, Bill. It’s a very thoughtful piece that resonates in me, as I have gone through the same realization. The last 8 years for me have been an up n down, back n forth ride in the marketing world, and it’s only been within the last couple of months that I figured out that it’s okay–and in fact, important–to be okay with the changes and open myself up to new and/or different possibilities. Keep writing and publishing!

    • billhartnett · February 6

      I will keep writing as long as you keep reviewing. I need a soundtrack for my insanity 🙂

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