Don’t Let The Past Steal Your Present

When we invest time, energy and emotions in concepts, things or in others, we often become attached to a certain outcome. Those outcomes sometimes work out, but often don’t. By holding on to patterns in our lives — and to specific expectations — we can actually sabotage or limit our ability to grow. Here are some ways to avoid traps that keep us from letting go and moving forward.

It’s a question many of us ask ourselves when we experience a setback in our career or personal lives:  how do you let go of the past and move on? Holding on is a natural human instinct — but it’s also a critical way we stop ourselves from reaching our goals. After acknowledging the need to stop holding on to ideas, it’s time to learn how to move on so you can reach your true potential.

One of the many things I appreciate about The Financial Manager, the magazine for members of the Media Financial Management Association, is that not only does it offer articles on the latest technology, finance trends and news relevant to those of us on the financial side of the media industry, it also includes columns such as “Human Factor,” which addresses the non-tangible parts of our careers and lives.

The “Human Factor” column in the November/December issue of TFM, caught my eye, particularly with its analogy from author Josef Martens, a professional coach and leadership trainer. In his piece, titled “Letting Go, Sailing Forward,” Martens tells us of a beautiful, 78-foot sailboat that caught his eye one day, sitting in the slip next to his friend’s boat. Martens’ friend knew the sailboat’s owner — and also knew the boat was for sale. The friend happened to have the keys for the boat, and took Martens on board for a tour.

Martens was in love. The boat looked great, and after checking out the owner’s online listing, Martens was surprised to see that he could actually afford such a large and attractive vessel. “Over the next few days, I fell in love with the idea of owning it,” Martens said.

He contacted the owner, and began negotiations to purchase the ketch. He contacted others he needed to make buying the boat a reality:  lenders, insurance companies and marinas. He envisioned not only sailing the ketch himself, but helping to finance it by hosting executive retreats on it, chartering it out for weddings or other special events, or even renting it as an Airbnb. All seemed to be moving forward as planned — until it didn’t.

Martens said he suddenly found the seller wasn’t returning calls or emails. After a couple of weeks of wondering, he learned the owner of the boat sold it to someone else, and that Martens was the backup buyer. He was angry and disappointed — but worst of all, after shopping for and looking at other boats, he learned that he couldn’t let go of the idea of owning that specific ketch. “Then I realized the problem was not with the boats. The problem was with me. I had become attached to the first boat and wasn’t able to let go of it,” he explained.


How many of us have become enamored with an idea, a material thing, or another person, idealized it over time, and became paralyzed when a purchase, a job, or a relationship didn’t work out? I’d venture to say it has happened to most of us at one or more points in our lives. When we cling to one idea, believing it’s the only way to go, that also means we stop considering our alternatives. That can be a dangerous practice — and it can happen without our realizing it.

So, what can we do to move past these “stuck” places in our careers and lives? While I don’t have all the answers, I prescribe to, and received permission to share these seven tips from professional life coach Ellie Hadsall:

  1. Recognize when it’s time to let go. Realizing it’s time to move forward is often the hardest part of actually do so. Sometimes it takes a wake-up call for us to see that what we’re doing isn’t working. When you get to the point where no matter how hard you try to reason out your situation and it doesn’t make sense, that’s when moving forward is the only solution.
  2. Give yourself time. Whether it’s your career, a relationship, a habit, or even a material thing, you invest energy, often creating an emotional web. You’ll likely experience sadness, disappointment, anger, loss, grief, and fear of what comes next — all normal emotions. Be present with your emotions so they can eventually be released.
  3. Face your fear of what’s next. Leaving the familiar is hard. It’s comfortable and what you know. But rather than let history repeat itself, honestly assess who you are, what you believe in, and identify the reactive habits that get you into trouble. Then get help — whether it be a webinar, counseling, or finding resources in the library or on the web.
  4. Embrace the idea that you aren’t your history. You aren’t what happened in the past — nor what is happening today always a result of past choices or actions. If you frame today from the perspective of your past, you’ll block new possibilities, and are more likely to repeat your history. Put down on paper a vision of the best you that you can perceive right now. Then commit to behaving and making choices as that person, rather than who you were in the past.
  5. Learn the lesson. Why are you in a situation that requires letting go and moving forward? Have you enabled a specific pattern of behavior that put you in this place? Blaming an undesirable situation on others isn’t a solution. The only person you have control over is you. Every situation offers a lesson; the sooner you acknowledge what the lesson is, the sooner you can detach from it and move on.
  6. Allow failure to enlighten future successes. Everyone makes mistakes. Inventors fail more often than they succeed — but with each failure, they fine-tune their thinking and improve the process. When we know what doesn’t work, we can move in a different direction. Just as a sailor adjusts the sails to the wind, with continual small (or sometimes large) adjustments, we eventually reach our destination.
  7. Holding on to where you are leaves no room for new in your life. When a space is vacated, something will rush in to fill that spot. Remove a bucket of water from a river, and water rushes into that area. If you insist on clinging to what’s undesirable, there will be no room for the desirable. If you want something new, make room for it by removing what’s currently occupying that space in your life.

As 2021 begins to draw to a close and we look to the year ahead with all of its unknowns, we’d be wise to take stock of those areas in our lives where we may be holding onto something that can cause us to become stuck, and realize the many benefits of letting go and moving forward.

Lori Locke serves as secretary and 2022 conference co-chair for the 2021-22 board of directors of the Media Financial Management Association and its BCCA subsidiary, the media industry’s credit association. She is executive vice president and chief accounting officer of Discovery Inc., and can be reached at [email protected].

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