I have a theory that we could get more done if we weren’t carrying forward so much of our past into each day.
What issues, concerns and thoughts do you (or others) carry into work? Most of our work gets done with other colleagues. If someone disappoints us on a project, we remember it and hesitate the next time we are going to work with them on a project team. If someone is habitually late to the office, others notice and can become irritated if it is unaddressed.
A colleague shared with me that she had been promised certain rewards from her boss when she started her new job. As these promises became unfulfilled, she became increasingly resentful about the broken promises. Then she got a new boss, and no one remembered what was promised, except her. What would you advise her to do? How long do we hold on to past disappointments?
As smart and capable professionals, we want to learn lessons, especially from painful past experiences. But how do we extract the learning without bringing all of the emotional or relational baggage forward?
Weight in our packs can be carried forward from many places:
- Broken relationships
- Unresolved issues
- Needing to be “right”
- Feeling unappreciated
- Unrealistic expectations of ourselves or others
Those who carry heavy packs on a vigorous hike need to take more breaks and move slower than those who travel light. What is in your pack that you bring into the workplace each day?
Early in my career I started a habit that I carried forward annually, until I finally took off the pack: Even though I was a salaried professional, I tracked my time over each 40-hour workweek—for years. Why was this so important to me? At that time, there were several reasons:
- I believed that my superiors didn’t recognize how hard I was working
- I wanted to have ammunition for my next compensation discussion and
- I believed that long hours would propel me forward in my career.
When I would work a 60-hour week and no one noticed, I was disappointed and let down. How freeing it was to realize that I was creating my own pain with this habit AND that I had the power of choice to simply stop doing it!
So what can you do when you become aware that you are carrying heavy packs into the workplace? How about asking yourself these questions:
- “Does carrying this extra weight serve me well?” There can be times that it does, but in most instances, it doesn’t.
- “Where can I find another perspective on what I am carrying?” Someone else can look at your situation through a different lens, which can be so valuable in helping you understand what could be loading you up and weighing you down.
- “Do I deal with the situation now?” If possible, deal with it promptly, so you can move forward. What do you gain by procrastinating? One woman who went through significant life changes kept paying rent on a storage unit full of stored and unresolved “stuff” from her past. How often do we figuratively keep paying rent and allowing the past to anchor us from our future?
- “What happens if I let it go?” Give it a shot and see how it feels! When I gave up tracking my hours, I discovered I didn’t miss it – at all! If you let it go and it keeps coming back, go back to step 3 and deal with the situation, hopefully once and for all.
- “What would the ideal pack look like?” Would I have a feather-weight pack only? What would be in that pack that would be useful to me? Engage your imagination on this. Then decide on some specific “gear” you can really use.
There is so much we want to achieve in our careers and our lives. We can get there faster and easier, carrying forward only those things that will serve us and just leaving the rest back on the trail.
Evan Roth is a Certified Executive Coach, Energy Leadership Index Master Practitioner, and Chief Learning Officer at Nelnet, Inc. He enjoys helping people thrive in the corporate world. You can find him at CoachEvanRoth.com.