Letting Go of What Was to Make Room for What Could Be

As we anticipate a new year and consider how much has changed, what do we need to prioritize? What do we need to make room for? Before we think about what more we want to do, the growth milestones we want to hit and goals we want to achieve, make room to consider these questions: What matters most? What do we need to let go of? What should we stop doing? We have limited time, energy and money. Let’s invest time to consider how we use it.

What does it mean to let go of what was to make room for what could be? The first piece we need to explore is releasing what was. For instance, many of us spent a lot of energy resisting the changes that happened the last couple of years and wished for things to go back to the way they were. We have our energy stuck in that resistance instead of moving forward into what could be. We have also settled into thoughts, patterns and behaviors without even knowing it that keeps us from being our best self or doing our best work.

Maybe in our personal lives we need to let go of: fear, resentment, shame, guilt. The desire for comfort. Old thoughts, behaviors and relationships that are no longer serving us. Old viewpoints that no longer serve us like life is a race vs. a dance: a side and back step might be just what you need. 

In our professional lives maybe we need to let go of: Distraction. Perfection. The desire for control. Doing what is easy vs. what is right. Old systems and structures that are no longer working in this new environment. Old definitions of success that no longer make sense.

We have a client who has doubled in size and is now purposefully slowing down to invest time in 2022 to step back and reevaluate structure, systems and processes to build a solid foundation for the future. We have another client who has experienced 20+ years of consistent growth but recognized that if they push their people to those traditional numbers right now while they are on the brink of burnout, they’ll leave. Taking a step back financially makes the most sense because talent is most important for their long term success.

Another part of letting go of what was to make room for what could be means identifying what we need to stop doing. We say yes to too much or we get so busy we aren’t doing the right things anymore because we don’t have time to evaluate what we are actually doing. We settle into habits, routines and ways of doing things that no longer serve us. Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less said, “Sometimes what you don’t do is just as important as what you do.” He tells the story that if you want to be a nicer person, instead of doing more nice things it’s actually more impactful to stop doing mean things. 

In your personal life, maybe you need to stop talking negatively to yourself or about others. Blaming others. Binging or numbing. Stop hustling and make time to rest. Doing everything everyone else wants you to do and make room for what you want. In your professional life, maybe you need to stop attending meetings that are ineffective. Staying silent about things that matter. Stop going through the motions and make time to be more intentional. Making excuses. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and many other great business books says a stop doing list has been critical to his own success and the success of many leaders he studies. 

It takes a lot of courage to explore these things first, because in order to make change we have to face the reality of what is and we don’t like to talk about or face what isn’t working or what’s broken. Jim Collins wrote about the Stockdale paradox: you must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

A second reason this work takes courage is because once we know something could or should be different, we have to decide whether we are going to do something about it. For much of my life I was stuck in a cycle of blaming others for everything that was going wrong. My parents, my co-workers, my friends, my significant other.

The day I realized I was giving away all my power to change my circumstances by playing the victim was really tough for me. In that moment I knew that I had the power to choose to take ownership and responsibility for my life no matter what happened to me but I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. It would’ve been so much easier to keep blaming everyone else for my problems. It hasn’t been easy, but I have found so much freedom and peace as I have worked to remove blame from my life. 

Another reason it takes courage to let go of what was to make room for what could be is because we never know what is on the other side of change. We don’t deal well with letting go. We aren’t equipped with the coping strategies to deal with change, so we get stuck in our fear and stay comfortable or play it safe. We don’t want that for any of us. We want every person, team and organization here to reach their full potential. So today, instead of focusing on what we might lose by letting go, we want to focus on what we could gain. Because of what we’ve been through the last 18+ months, things have changed quite dramatically. There is opportunity in it. Better ways forward for our life, leadership and work. 

Here are some questions to help you let go of what was to make room for what could be:

  • What pain points am I experiencing individually? Organizationally?
  • What should change?
  • What should not change?
  • What is something I need to let go of?
  • Who is someone I need to forgive?
  • What habits no longer serve me?
  • What relationships no longer serve me?

Take these ideas and questions to your family, team, organization and community. Build a letting go and stop doing practice into your life and work! 

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