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Haunted by the past

There are so many Halloween decorations up this year, it's like we live in a haunted neighborhood. This, of course, makes all the kids (especially my own) quite excited and is the perfect mood-setter for playing ghosts in the graveyard.

While I listen to the kids outside, squealing with delight at their game, I feel my own screams coming on as I too have been haunted. But unlike the children, I've been haunted by the past. MUAHAHAHA!

Next year Rosabella Consulting will be 10 years old, which is hard to believe. Being in business for a decade is it's own feat, that I do not discount. But there's also a cost, sometimes past failures and mishaps hold you back.

It's easy to convince myself that I've tried nearly everything already. And any idea for my business that remotely resembles a past failed attempt I can quickly write off. "Tried that, didn't work, moving on."

This kind of thought process is a pervasive problem among more seasoned professionals. Assuming all ideas have already been tried before and therefore quickly writing them off.

This is a dynamic that tends to exacerbate young professionals and those new to a team. I recall, myself, getting irritated with how quickly my ideas were being written off when I made suggestions as a newbie to a team years ago.

Part of the reason this is problematic is due to the way leaders and managers respond. The typical response is quick, often spoken in an unfriendly tone of voice, and without showing any gratitude for the genuine engagement of another.

I have found that these outward dynamics has been mirrored with my own inner dialogue. The quick, harsh, dismissive and judgmental reaction is, indeed, humiliating and quickly leads to me shutting down.

Of course, there are instances where it is prudent to learn from the past. While serving on the Board of Directors for a non-profit educational retreat center for the last 8 years, there are some common ideas we tend to field from newcomers. Two prominent questions we almost always hear are: what about winterizing the retreat center? And what if we installed an elevator?

I vividly recall myself having such wonderings when I was new to the board. As I learned about the past efforts to investigate such initiatives, including the costs relative to the other needs of the facility, I began to see the logic of why those weren't the top priorities.

As I became a more seasoned board member, I started to get frustrated with having the same conversations every time we brought someone new to the table. I felt like we were talking in circles; something that's always bothered me is all talk and no action. But recalling the humiliation and rejection I had experienced as the relative newbie on other teams when I offered ideas that had already been tried and tested, I made the conscious effort not to be the offender I once suffered the ire of. 

It turns out that maintaining openness, curiosity and compassion during these types of conversations helps the new kid on the block learn context and culture. In addition, it is always possible that the logic which once prevailed is no longer sound. So, rather than quickly writing off tried ideas that surface again, it pays to slow down and investigate.

It is entirely possible that things have changed since that idea last surfaced, making it more plausible to institute. Additionally, the discussion around these re-born ideas may offer valuable new insights into your overall efforts. A fresh perspective, a new resource, awareness of recent developments, all have the potential to change the trajectory of what once failed.

Perhaps, not least of which, is the importance of the overarching mindset a leader emulates when ideas from the past resurface again in the present. To hold the past as predictive of our current and future realities is to have a fixed mindset. When leaders do this they are perpetuating the belief that change is not possible and that the presence of a challenge is a sign to give up.

And what's really sad is that a fixed mindset becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. As long as we believe that our past failures are indicative of our current potential, we remain unfairly reprimanded.

Thomas Edison is famous for saying, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

Such is the core of the growth mindset. To embrace the past as a wellspring of lessons learned that inspire perseverance. And to maintain a youthful curiosity, an openness to trying new things. 

But there's another layer to maintaining a growth mindset in those critical moments when we are haunted by the past. And that is the emotional awareness and aptitude to move through feelings of failure and disappointment.

In my own experience, it is not the intention that leads to me being haunted and therefore limited by the past. On an intellectual level, I will always choose a growth mindset over a fixed one. However, it is the emotional toll, and more specifically the bruising to my ego, which leads to telling myself a story that reinforces a fixed mindset.

Staying haunted by the past is a way to maintain the illusion of psychological safety at the expense of my true potential. If I can point to all my past failures and mishaps as just the way things are, I forgo responsibility and all that comes with owning up when things are not measuring up. It perpetuates a victim mentality, externalizes blame and continues a cycle of giving my power away.

Indeed, the past is painful. The reality of starting and running a business is a stark contrast to the dream. And I could let myself be drawn into negativity bias, fixating on all that went wrong, holding onto all my failures as a sign of impending doom. Or I could acknowledge how I feel, show myself compassion, appreciate that my experience is all too human and keep trudging along. 

I might, at times, feel haunted by the past, but I don't need to let it be predictive of the future.

Are you feeling haunted by the past? Are you feeling anxious, stressed or overwhelmed? Save the date for the next Journal Jam on October 29th where I'll show you how to reconcile with the past, and let go of worries about the future so you may be satisfied in the present moment.

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