Last month, I wrote about the power of forgiveness and how learning to forgive yourself (as well as others) is essential for personal growth and change. All too often, we hold on to old hurts, grudges and mistakes, and they become obstacles to enjoying life, advancing in our careers or successfully running a business.
Forgiving is the first step, and that is hard enough. But an equally difficult and necessary second step is letting go of past wrongs and then leaving them behind—forever.
New Thought leader and author Emmet Fox put it this way in his advice to leave old grievances buried:
Don’t be a grave robber. Let corpses alone…Every time you dig up an old grievance or an old mistake by rehearsing it in your mind or, still worse, by telling someone else about it, you are simply ripping open a grave—and you know what you may expect to find.
Live the present. Prepare intelligently for the future—and let the past alone…Life is too precious for grave robbing. The past is past—liquidate it. If a negative memory comes into your mind, cremate it with the right thought (the fire of Love) and forget it. (From “Around the Year with Emmet Fox.”)
John Baldoni had a great post on the HBR Blog a few years ago called “To Lead, Let Go of the Past.” Baldoni offers these three questions to help managers who may be stuck on the past:
What do you want to accomplish? Managers are trained to plan in order to achieve organizational goals. That same skill can be applied to overcoming a past mistake. Acknowledge it. Treat it as if it were a goal that you would like to achieve. Doing so will enable you to distance yourself from it personally and treat it only as a management issue.
How will you accomplish it? Prioritizing resources to achieve the goal is essential in management. Know what you need in terms of material, people and time lines. That same skill can be applied to letting go of something. Treat the failure to let go as a roadblock that you must surmount. Take it apart bit by bit, or blow it up all at once.
How is holding on to the past going to help you achieve your better future? Good managers are nothing if not pragmatic. If something isn’t working, you try something new. Ask yourself how you will let go. Do you need to talk to a colleague, a coach or a trusted friend? Just as you need help in accomplishing a management objective, you may need help in letting go of the past.
Baldoni concludes by saying: “Most senior managers know what it feels like to make a mistake for which you are accountable. True leaders don’t get stuck on it. They correct the mistakes and move on. The ones who don’t end up living lives of ‘quiet desperation,’ never able to let go of what has already come and gone.”
This past weekend, I gave a series of meditations on the importance of forgiveness at a Kairos prison ministry retreat. In giving the talks, I realized the words were meant for me as much as the 42 inmates who attended. Regardless of our situation in life, we all need forgiveness. And we all must learn to accept our mistakes and move on.