Hitting the “Delete” Key: Letting Go of the Old Professional Identity

by Lori Moss

When we leave a career, handing over the keys and walking out the door are tangible aspects of letting go of the past and moving forward to a new way of being in our professional lives.  However, taking this courageous step doesn’t mean we are emotionally prepared to plunge ahead. We may have spent years creating a professional identity, cultivating a niche of expertise, honing our leadership skills and building our influence.  This is a huge investment, and it may take more than closing the physical door behind us to completely let go of our attachment to an old, tried-and-true role in the business world.

For many of us, it takes time to sort through and process the emotional issues that come with the territory of moving on. Whatever our next move, its emotional reality is usually a mix of anxiety, freedom

and giddy anticipation. The act of leaving what is outworn does not guarantee our immediate availability for “what’s next.” It should come as no surprise that our willingness to embark on a new professional path and trajectory is inversely proportional to the degree of attachment we have to our old identity.

My own journey of career transformation was hardly a straight-forward, linear track to a new professional life and path of service. The first year away from my old profession was an enormous adjustment, punctuated by frequent episodes of longing for the “good old days”.  In my weaker moments I was nostalgic for that old feeling of mastery and accomplishment. It was easy to forget the many reasons why the end times of those old days were not honestly all that good.

Suddenly, I was awash in the uncertainty of new beginnings and all that I needed to do and learn.  It was difficult to recall just how much I had once longed for this very opportunity. Faced with new and daunting challenges of being a ‘freshman’ business owner, it was easy to overlook that joyfulness and creativity had been sacrificed every day I had lingered in my old profession out of fear and attachment.

One day, in the middle of one of my recurring episodes of turmoil over whether or not I had made a mistake by leaving that old career, I stumbled upon a trove of memorabilia. Pictures, written accolades, press releases and other bits and pieces that documented my former career accomplishments were nestled in a box waiting for my attention. I decided that I wanted to do something with all the evidence of successes past and gather it in to a book.  It took several hours to scan all the documents into my computer and organize the images.  (I admit that as I persevered through the process, I couldn’t help but notice it was more of a chore than a heart-felt desire.) Finally, I was ready to create a photo book, the testament to my achievements.

A few days later, I sat down at my computer, opened the file and admired myself for the diligence it took to put this together.  It truly would be a fine-looking book.

Then it hit me.

While it had taken all the courage I could muster to leave the old career, my lingering attachment to the past was keeping me from truly moving on to my next endeavor. I suddenly realized that I would never be able to go all the way through my career transformation if I were unwilling to truly release the past and venture forth into the uncertain future. It was then that I knew I was finally ready to embrace my full potential and walk through the emotional doorway in the same way I had walked out the physical door those many months ago.

So, I put my cursor over the file and hit the DELETE key.  The system asked me if I was sure.  In one click, the evidence of my past success was gone. Now the path forward was one I could truly embrace.

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