How Letting Go (of Goals) Can Help Your Work Life

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“Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.” – Herman Hesse

Most of us are challenged to let go of disappointment within our work lives.

We bemoan the collaborations that didn’t prove fertile, the target we may have missed  or the client that got away. We are taught repeatedly to “stick with things” and to “never give up“. Yet, I’ve seen this strategy backfire and cause a great deal of stress.

As a psychologist, I’ve seen this unusual type of guilt — “goal guilt” as I like to call it — affect all types of contributors, from those new to the workforce, to seasoned CEOs and entrepreneurs. In may cases, the unfulfilled elements in the past, simply get in the way of a fulfilling, more work life in the future.

Invariably, the elements that we value the most, that live at our core, cause us the most trouble.

Big, audacious goals are touted as a cornerstone of our work lives. (Some advice here, on how to set them wisely.) We are encouraged not only to set them, but to live alongside them with each and every breath we draw. I’m good with goals and we all need them. Yet, just like the battery that feeds our favorite device — goals have a “life span”. They reach a state, where they are no longer viable or serve as a meaningful motivator. How this affects us is something we should pause and note.

People also cycle in and out, of our work lives. There are expectations attached to them as well — and not all of these might have been fulfilled. There may have been a mismatch, or we (or they) have changed or circumstances influenced the outcomes. Our time with them may have felt unproductive and frustrating, but inevitably, “it was what it was”.

All of this holding on requires energy and “headspace”. Yet, our attention cannot be infinitely divided. (Research has shown that our minds burns through 20% of our energy requirements though it represents only 2% of body mass.) In a sense, wasting that precious energy, is squandering our own potential.

Sometimes we simply must move on — and let go.

How you would describe your own history in this regard? Do you find it easy to let go? Or are you challenged to do so? If you lean toward the stubborn and notably inflexible end of the continuum, the process can be arduous. However, all of this hanging on doesn’t serve us. It can bring a fog that clouds new opportunities and can fuel bitterness. Nevertheless, turning away and leaving these things behind can be challenging and bring a certain sadness.

Letting go of people and goals that define yesterday can be a good thing. We must challenge our mindset to allow us to do so.

Here are a few thoughts concerning what letting go is and isn’t:

  • Letting go of a goal isn’t a defeat.
  • It does not signal failure on your part.
  • It may mean that the goal no longer serves you.
  • It may mean you have committed your best effort — and the outcomes/rewards weren’t there.
  • It is closure.
  • It is about shifting your energies to fertile ground.
  • It is about becoming more agile.
  • It can foster resilience.
  • It can build a sense of adventure; restore a certain hope and confidence in the future.
  • It can mark the moment of a new beginning.

In many cases letting go, creates room for pursuits that are far more rewarding — and carves out a place for the goals and people that will help move us forward.

I would say that softens the blow.

Is letting go challenging for you? Have you mastered the art? Share your experiences with our community.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

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