Leave the Past Alone

Have you ever known someone who cannot get out of the past? Whether it is their failures or their successes, that’s where they live their life. In another posting, When Planning is a Roadblock, I talked about how people so often cannot move forward either because they cannot plan completely for the future or they cannot escape their past failures. Here I want to focus on getting beyond past failures in order to move forward. Essentially they have to learn to leave the past alone.

A Personal Example

While not in the business arena, here is a personal example. One of my ways of relaxing is painting; not houses but pictures. I’ll have to admit that there are times when it is not relaxing if I am struggling to get something the way I want it to look, but that is more the exception. In fact that challenging aspect of painting can be very enjoyable. But, I don’t want to get sidetracked. The thing I want to emphasize is those times when I finish a painting and decide I really don’t like it. The reasons can vary from realizing my subject choice was not a good one to the colors used to a host of other things. But, here’s what matters. I learn a great deal from these failures and they do not keep me from moving forward. To do that it is necessary for me to leave the past alone. That doesn’t mean I don’t revisit a painting in order to evaluate how I would do something different, but at the same time I am not deterred from moving on to another painting.

Classic Business Examples

If you know anything about the late Steve Jobs you probably remember he was a co-founder of Apple Computer, later was ousted from Apple, and then returned to play a major role in turning around what was by then a struggling company. I would imagine that most of us, if ousted from a company we help start, might have a difficult time getting past this perceived failure. I don’t know if he struggled with that at all, but I do know he managed to get past it and move on to bigger and better achievements in the business world.

An older example is the great American inventor, Thomas Edison. While he did not invent the electric light bulb he did invent the first commercially viable incandescent one. Most of us have heard stories that he failed in his attempts a 1,000 times or more and that when asked about it he simply said that each time he had learned another way that didn’t work.

broken lightbulb

Now I don’t know how many failed attempts he actually made nor do I know whether he made those comments. But, I do know that he was able to put those failures in the proper perspective and leave the past alone. Without that ability he might have mentally beaten himself up over his failures and never succeeded in his quest.

The thing that matters here is that ability Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, and countless others demonstrated of not getting stuck in the past and instead moving forward. We all need to do that if we want to progress and achieve.

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As always, your comments are welcomed.

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