Letting Go of Past Successes

Why it's better for you

I was just reading this article about Covid-19 management and the “living with Covid-19” brouhaha in Singapore. The title struck me. “We need to let go of past successes”… in order to move forward.

I am not going to talk about Covid-19 here, as I am no expert. However, I’m gonna talk about the line. About letting go. Letting go of past successes.

That’s one of a kind.

You see, we are mostly taught to let go of bad things. Maybe our bad job. Bad partners. Bad relationships. But many of us are not taught to let go of successes. How can that be? Shouldn’t we get rid of only bad things, and keep the things that work very well?

If you excel as an entrepreneur in the past, would you let it all go and restart everything? If you created a great framework for your team, would you be precious about it and gate-keep it… or just dump it away, maybe in favour of something else that works better? If your kid did so well academically, but she wants to do something in life that warrants dumping away all the academic successes, would you allow her? If you’re a designer who has been awesome in the past, would you start all over again in a new company that is totally unfamiliar for you, and demands something new from you?

See, this is something that I’ve been facing a lot. Maybe I thought I was successful in my past career or jobs, then I joined a new company, or work on a new stuff. Then I realise, whatever worked in the past, doesn’t 100% work in the new context. Should I keep looking for more relevant experiences, or should I jump in to new forays?

Maybe I am too scared. Maybe I have way too much pride to start from zero.

The way I see it, there are reasons why people can’t let go of past successes:

Ego & Identities

In certain culture, a way of doing things is sacred, and deviating from that in the future is never an option. This also includes company culture, or individual culture. Say that you believe strongly in certain ideals (a way to manage work, people or projects) because it’s tied up in the collective identity of a society. It would be hard to let it go in favour for something else.

Investment (Time, Money, Energy)

All the investment or cost that are sunk into the effort in the past, especially if it was successful, would be perceived as a waste or pity if not respected or appreciated. Whatever the outcomes that arise after that, we believe that is the product of that investment, and don’t want to waste that investment.

Peer Pressure

This is especially true if there is a community or collective that has certain rules or ways of working that have established some norms over years or decades. Similar to identities — but established by profession, group or clique. Say that to be a good designer you have to do X, Y, Z because those are what are considered good by the industry, you’d think those are the only things that you need to do to succeed. Once you fail, you keep on asking why.

What would work then? At what point should we keep on to our successes, and what point should we unlearn?

I’d say if external factors do change, maybe we work in a new industry, new era, new setting… anything else that we don’t have control over, we probably should consider letting go of past successes.

We could also consider letting go of past successes when we think that would not be sustainable for our health (mentally, physically). Maybe we want a change to our lifestyle.

However, if things work out for you… and you feel well doing so for the longest term… by all means, keep your successes, but be mindful of it.

“We spend so much time dangling into our past” — an anecdote that people say about bad situations in the past, but actually, it also means dangling into our past successes.