Holding on to the past is bad for business – here’s why

By: Stella Orange

One of my teachers recently named a phenomenon that’s been afoot lately:

We hold on to things from our past, and then we add more holding in the present.

I’ll put my cards on the table. I’ve held onto the expectation that the way things worked in my last business (Six-figure email campaigns! Flying all over the world! Spending money like a celebrity!) is how it will go in this business.

But what if that’s not true?

There are a lot of advisors, teachers, and guides here reading this. I imagine some of you chuckling right now. Because everyday, you see people who are holding on to their past, and you are quite clear that it’s gumming up their present, and their future.

So yeah, we know this. And yet, even as we know this, in our businesses, we hold on.

We hold on to business models.

We hold on to certain ideas about what our business ‘should’ look like.

We hold on to beliefs about how much money we need to make to feel secure, and even important.

We hold on to crazy thoughts about how we can’t take vacations, or set boundaries with clients, or own up to the healing, spiritual, or trauma informed work we are actually doing with, say, our corporate or executive clientele, without the sky falling or the wheels falling off the bus. 

My teacher calls these our ‘personal holdings.’

She said they won’t release instantly. But, she said, we can experience a new normal. We can feel into what it would be like to experience something different – a new possibility.

Now, there is a high probability that you have built your livelihood serving other people in creating new possibilities. In their relationships. In their parenting. In their leadership. In their emotional lives. In their bodies. In their organizations. On their teams.

And yet, when it comes to our own businesses, we can find ourselves in a position where we are holding on to what was, what used to be.

Ignoring, even resisting, new possibilities.

Hey, don’t sweat it. We all do it. Holding is human.

And I don’t need to remind you, but I will anyway: these things have a way of unfolding in their own time.

But let’s talk about what’s at stake.

Around here, we believe in the ripple effect. That while no one person can do All Of The Things, when that person does her or his or their right work in the world – the work that is theirs to do, the work that is their song in this life – the impact ripples out from them, like rings around a stone tossed in water.

Their marriage, if they have one, feels the difference. Their kiddos, if they’ve got ‘em, feel the difference. They interact differently with their clients, neighbors, friends, strangers.

Heck, THEY feel the difference!

But when we hold on to structures and business practices that don’t line up with who we are, or what we value, or the fullest, most colorful, and plumpest expression of the work that we do, it shuts us off from that generative flow.

We hold on to the past —

  • remembering what we had to go through to build this business
  • believing there is only one way to create what we envision
  • not wanting to admit that it’s not working anymore

And in the present – the only moment we have to do something different – we:

  • repeat coping patterns that shut us off from what’s happening in the present moment
  • pretend we have all the answers and don’t need anybody else
  • are skeptical of anyone offering their expertise and support, maybe because a past coach dropped a deuce in that proverbial punch bowl

I’m not saying holding is bad, and letting go is good. We’ve got to stop thinking in these binary, either-or frames. They are killing our collective ability to imagine new futures for ourselves, our businesses, and even our society.

But what I am urging is for you to consciously notice what you are holding onto in your business – and why. I am inviting you to be radical and ruthless and real in evaluating whether that ‘personal holding’ is serving you, your clients, and your goals for what you intend to create with your one wild and precious life (in the words of poet Mary Oliver).  With some honesty and bravery, you may find that the time has come to let go of what was, so that you can rise up and into what you intend to create, build, and become.

The effects of that choice will ripple out from your business in ways that will humble and embolden you.

Big love,

Stella is cofounder and copywriter at Las Peregrinas, a creative and consulting agency. As our resident word nerd, she writes copy and points out the stories everyone is living and telling through their work. She is also fun at parties.

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