It’s Dangerous to Lead While Carrying Leftovers 5 Steps to Free Yourself From Your PastOverall, our lives offer us a grand learning experience. Opportunities to develop and free ourselves from negative character traits or people who’ve tried to hold us back. Yet, unfortunately, some people are blind to their lessons and carry the heavy bag of leftovers wherever they go. Leftovers are often described as food that wasn’t eaten. Left on the plate, sometimes scraped off or put in the fridge for another day. However, if left too long, it rots and can even contaminate food close by. For the sake of this article, “leftovers” refer to elements of our past.
Deep within the bag…The scary part is when leftovers stay hidden. Whether pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten or lying deep within the bag, they have the power to spontaneously disrupt life. Sometimes through outbursts of anger, mental illness or chronic depression. Equally scary is when they’re pulled from the bottom of the bag and habitually practiced without a drop of awareness of the harm they inflict. Or practiced with apathy and over-shadowed with arrogance and a false sense of superiority. Deviant behavior can eventually emerge. Authoritarian leadership, which includes autocratic and dictator-like leaders, carry deep bags. The best preparation to deal with them is to understand them. To comprehend their control issues, emotional outbursts, rigidity and insecurities in order to strategize and maneuver through their land mines.
Lightening the load…Fortunately, the majority of people pay attention to life’s lessons. Some lessons may need to be repeated a few times to capture our attention and willingness to change but that’s OK. We experience tremendous freedom with each lesson learned. Our bag lightens. We stand up straighter and breathe easier. We operate with greater clarity, compassion, integrity and an invaluable understanding of ourselves and others.
We are all leaders…Whether you self-lead or head a Fortune 500 company, leftovers from your past can trigger you. They often surface in our most vulnerable moments. Let me explain. You’re about to give a public presentation. You are experiencing a bit of normal anxiety, however, you’re excited to connect with the organization and share with the audience. Fifteen minutes before you go on, a voice inside your head says, “Jon, you will never amount to anything.” Standing before you is the detention teacher from middle school. When he said it he was annoyed and angry, with good cause, by your behavior. Most likely, he regretted it, but his comment penetrated your mind like an arrow. Immediately you’re drained of the positive anticipation of connecting with your audience. The instant that memory flew out of your bag, you’re once again 12-years-old. Feeling small is not what you need fifteen minutes before show time.
5 Steps to free yourself from your past…First of all, whenever a leftover creeps up, that means you haven’t fully put it to rest. Therefore, pay close attention and don’t shove it back down. Deal with it. Below are a few tips for how to: 1) Whenever a negative memory surfaces, regardless of the context, respond boldly. Speak with authority. Tell yourself that today you are safe and cannot be negatively affected by your past. 2) If the memory involves another person, immediately forgive them. Do so with the realization that whatever occurred was from their own lack of awareness. When you fully understand that, your fear will be gone…and often, so will the person. 3) Perhaps what comes up is your own negative estimation of yourself. It could be overall or regarding a specific incident, in which you carry guilt, shame or remorse. Dissolve those feelings by forgiving yourself. Know you’re not alone. We’ve all felt those feelings. 4) The minute a memory appears – it can cause negative emotions. If that happens, take one or two deep breaths and mentally take charge. Have available prepared short statements that lift you above the undertow of fear. You are stronger than your past. 5) Be awake and aware on a daily basis. Don’t create new leftovers. Did something happen last week you’re still mulling over in your mind – like a dog with a bone? The minute it comes up, catch it and immediately say, “leftovers” and let it go, unless it needs your immediate attention. If so, then act. If not, drop it.
By practicing these 5 steps, you will find yourself living in the present moment with an eye to the future, not burden by what happened yesterday.