The importance of Separating from a past that has gone

In a world filled with change, it is often not the physical changes we find difficult but rather the emotional and psychological transitions involved in letting go of the way the world used to be.

These transitions come in three stages. And the first is called Separation.

Kodak didn’t fall behind because it couldn’t make digital cameras — the company actually invented the digital camera, back in 1975. The reason Kodak failed was because, psychologically and emotionally, it couldn’t let go of its old identity as a chemical photographer. This inability to Separate from its past left a huge gap for others to fill.

The original owners of Starbucks built a successful local business selling coffee beans and coffee-making equipment. They just couldn’t imagine themselves as a global coffee retailer: it didn’t fit with who they thought they were. So before their marketing director, Howard Shultz, could create the world’s largest chain of coffeehouses, he literally had to buy the company from them. Only then, when the company was controlled by people who had emotionally and psychologically Separated from its old identity, could the work of building the new global brand and its new identity begin.

The same applies to all of us. Only when we have psychologically and emotionally Separated from a past that has gone forever can we truly start to build the future we most want.

In this time of churning, when so much is changing, knowing how to let go of the past quickly, in ways that help us to retain and rebuild the parts that matter most to us, is fast becoming a critical skill. More than that, it is another step towards becoming antifragile.

When did you last experience a major change in your role or identity? Did you need to fully let go of your old identity before you could step fully into the new one? Would it have been useful to have been able to do that faster?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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Photo By julie corsi via

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