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 impacts of letting go of the way the world used to be.

These transitions come in three stages. The first is called Separation.

Kodak didn’t fall behind because it couldn’t make digital cameras — the company actually invented the digital camera, 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 business that sold coffee equipment and coffee beans locally. They couldn’t imagine themselves as a global coffee retailer. It didn’t fit with who they saw themselves as. To make the opportunity of becoming the world’s largest coffeehouse chain happen their marketing director, Howard Shultz, literally had to buy the company from them. And then, only then, once the company was controlled by people who had emotionally and psychologically Separated from their old identity, the task of building the new identity could begin.

The same applies to all of us. Only when we have truly Separated from the past, letting go of the way the world used to be, can we start to build the future.

In this time of churning, when so much is changing all at once, knowing how to let go of the past in a way that lets you rebuild the best of it in the future is fast becoming a critical skill.

This is another step towards becoming antifragile.

When did you last experience a major change in your role or identity? Did you need to 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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