You Don't Need Closure to Move On

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Picture this: I’m sitting alone in a stuffy, overheated two-person conference room inside a big office building. I’m hot, I’m feeling confused and a bit cranky, and I’m on the phone.

“I just feel like I have all this baggage from my last job and I don’t know if I’m going to be able to let it go and move on.”

The person on the other end of the line was my coach, Melanie. Melanie and I were trying to evaluate whether a new job opportunity was the right, next step for me. It had all the markings of a great new position – but something about it was hitting a little too close to home, bringing up all sorts of bad memories that I’d been carrying with me from a past job. A job that left me feeling lonely, burnt out and more than a little cynical.

“So you’ve got baggage, Ashley,” she said to me. “Everyone does. The question is: where are you going to put that baggage when you go into your final interview? Will you bring it with you or leave it behind?”

Before I answered that question, Melanie suggested I picture the baggage I’m carrying. What might it look like? “It looks like Mary Poppins’ carpet bag,” I said. And what would I do with it?

“Bury it,” I said immediately, without hesitation. “I’m going to bury it underground and leave it there before I head to the interview.”

Fast forward to present day and I find that I’m thinking about baggage again. Normally we think of carrying baggage from one romantic relationship to another – how will I trust again when I got my heart broken so terribly last time? But have you ever stopped to consider, just like we collect experience and skills from one job to the next, we might also collect emotional injuries and other bruises that could damage our chances for success at our next job?

In fact I’ve often thought that the arc of our work relationships mirrors the arc of our romantic ones: from courtship (They made me an offer!) and the honeymoon period (I just can’t get enough - I love it all!) to what I affectionately call ‘the dirty dishes in the sink phase’ (Well, it’s not perfect but I do really care about the work so I’m going to stick with it.). Then, as can happen in romance, sometimes things change – we feel a shift in the energy of our team or our boss; we wonder what’s changed and how we might improve or do things differently; and sometimes we even get dumped.

All of this creates baggage – feelings, memories, even behaviors and patterns that we don’t always realize we’re carrying but that have the potential to ruin our next relationship even before it starts.

Case in point: this week I had coffee with a friend who, after over a decade with her current employer, found out that they no longer have any work for her. After telling her all the reasons why she is so talented, so capable, and so deserving of so much more, they then told her that she has to find a new job somewhere else. If that’s not an employer-sponsored version of “It’s not you, it’s me,” then I don’t know what is.

“Why would they tell me how great I am and then reject me?” she wondered. “Where am I supposed to go from here?”

Great question. Where do we go – and how – when our work relationships end without our choosing? And how do we begin to make sense of the baggage we’re carrying so that we start fresh and find trust again in our new work relationships?

A spark of an answer came to me this week in a yoga class, when my teacher read a quote by Timber Hawkeye, author of Buddhist Bootcamp:

“You don’t need closure to move on. That’s just a story, a myth that tries to justify hanging onto the strings of a broken kite. When you cling to pain from your past you continue to perpetuate your own suffering. Be grateful for the experience, [then] leave it behind you... You don’t need closure to move on. You just need to move on.” 

I wish I could say I know how, in one fell swoop, to ease the pain of the bumps and bruises we’ve all experienced at work. From bad bosses and stressful deadlines, to dysfunctional teams and unrealistic expectations – or something entirely different – we’ve all suffered through work relationships that have left us with baggage that’s tough to reconcile and let go of. 

But what if we don’t need to let go of it or get closure in order to move forward? Maybe we just need to start by knowing the baggage is there, understanding its contents, and figuring out where to stash it while we delicately step into our next work relationship. Much like signing up for a first date with someone new, each professional ‘first date’ asks us to be brave, to have hope, and to trust in the possibility of a new relationship. 

Funny enough – that job that I agonized over with my coach? The one that felt right (and wrong) for so many reasons? I took it. But before I said yes, I made sure to bury that old baggage way down deep underground. It hadn’t served me well up to that point, and I wanted to be sure I didn’t bring into this new relationship either.

As they say, the world works in mysterious ways; in the end, it turned out that this new job wasn’t my Mr. Right, either. And yes, along the way I did pick up a few new battle scars that I have since added to my underground carpet bag. But like any true relationship – personal or professional – I don’t regret it. As Timber suggests, I feel grateful to have learned what I did, experienced what I experienced, and especially to have tried in the first place. 

Or, as I would put it: you don’t have to have closure to move on. You just have to keep moving.

Onward,

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