Letting Go and Moving On From the Things We Leave Behind

When I decided in May to leave the large insurance company where I worked for more than a decade, with the exception of saying goodbye to the close friends I had made over the years, the most difficult part was leaving behind the Center for Financial Insight.

The Center's mission was to help U.S. investors build financial knowledge and confidence through content that was provided free of charge, and that was written/produced in a way that would be engaging, relevant and consumable for the reader/viewer. It was the company's first foray into content marketing, and was met with a surprising amount of resistance from the entrenched marketing team and executive management. 

Upon my departure, I had spent most of the past five years creating the strategy and writing the content for the site, as well as relentlessly advocating for its existence within and outside the organization. Over time, the site became my purpose at the company, because I believed in the mission of the Center and that a marketer's true job is not to create content, but to change the world of the people who consume it (credit to Andrea Fryrear for the quote).

"Our job is not to create content. Our job is to change the world of the people who consume it." – Andrea Fryrear, Agile Marketing Expert

Thus, I felt a powerful connection and duty to the site, and was surprised at how painful it was to make the decision to leave it in someone else's hands. From talking to other creative folks about their work and entrepreneurs who have sold businesses, this struggle to move on from purposeful work is a common feeling, not to mention psychologically difficult. When we do work that we love and either decide to move on to something new or are told that our work will not be used, it's easy to feel like the work was a waste of time, and in a worst-case scenario, it can douse the fire that inspires us to write new text, design new images or whatever it is that drives us create.

And that would be a terrible thing! Stef Lewandowski wrote a beautiful post on the many reasons we should create something new every day, not the least of which is that it can make creativity a habit and has the ability to make us all (not just artists) happier. To help others who may experience difficulty in letting go of their work in the future or who are going through this struggle today, I wanted to share my experience with you and how I was able to come to terms with leaving my work behind:

It Is Personal, But That's What Made It Valuable

Two things I heard quite a bit during my last two weeks with the organization and in the transition period after were, first, advice to "not take it personally" when the company inevitably sent my work down a different path (or as actually happened, killed it outright), and second, that I shouldn't let these things bother me because "it's just a job." 

This advice is well-intended, but I fundamentally disagree. I think it's very difficult, if not impossible, to completely separate yourself from something you worked so hard to build and poured your heart into, much less your entire job. Yes, your job should not define you, but few of us want to admit that we're just going through the motions for 40+ hours every week - if there's no inherent purpose or drive, we must manufacture one. 

In fact, I would make the case that we should take these things personally to an extent; otherwise, it's difficult to celebrate what you have achieved in the past. Eventually, we have to let go of these things to make room for new priorities, but the hurt we feel in seeing things get dismantled or fundamentally altered is an important reminder of what made the work valuable in the first place. Instead of dwelling on the loss, we can use these feelings to create something new that maintains the spirit of what we've left behind.

Save Everything You Can (Especially Unpublished or Unused Work)

One thing that helped me prepare to move on was to save as much of the work I did for the site, both published and unpublished, before I officially departed. Beyond being important for your portfolio, published work can serve as a reminder down the road of what you accomplished, not to mention a benchmark of how much you've grown and changed over time.

Saving unpublished work, and even just thoughts you've jotted down, is equally important. One of the most important things I've learned as a writer over the years is to make sure I have a mechanism to jot down as many thoughts or ideas I have on a daily basis. I use Evernote (note-taking app) and think it's intuitive, but there are many other options out there.

The point is that, even if I don't use these ideas, thoughts or drafts as part of my daily work, they are saved in case I want to use them again. Besides the mental comfort of feeling like I have not left as much work behind, I have personally been able to use quite a bit of this content for posts on this blog and other writing projects.

Let Your Friends and Family In, and Listen

My family and friends were instrumental in helping me move on from my past role and from the loss of the Center. It's human nature to second-guess yourself, regardless of how confident you are most of the time. When you're removed from it for a time, you may begin (as I did) worrying that your work wasn't as valuable as you thought it was, or that you didn't make as much of an impact as you hoped.

Let your friends and family be the ones to help you make that call - it's easy to get stuck in your own thoughts, and the value of an outside opinion cannot be understated. My wonderful wife Kristin is my most important support system, and it was also she who helped me understand that it's OK to take some of these things personally, and my parents and friends have been invaluable sounding boards as I experienced this transition. I can't thank them all enough for their heartfelt support, patience and guidance.

Now You're Prepared to Get Excited About What's Next

After quite a bit of mulling (one of my favorite things to do anyway) and learning the lessons outlined above, I was finally ready to take the most important step of all - making the decision to launch The Dan Martin Adventure. As we all know from experience, on the scale of impact, leaving purposeful work is fairly low on the loss scale when compared to the loss of a loved one, a limb or other more foundational and visceral experiences. That said, it's still a loss we feel, and while we often cannot (and should not) attempt to replace what we have lost, having a new outlet has been, to me, one of the most important aspects of the healing process.

My close friend and former colleague Melissa Hernandez said something to me after I let my last organization that really hit home. She told me that building the site wasn't my legacy, it was that I made people believe in the philosophy behind what we were trying to do, and that it had made a difference.

Melissa's comment outlines maybe the most important distinction we need to make in looking back on our work. I was thinking about the Center as something that had taken a huge amount of effort to create that, after I moved on, I would lose forever. Melissa reminded me that what I can take with me are the ideas, the concepts and the inspiration that made the site successful in the first place and, if I want to, I can use the lessons I learned during my time running the Center and the spirit and drive I applied to the site to create something new and different. To quote the timeless Maya Angelou:

"People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." - Maya Angelou, American Poet, Memoirist and Civil Rights Activist

Thank you so much for reading these posts and for your feedback and support! 

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