Stop Sacrificing Your Future by Clinging to Your Past

Here's the most important lesson you can learn from your past.
Stop Sacrificing Your Future by Clinging to Your Past
Image credit: Nigel Parry
Magazine Contributor
Editor in Chief
5 min read

This story appears in the May 2018 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

I was at a bar recently with MICK, a successful DJ who spins for celebrities and big brands, and we were discussing his future. He has ambitious plans to expand his business, but like any entrepreneur, he’s also concerned: Can he pull it off? What if he isn’t equipped for the next steps?

Related: 5 Tips for Entrepreneurs to Keep Moving Forward

A day earlier, I’d heard a different example of that same fear. A friend in media was considering changing jobs and asked for my advice. She’s a rock star at her publication. “But at this new job, I’ll just be another employee,” she said. What if she can’t repeat the success she has right now?

Dig into anybody’s future plans and you’ll hit some version of this anxiety. It’s always there, aching and sometimes paralyzing. If we indulge it, we turn down amazing opportunities. We sacrifice our futures in order to cling to the past. We lose. And that’s unacceptable. The only way forward is to overcome this anxiety -- and to do that, we first need to understand it. So let’s put the question another way. Let’s see it for what it really is.

Related: 10 Ways to Move Forward After Suffering a Big Setback

When we worry that we can’t repeat our past successes, we’re essentially asking: What if everything thus far was luck? What if it was my team, or timing, or the benefits of youth? What if none of it had to do with me?

And let me tell you something: That’s crap.

I know this because of the entrepreneurs I meet. They encountered setbacks -- everyone does! -- but they overcame them. The experience taught them that they can survive future setbacks, too. They built one company and learned they can build another. They evolved as leaders and learned they can keep evolving. At the beginning of their journeys, they may not have had such confidence in themselves. But that confidence grew. They proved their worth -- to others, yes, but most importantly to themselves.

I also know this because I’ve lived it myself. I remember being at my first magazine job in Boston and considering taking a new job at Men’s Health. It was scary. I’d made good friends and done good work in Boston; what if I couldn’t repeat that? But frightened as I was, I decided to try my hand. Three years later, I was on repeat. I’d made good friends and done good work at Men’s Health, was offered another job elsewhere, and felt the same fear. What if I can’t repeat the success a second time? But I did. And so I came to a conclusion that, frankly, may sound pompous and self-aggrandizing but has helped me walk into every new situation afterward: My success, I decided, wasn’t created by the company where I worked. It was created by me.

Entrepreneurs talk a lot about taking responsibility for failure. It’s a good message: No excuses! We need to own our mistakes; it’s the only way to learn from them. But let’s not forget to own our successes, too. Our confidence should build upon itself -- knowing that we only start from scratch once, that we have what it takes, that our past simply shows a way forward. 

Related: 8 Highly Effective Business Success Tips for Entrepreneurs

Is there a little luck in every success? Sure. We all took risks in our careers, and, through some unmeasurable balance of skill and timing and good fortune, they paid off in ways that led us to where we are. But was it all luck? If we had to do it over again, is there a chance we’d end up as failures? No way. Luck just influenced the path. It shifted the winds. If luck had broken for me differently, I wouldn’t have this job I have now -- but I am absolutely certain that I’d have found some other satisfying path and built some different version of success, and I think the same is true for us all.

We’re entrepreneurs: We work with what we’ve got. Sometimes it’s a lucky break. Sometimes it’s not. The important thing is that we keep moving forward -- and know that because we took one big step forward, and we didn’t fall down, we will stay standing when we take that next step, too.

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