5 Signs You Haven’t Let Go Of Your Old Job

Steve Boese Career Paths, Change, HR (& Life!) Advice, Steve Boese

About 79 years ago, I spent a fair bit of time working on a software implementation project in Saudi Arabia. It was a career-altering and—in some ways—life-changing experience for me back then. Consequently, I still remember my time working there really fondly, and as my pals on the 8 Man Rotation crew will attest, I can go on and on about the project, the lifestyle we had there, and the experiences I had.

While by now I am pretty sure I have moved on from that role and that place, it definitely took a long time to get over it, so to speak. It was a great, fun, and unforgettable job. But I think sometimes the need, or at least the wish to cling to an old job and old situation, gets the better of many of us… at least for a time. I know it did for me with my time in the Kingdom.

For the most part though, clinging to a former role, even a successful one, can hold you back from the next stage of your career and simultaneously be a bad, and even sad, look. If you keep on talking and acting like you are still in that old role for too long, folks will start to wonder and even openly ask just why it is you can’t finally move on. And trust me, you need to move on (unless your last job was something like President of the United States or an NBA head coach—those you probably want to latch on to pretty much forever). But for the rest of us, here are some key signs you have not yet moved on, and what you can try to do in order to (finally) let go:

  1. You spend way too much time talking with other people about your old job.

This is the “Steve can’t stop talking about how hot it was in Saudi Arabia” gimmick. Look, you had (emphasis had) a great gig for a time. Once that time is over, it is now time to tone down how much you like to remind people of the job you used to have. Unless the person you are talking to is your Mom, pretty much everyone else is done with your stories. If someone engages you in a conversation about what you used to do then, sure, have a few moments back in the spotlight if you like. But otherwise, let your accomplishments speak for themselves.

  1. You can’t stop comparing yourself to the new person who has taken over your role.

She did what? Changed that? Why? I never would have done that.  

If you find yourself saying those things out loud, you need to quit. It is not your job anymore. The new guy/gal has to make some changes, put their own stamp on the role, and, sometimes, fix the things you messed up. (I know, shocking, but true.) When someone ask you how you think the new person is doing, do yourself a favor and be gracious. If you think the new person is doing a great job, then say so. If you think the new person is perhaps falling short, just remember you are on the outside now, and are not privvy any longer to what is really going on. But life is too short to disrespect folks, especially when it is likely to make you look petty… and kind of sad too.

  1. You continue to expect people to treat you like you still have your old role

Most of the time, really sweet gigs come with certain perks or privileges. It is really important to remember those perks are associated with the role, not the person inhabiting the role. President Obama will still have Secret Service protection once he leaves office, sure, but he will not be put up for free in the White House, have 24/7 access to Air Force One, and get to weekend at Camp David whenever he feels the need. Those perks will go to the next person in line for the job. It is quite likely whatever perks and good treatment you received in the past were 100% because of the role you had, and not due to some incredibly compelling talent or personality traits of yours.

  1. You get irrationally angry when the organization or the new person in your old role does things “differently” that you would have done them.

Sure, it is natural to have an opinion or point of view on what happens after you leave a role or an organization. But it is unnatural to fixate on what happens after you leave to the extent where it seems apparent to casual observers that you are not able to just let it go. Even when successful leaders move on, the organization usually makes changes in personnel, strategy, and even in how the role is organized. Again, this is no indictment on you; it is just the way the world works. Be confident and comfortable in what you did, don’t try to score some kind of imaginary “victory” over the people who follow you.

  1. You view the new person’s success in your old role as some kind of threat to your accomplishments.

Finally, be aware if the next person builds upon the foundations you helped create and takes the job and organization even higher than you were able to that it doesn’t diminish your history. Feel good that those foundations were strong in the first place, and that you had a big role in making that happen. The best leaders grow and develop more leaders, and the very best leaders help create new leaders even better than themselves. It only looks better for you if the thing you helped build moves on and on and up and up. Feel good about that.

It is tough to move on from a great gig, especially when the next thing, however cool and interesting, for one reason or another doesn’t jazz you up as much as the gig you left always did. But for your sanity, reputation, and for however much you care about how your tenure is remembered longer-term, you have to learn to let it go, be happy and proud of what you did, and get on with whatever is next. Don’t ruin a great run in the job with a bad run once you have left the job.

Eventually, everyone gets replaced. It is nothing personal, remember that.