When you think about advancing your career, what do you think about doing? Learning new skills? Building your network? Maybe pursuing a side gig?
These are all great options for getting ahead at work. If you’re gunning for a promotion or simply want to make yourself more marketable for future opportunities, you can’t go wrong by expanding your knowledge and building relationships.
But as you solidify your plans for advancement this year, I’d like you to also consider a different approach: letting go. Sometimes the thing holding us back isn’t a lack of something—it’s our refusal to ditch something that’s become outdated or irrelevant. Check out the list below, and ask yourself if you can make room for those new skills or relationships by abandoning that which you no longer need.
1. An Unhelpful Mentor
You will always need people who can help you professionally. There are plenty of examples of top performers who access coaches or mentors to help them navigate difficult decisions or major changes. Because relationships evolve over time, however, it’s entirely possible for someone to be influential and helpful at one point in your relationship, and then become problematic later on.
As you progress in your career, someone who was once a great mentor may grow competitive. Or he may simply get stuck in an outdated mindset while you (and your company) move on. Whatever the reason, if you outgrow a mentor, consider letting go of the relationship—at least in its current form. You don’t have to cut ties completely or end a friendship, but you don’t have to hold onto this person as your career guru, either.
2. An Irrelevant Goal
Goals are obviously important. If you aren’t working toward something concrete, after all, then what are you doing? And yet being inflexible in the pursuit of your goals may lead to trouble in some situations. A leadership change at work, a transfer to a different department, a new opportunity, or any other number of unforeseen changes could all impact the feasibility of any given goal.
Let’s say you set a goal to increase revenue for a specific product line, but your supervisor tells you she wants you to increase revenue on a different product line. If you can’t do both, you better align yourself with the company goals or you may land in hot water.
While you certainly don’t want to get in the habit of abandoning a goal the minute you feel challenged or stressed, you do need to get in the practice of periodically evaluating whether your goals are still high priority.
3. An Outdated Approach
No one plans to be the person who blurts out, “But we’ve always done it that way!” And yet, when we get comfortable, we become afraid of change and seek security in what we know.
Ask yourself if you’re sticking with something—a routine, a software system, a practice—because it’s familiar. Do you feel a twinge of fear when you think about modifying your approach? That twinge is the beginning of the “We’ve always done it this way!” mindset.
There’s certainly a benefit in knowing a particular tool of your trade backward and forward. You can work quickly and confidently when you’re at ease with your processes and technology, but getting stuck is dangerous. Committing yourself to exploring even one new thing a year in your industry can help you avoid attachment to products or practices that are increasingly outdated.
Think about an interaction with a colleague or friend that was profoundly impactful. Did it happen over text or an email? Unlikely. If you need to make a convincing argument, elicit assistance, make a difficult decision, or deliver an apology, technology is an aid, not the vehicle for communication. Make an effort this year to set your phone down, walk out of your office, and engage with people face-to-face.
Of course, seeking worthwhile and meaningful interactions with colleagues is only one reason to let tech go when possible, but there’s also an argument for increased productivity. How many minutes a day do you lose to mindless scrolling on Facebook? How long does it take you to coin the perfect Instagram caption?
I’m not saying to abandon your apps, but to look at how much time you spend on them. Wrest back control of your time before your boss takes note of your distractions. You’ll likely be amazed at how your productivity blossoms when you control your use of technology instead of the other way around.
This is certainly not a comprehensive list of all the things you might consider ditching. Most of us have habits, relationships, beliefs, and practices that warrant occasional scrutiny to determine if they still have a place in our lives. If you haven’t considered this before now, it’s a good time to review your plans to determine what you want to add, and what you want to leave behind to make this your best professional year yet.