Was I Better Before?
I was recently talking to a talented leader who was pretty frustrated. His company is growing rapidly, and he wasn’t sure he was up to the challenge of leading its next era of success. At a low point in our exchange, he shared, “You know, Courtney, I think I might have been a better leader in the past. I just don’t seem as good as I once was.” It’s important to note that this CEO is 43, healthy, and highly capable.
It wasn’t the first time I’ve had a client suggest that perhaps their best days were behind them. It’s a fear often expressed during significant challenges, change, or exhaustion. Yet it rarely reflects reality.
Why do we tend to worry that our best might have come and gone? Here are some reasons:
- The weight of the future is a lot about the heaviness of just not knowing how all will work out. When we look back, we do so with the knowledge that all turned out good enough or we wouldn’t be here in the present, able to reflect. It’s quite easy to simplify or forget what it took to prevail 5, 10, or 15 years ago. It’s difficult to remember how big yesterday’s challenges were in the moments we faced them.
- Life gets more complex. As our capacity to solve problems and challenges grows with experience, we often end up in more dynamic situations as people, parents, and professionals. Plus, our understanding of human nature evolves—we see matters more fully, both for their upsides and downsides. We realize seasons, relationships, and successes we thought might last forever, don’t.
- The pace of change quickens. As we have more to do and tools to do it with, we end up needing to change and adapt more often. With each embrace of newness, it can seem like we are falling behind at first, when in reality, we will soon gain momentum from new and better methods.
The next time you feel like you were better before, I encourage you to check in with yourself on these factors:
When was the last time you tried something for the first time? Choosing to be a beginner with something of interest, with no high stakes, provides refreshment far beyond the fun of the new pursuit. Maybe you choose to read a new genre, take a lesson connected to a possible new hobby, or visit a place you’ve always wanted to go. Freshness without pressure is invigorating.
What are you carrying with you that might be best to let go? Endings are necessary. While rapid decline is rare, I often see leaders struggling with a relationship, a business goal, or a problem where improvement or resolution isn’t happening. I encourage the leader to consider how gracefully ending matters could be a solution to gaining energy, enthusiasm, and clarity back.
Is it possible that you’ve lost sight of joy? Many talented professionals love their work to the point that they overstrength in the amount of time they spend doing it. The old adage “too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing” definitely applies to our jobs. If this resonates, I encourage you to plan three opportunities for fun and happy times in your calendar for the next month. A quick overnight trip, visit a museum right in your hometown, get tickets to a game, or make plans to see a movie- put whatever seems like fun to you on your calendar and honor your commitment.
What can you simplify? Just because change is happening faster and faster in our world today doesn’t mean we always have to keep up with the pace. Recognizing where and how we can slow down in some lanes allows us the energy and capacity to jump in the fast lane when it’s essential for success.
At some point, most of us will choose to retire or take a step back from what drives us professionally. Until that choice point, continue to create the conditions that allow you to keep ascending in skill, capacity, results, and resolve. Resist the urge to believe setbacks are signs of decline. When handled with clarity, rest, and sincere efforts of rejuvenation, they become the inflection points that propel you forward.