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What’s Got You Tethered?

A Personal Perspective: Figure out what’s tying you to your past and let it go.

Carrie Knowles
Is it easier to do something new if you get rid of what you've done before?
Source: Carrie Knowles

They say it’s only a tug of war if you keep holding onto the rope.

It’s amazing how easy it is to get so tethered to your past because it feels comfortable and safe that you can’t move forward to a new future.

I’m selling my office building that has housed my professional life for the last 16 years, and I thought all I needed to do was pack up that life and take it with me.


My next office will be in the second bedroom of a condominium in another town. I won’t have room for everything from my office. I need to pare down (think downsizing on steroids), but it's harder than I thought because I’ve got a death grip on that rope of my past professional life.

Case in point: I have a hefty portfolio stuffed to the gills with lucrative and successful advertising work that helped pay for a couple of houses and time to write a few books. Tossing evidence of that kind of past success feels downright dangerous.

Am I planning on going back to copywriting in the near or distant future? I doubt it. It’s not me anymore, and it hasn’t been what I either wanted to do or have done for a long time. I think the last time I had to “take a meeting” and show my advertising portfolio was back in the mid-1990s.

Do I need to keep carrying around proof that I was once a successful copywriter? Will my children want to know that I wrote an award-winning copy for a laundromat/pizza parlor? By the way, the laundromat/pizza parlor lasted less than a year before the concept of eating pizza while folding laundry failed. Go figure…it was great copy.

The portfolio takes up physical as well as emotional space. I was good at copywriting. It was part of who I was. Is my advertising portfolio a lifeline tether? Is it time to let it go? Will I become someone else, someone lesser, without it?

The portfolio isn’t all that keeps me tethered to my writing past. There are dozens of files overflowing with tear sheets from newspaper and magazine articles, along with a bulging file drawer filled with half-finished writing projects. I even unearthed a dozen or so short stories I roughed out but never finished because they weren’t going anywhere thirty years ago, along with two novels that got rejected a couple of times before I understood a few rejections didn’t mean they weren’t any good; before I understood that it takes a couple of rejections just to get the publication process off to a decent start.

The tossing and sorting of my past writing life have been brutal. The process, however, has taught me that it’s not a question of what to keep and what to throw out, but how to let go of enough successes and failures to make room for new work that is different from what I have done before.

Disclosure: I kept the two novels, and as soon as I get settled in my new place, I will give them an honest read and decide whether they are worth editing and polishing. As for the dozen or so unfinished short stories, I only kept three.

It was easy to dump the rest. They were not my best work and were probably not salvageable. Getting rid of them not only felt right, but it freed up space for better writing to be done.

Holding on to the past while struggling to move forward to a different future is a tug of war that can only be won if you let go of the rope.

p.s.…I dumped the advertising portfolio.