You Can’t Outrun Your Past

Maybe you can relate: I used to avoid thinking about my past by throwing myself into my work.

I insisted that I was stronger than my past and the challenges I faced in my childhood; it didn’t need to define me.

Work can be an escape; if we’re busy, we don’t have time to think about the difficulties we’ve had or the challenges that continue to plague us.

When I started my career in pharma, I had so much enthusiasm for learning and growth. But as the years progressed, I saw an increase in the complexity of challenges I faced, introducing conflict and self-doubt that overshadowed my accomplishments.

I found myself grappling with feelings of insecurity and unworthiness, struggling to navigate the corporate landscape with the same confidence and zeal I had at the start.

A few years ago, a pivotal moment came unexpectedly, an emotional breakdown after a simple request from a colleague. It was then I realized the importance of understanding my reactions. An interest in better understanding emotional responses at work led me to the concept of trauma-informed leadership.

Here’s a truth I wish I had known back then: our past is inescapable. Attempting to bury it, especially for the sake of professionalism, is futile. It will always find a way to resurface, manifesting in moments of conflict or disagreement, echoing the unresolved issues of our past.

In a recent podcast conversation with Susan J. Schmitt Winchester —a CHRO with over 35 years of experience and the author of Healing at Work: A Guide To Using Career Conflicts To Overcome Your Past and Build the Future You Deserve—she talked about how operating from a place of “unconscious wounding” can mean that we continue to bring the same issues into our work, over and over again.

This plays out as frustration, maybe self-doubt, particularly if our behaviour is filled with unexpected emotional outbursts, like realizing you overreacted about an issue with your team, but you weren’t able to manage your anger.

You’ve done the leadership training and know what to do, but in the heat of the moment, you keep overreacting.

Breaking out of repeating patterns at work requires finally acknowledging that we can’t outrun our past. Instead of ignoring it, we need to acknowledge where patterns are showing up and start figuring out how to break them.

Work, where we spend a significant portion of our lives, can also be a place of growth and healing. Work situations offer us a chance to confront and overcome the patterns that belittle us, embracing our imperfections as part of our authenticity.

So, how do we break free from these cycles of self-doubt and repression and begin to heal at work? Here are three questions to start the healing process:

  1. How has your past shaped who you are today? What were wins, and what were struggles? It starts by acknowledging our own stories and learning from them.
  2. What issues in your current behaviour are frustrating you? What tends to spark them? Being clear about the behaviours you want to change, and the situations that bring them out, can be an important piece of the puzzle.
  3. Where can you be more forgiving and less judgemental to yourself? This isn’t about letting yourself off the hook for bad behaviour, but understanding where you can be more compassionate to yourself and the struggles you’ve been carrying.

Susan’s book Healing at Work is an excellent resource if you want to start understanding how this can happen, for you and your team. Our conversation on the Evolve podcast covers a wide range of topics and can give you additional insights as well.

You don’t have to run from your past; you can learn from it and use it to change how you lead going forward.

Picture of Carolyn Swora

Carolyn Swora

Carolyn is a leadership consultant, team coach, certified Dare To Lead™ facilitator, and two-time bestselling author. Her most recent book, Evolve: The Path to Trauma-Informed Leadership, brings new focus to an often ignored, yet critical leadership component: the nervous system. In her work with organizations, from phama to non-profits, Carolyn focuses on driving change through leadership focused on compassion and humility.

More Insights

Your Team Isn’t Family; Create Workplace Belonging Instead

Welcome to the Evolve community

Skip to content