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Letting Go with Gratitude

It has only been three months, so I’m still in the traumatic mind-frame of an empty-nester. My son John, blissfully off at college, is stepping into his adult life with the world at his feet. Letting go of someone or something precious, or a situation that’s comfortably familiar, is hard. Viewing your loss through the lens of gratitude helps—a lot.

This Thanksgiving, as I look forward to a visit with my now adult child, I’m grateful for so many things. Being his mother and nurturing him into a kind, motivated, and talented human being will forever be the greatest joy of my life. That feeling, those memories, I get to keep as I begin a new chapter of my own life—maybe recapturing some of the freedoms my husband and I enjoyed in an earlier chapter, and gratefully lost 19 years ago with the birth of our son.

Change in our family lives is emotional to be sure, but so are many of the things we experience in our professional lives. As a business owner or leader, along the way you will undoubtedly have to let go of employees whom you care about, but whose skills you no longer need; employees who are unable to meet the necessary standards of the job; employees who don’t fit into your culture … Letting people go can mean agonizing decisions. Will they hate me? Will they be able to make it financially? Am I destroying their self-confidence? Focusing on the things you can control, like being grateful for the contribution these individuals have made to your organization, and expressing it, will help you and your employee let go of the present and look more positively to the future.

On the flip side, employees who have been highly engaged in their work and happy to work for you could decide that they need something more or different, and for their personal or professional growth choose to move on. Was there more you could have done to keep them? What effect will their departure have on your business? Again, you have to be grateful for their contribution, wish them well, and let them go.

As business owners, we appreciate the value and talent of our people. We’ve been taught that we should keep them at all costs and that a low turnover rate is the key measure of our success. Is that really true? Retention for retention sake is not the best strategy for your employees any more than it is for your children. As your company grows, your team will necessarily need to change with it. Often, that means setting people free to grow somewhere else, which can be the healthiest thing for all concerned.

It’s not only letting go of valued employees that can be hard for us as leaders. Changes in the way we do things and think about things are happening in our workplaces faster than ever before, without much time to adjust to them. It’s a mistake to try to cling to the good old days, but totally appropriate to be grateful for them—and then move forward.

Loss and change are inevitable. Viewing them through a lens of gratitude brings cherished memories that last forever, and opportunity that’s achievable only when you let go. I hope you share both memories and possibilities over Thanksgiving with your family and friends, as I will with mine.

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