Career Advice #32: Learn to forgive.
In nature, many creatures that are not mammals go through a rather slow and awkward process in order to grow: they shed their shells or old skins. Insects, arachnids, reptiles. All of them creatures to which we hardly relate yet all of them know they will leave something behind. The process might be painful for all we know but they can’t avoid it.
There will be many moments in your career when you will need to change, and some of them will be painful. This blog though is not about change, or not about “change” as a broader, more profound movement. It is about forgiveness. Something that’s built within us yet we don’t see as a default, much less use as one. It always amazes me, as I think about forgiveness more often than I actually do forgive.
Is that wrong? Is it just another ideal that’s not necessarily useful at work? It’s easier to ask someone for forgiveness than to offer it, and isn’t that what we’re all used to after all? I’ve been pondering about that particular thought as I can’t remember a job where I wasn’t faced with a situation that would put me on trial: should I forgive someone about something they did to me at work or not?
A manager that disappointed me; a co-worker that betrayed my trust; a colleague that lied. Someone I thought cared for me as I cared for them or simple someone who turned in a direction I was not expecting them to turn and left me all alone. Awkward doesn’t even begin to describe it. Painful might be an overstatement sometimes but you better than anyone knows what someone needs to do to you in order to hurt you, don’t you?
If you do know what others need to do to hurt you, then you also know what they need to do so you can forgive them, and that might be precisely the moment when forgiving becomes an impossibility.
Something was done to you, upon you, and you were left alone wondering why as you licked your wounds: a promotion you didn’t get, a scolding you didn’t deserve, a place you thought was yours and suddenly wasn’t anymore. You might not have expected it but you knew at some level that the sudden absence of that same thing would hurt and you didn’t do a thing to stop that from happening. Of course, sometimes you can’t do a thing…but you can prepare for what comes next: forgiveness and with that, growth.
You do know how someone can earn your respect again and when they do, you concede your forgiveness. You should them your light again, and share who you are with them yet you might be wary of them as they have after all, hurt you. This is a natural reaction but it causes a very unnatural effect: it weakens your trust, it stops you from giving 100% again. It puts you in a “stand-by” alert mode, sets you into a position that won’t allow you to grow, to change.
If you can’t forgive, you can’t build something new. If you can’t forgive, you can’t grow.
This is why forgiving is important: it is the only way to build a certain trust again. Maybe not with them, those who hurt you but with the truth: people will hurt you, no matter the context. The only way to come to peace with this fact is by forgiving those who hurt you. Forgive their mistakes, learn from them so instead of bracing for the next to come you prepare for the moment right after it, the moment you let go and grow.
Forgiveness is a key skill, one of those hidden and never spoken about at work as if we weren’t human there, as if we didn’t hurt. But we do and as long as we remain hurt, we can’t grow. Learning how to move past beyond that inevitable moment into a more light and constructive one where you don’t hold people accountable for their mistakes but rather, you grow them, that’s what forgiving is all about.
Forgiving is not painful. Growing is. Leaving behind the hurt and surprise. But it is necessary and it is part of your career too. After all if you ask a spider how do you grow if you can’t leave your old shell behind, it will just answer you: all you have to do is let go.