Achieving successful separation

A small child climbs up on to the school busIn a world filled with change, it is often not the physical changes we find difficult but rather the emotional letting go of the way the world used to be and the shifting to a new identity.

These psychological responses to change are called ‘transitions‘. They come in three stages.

The first is Separation.


Separation is about getting closure for a part of our lives that is over. It is about accepting that the past cannot be regained, letting go of the way the world used to be, and turning to embrace the new possibilities that are emerging.

Failure to let go of an old identity is what caused Kodak to fail. The company actually invented the digital camera in 1975. But emotionally it was so tied to its old identity as a chemical photographer that it was unable to take advantage of its invention. Clinging to the past, it created a huge opportunity for others to fill.

Emotional attachment to a past identity also explains why Howard Schultz found it impossible to convince the owners of the company he worked for to stop selling coffee equipment and beans and start selling drinks instead. Before he could create the global brand we know today, he had to resign his job, start his own company, and then buy Starbucks from his former employers. He was able to Separate from his old identity, and they were not.

Letting go of an old identity is key to forming a new one. Only then can new results be delivered.

To achieve this Separation, recognise the good things that the past has brought you: the resources it has brought and the lessons it has taught. Creating an inspiring vision is key to achieving this. Ritual also plays an important part.

When did you last experience a major change in identity. Before you could fully step into that role, did you have to let go emotionally of your old identity? Would it have been useful to have been able to do so more quickly?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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Photo By julie corsi via

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