Take a minute to think back to the biggest mistake or frustration you’ve experienced at work. Maybe it’s a salary negotiation that went awry. Or a job dismissal that felt unjust. Or the time you accidentally emailed a gripe to your boss, instead of your bestie. This is what Beth Weissenberger, co-founder of the Handel Group, a life coaching company, calls a “career haunting.” And here’s the rub: If you don’t identify them and move on, they have the potential to hold you back for the rest of your career.
What is a career haunting? In your professional life, you’ve had thousands of interactions—large and small. Still, there are likely about 10 that continue to stick out, and that inform your current career decisions. So, if a job negotiation went south nine years ago, maybe you continue to shy away from such conversations for fear the same will happen. “A career haunting is something you’re still struggling with,” Weissenberger explains. “You’ve got some suffering over it. It still gnaws at you. What you have to identify is why some experiences still haunt you, but others don’t.”
Here’s how you identify your hauntings. Weissenberger maintains that the reason a professional experience continues to haunt you is two-fold: 1. The lesson you learned from it was the wrong lesson, which is why it’s still hanging over your head. 2. You emotionally process the haunting by lying to yourself. (For instance, you convince yourself you were fired for no reason, when, in reality, your performance was to blame.)
So, how do you work through it? Weissenberger says that the first step is to write out the haunting in the same way that you’d tell the story to your friends. Include who said what, how you felt and when/where you feel aggrieved. (“I can’t believe that boss denied me a raise. I worked so hard and stayed late every night!”) Then you scan for inaccuracies. Ask yourself: ‘What part am I leaving out? If I could go back in time, would I have handled this differently? Or drawn a different conclusion?’ “Again, a haunting is a haunting because you either learned the wrong lesson way back when or there’s an unintentional lie hidden in the narrative—a detail left out,” Weissenberger explains. Perhaps you got denied that raise because you didn’t prepare properly. Or maybe you omitted the fact that your boss had implemented a raise freeze, but you went in thinking you could change her mind. “The minute you unravel your haunting, it puts you back in the driver’s seat. It releases you, you can process it and stop being held back by your past.”