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letting go

As I reflect on my life journey, I find that many of the lessons I learned from boyhood come in handy decades later as I lead an organization and help other leaders process individual and organizational change. 

At age ten, I relocated with my parents from Liverpool to Australia, a journey of about 17,000 kilometres. I’ve mentioned some of the difficulties I had adjusting to my new life. 

During this tumultuous season, we slowly settled into new rhythms of work and rest. Part of this included finding a place to escape, to retreat, and recharge. However, we didn’t have much disposable income as fresh immigrants.

So, we got into the habit of taking a couple of second-hand tents to a free camping spot in Kangaroo Valley by the river. I have so many fond memories of these trips.

We used to sit by the campfire and eat marshmallows. The smell of campfire smoke would permeate our clothes and hair, but I didn’t mind. Even to this day, that scent brings me back to those holidays by the river.

I remember the sight of stars poking through the trees at night, the sounds of wildlife right outside the tent, and of course, the rope swing.

My favourite spot in Kangaroo Valley was an improvised rope swing over the river. Before you ask—no, it certainly didn’t meet any organizational safety code. I absolutely loved hopping onto that old rope, leaping out into the fresh water, and clambering up to do it again… and again.

One day, I climbed up to the rope, seized it in my hands, and saw something floating in the water. I couldn’t make out what it was, but I knew I would have a bad day if I hit it during my jump. Looking back now, I see that I faced little real risk. After all, I had so much experience as a rope swing aviator by that point. The object floated well beyond my usual landing zone.

Still, I froze in fear. Instead of letting go of the rope at the right time, I held on. Bad decision.

Makeshift rope swings give you a one-way trip. If you take the leap onto one, but hold on for too long, you never know what might lie waiting for you as you swing back around…

In this case, it was the tree my rope was tied to. I swung back as fast as I swung out, and my head collided with the trunk. Ouch.

We had to change our plans for the day and get me to a clinic two towns away. I ended up needing stitches. 

I learned a painful lesson that day about letting go. I also discovered that holding on in order to avoid danger might be more dangerous than whatever I hope to avoid.

It leads to two important questions for us to process as we grow into holistic organizational leaders:

 

What is your rope swing at the moment?

Oftentimes, what separates great leaders from good ones is a lack of hesitation, an ability to let go of the rope and jump in… even when they perceive obstacles. They know that getting to the river, albeit bruised, is better than staying by the riverside. And of course, staying in the same place often leads to more pain than pressing forward.

George Patton is quoted saying, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”

In our context, we could say an average initiative or project begun now is better than a perfect one begun next quarter… or maybe the one after that. We’ll almost always come up with a good reason to avoid risks.

When we hesitate, we tend to do so out of fear. We might call it wisdom, caution, or prudence, but there’s always something in the river we might hit. There’s always something to keep us from jumping in.

Thankfully, life is not like a rope swing in that we can adjust as we go. Nobody has ever changed directions in the middle of an unassisted flight, but we can take our average plan and make tweaks as we need to along our flight path.

Staying amid the familiar may be more dangerous than the destination you hope to reach. Or, as in my case, violently swinging back into the familiar after a failure to launch. 

As you look at your professional development and the organisation you’re a part of, where do you need to let go and simply execute a “good enough” plan? I guarantee it will get you farther, faster. Don’t wait until it feels just right or until you can’t see any obstacles in your way. Because you’ll wait forever.

Retreat

Where is your Kangaroo Valley?

Additionally, this story reminded me that we all need a space to retreat. We have to physically extricate ourselves from work, projects, and even our normal household tasks. All of those can and will survive without us… but we won’t survive unless we habitually get away.

The most recent summer holiday reminded me of this. I got to enjoy a retreat away from my normal routines at the perfect time, as 2022 started off as busy as ever.

Do you have a place to go that makes you feel at peace? Somewhere that acts as a “reset” point in your yearly calendar? If not, take the time to plan it. It won’t happen without your direct intervention. Find a time in 2022 to get away from the noise, and keep going back whenever you can.

Also, when you get to that place, maybe avoid any rickety rope swings you see.