In psychology, separation anxiety is defined as a developmental stage during which a child experiences anxiety when separated from the primary caregiver (usually the mother). While it can surface at any time, we are conditioned to expect this in younger children e.g. small children ‘making strange’ when they meet someone they don’t know. And, we know that kids face this one full on with their first day in school – albeit it’s debatable whether the parents suffer as much (or even more) anxiety than the children – particularly with the recent expose around the lack of quality childcare is some crèches.
Being Protected: Those of us who are sporting grey hair, might have experienced this even stronger. In those far-distant days, playschools didn’t exist. So our 1st day at school was often the first time that children were separated from their mother for more than 5 years. My own earliest memory is as a 4 year old, coming out from behind the protective apron and going to school. To overcome the anxiety of separation, my mother, long since dead, told me that she would sit underneath a tree which was just outside the school and would wait there until I was finished. She would always arrive early and be waiting under that specific tree when the classes were finished. Thinking that she was just outside was a comfort to a child and a clever ruse on her part. Even when we get older, we continue to crave comfort and certainty, a sense that we are protected from the turbulence of life.
Managerial Anxiety: Managers face separation anxiety in a particular way. They often ‘grow up’ with ideas and tools which worked for many years. Tried and tested methods which delivered – sometimes in a particular organisational setting. But, then managers get bombarded with new stuff. Social media marketing. Crowd sourcing ideas for new TV programmes or how a book should conclude (with the author picking up the best ideas and then writing the ending). The disintermediation of entire industries like banking and so on. Everywhere, the rules are changing. We learned to play based on the old rules. When changes occur, we experience a form of ‘separation’ anxiety – torn from the comfort of what we knew, things that worked well in the past. I spoke with someone in banking recently and he mentioned that their new competitor was Google. When we discussed it further, exactly how Google would compete with the bank was vague and ambiguous – but he certainly felt a sort of ‘low-intensity anxiety’ about this – without knowing how to respond.
Two Responses: There are two typical responses to the above. The first is to work harder. To be ‘always on’, contactable on planes and boats and trains. Worried that you will not be able to look at your Galaxy4/IPhone 5C for 20 minutes? No problem. Get a digital watch which synch’s and be available 24/7. The second response usually makes more sense. It’s to create ‘space’ – time to think, to read, to visit Brazil (or wherever), to anticipate the future, to go to competitors and steal ideas shamelessly. Or complete some formal training to get yourself up to speed on a new area. Make time to work on, not just in, the business and keep yourself growing by learning.
For a child, it is a comfort to think that there is a ‘mother figure’ waiting to rescue us from all of life’s uncertainties. But, for an adult, we need to embrace the world as it is, rather than as we would wish it to be. A Chinese proverb captures the sentiment well: ‘Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still’. Let go of those old ideas and, as we head into another year, start to embrace the future.
PS: Advertisement in a Local Newspaper: “Golf clubs for Sale. Callaway X24’s (latest Model). Includes new bag and trolley. Special offer only €25. Call 051 234876. If a man answers the phone, just hang up”.
And Finally… Irish Politicians: Enda Kenny was visiting a primary school and the class was in the middle of a discussion related to words and their meanings.
The teacher asked Enda if he would like to lead the discussion on the word ‘Tragedy’. So, Ireland’s illustrious leader asked the class for an example of a ‘Tragedy’. A little boy stood up and offered: ‘If my best friend, who lives on a farm, is playing in the field and a tractor runs over him and kills him, that would be a tragedy.’ ‘Incorrect,’ said Enda ‘That would be an accident.’ A little girl raised her hand: ‘If a school bus carrying fifty children drove over a cliff, killing everybody inside, that would be a tragedy.’ ‘I’m afraid not’, explained Enda, ‘that’s what we would refer to as a great loss’. The room went silent. No other children volunteered. Enda searched the room. ‘Isn’t there someone here who can give me an example of a tragedy?’ Finally, at the back of the room, Johnny raised his hand and said: ‘If a plane carrying you and Eamon Gilmore was struck by a ‘friendly fire’ missile & blown to smithereens, that would be a tragedy.’ ‘Fantastic’ exclaimed Enda ‘and can you tell me why that would be a tragedy?’ ‘Well’, said Johnny, ‘it has to be a tragedy because it certainly wouldn’t be a great loss and it probably wouldn’t be a F*****g accident either’.
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