Practice The Art of Letting Go

When the kids leave the nest 'should be' a time of celebration...

When the kids leave the nest ‘should be’ a time of celebration…

I was sitting on the sofa, quietly practicing a new piece. Playing the guitar is easy. Playing the guitar well is hard.  To keep the obsession moving forward, I practice for about an hour every day. According to my family, it’s a candidate for the biggest waste of effort in the history of mankind.

Cat Stevens: Unconsciously, I kept returning to the song ‘Wild World’.  Do you remember the lyrics? “If you’ve gotta leave take good care, hope you make a lot of nice friends out there, but just remember there’s a lot of bad out there, beware”. The song is played in a Minor (sad) key and definitely reflected my mood.   The following morning I would be driving Amie – my daughter – to the airport.  She was emigrating to Dubai. No actual job lined up. Just a place to stay, with a girl she knew of old and a wish to explore a new world.

Saying Goodbye:  Like everyone else, I’ve seen all of those RTE clips with tearful parents at the airport saying goodbye to economic migrants.  Over the years, my 3 kids have been so confused, I’ve fantasised about being at the airport enthusiastically waving goodbye as I necked a bottle of Champagne in celebration of a hassle-free future life.  Yet, the reality was eerily different.  I kept cycling back over a loop, recalling the early years.  My first glimpse of Amie as a 3-month old in Taiwan. Sometime later, a powerful memory of her first flight to Singapore. Then boring everyone silly with stories and photographs about our cute new baby with the spikey hair and big smile. Linda and I had joined forces at Changi Airport, both crying, as Amie finally came into our lives after an immense adoption struggle. Now we stood as a trio again, this time at Dublin airport, everyone crying as we prepared to separate.  It sometimes seems like there are more tears in airports than graveyards. The sadness of loss is the price we pay for love.

Letting Go: In his brilliant autobiography Full On, the former politician Ivan Yates talks about seagulls pushing chicks out of the nest, teaching them to fly. Yes, I understand that our job is to get the next generation to separate from the mother ship and establish an independent colony. Swimming away from the shore should be a time of celebration. But, it didn’t feel like it.  It felt like someone had just torn a huge hole in my life. Neither Linda nor I could speak as we watched Amie enter passport control, turning back to wave goodbye. Intellectually, we knew that this might be the shortest emigration in history. Amie might be home in a couple of weeks or, worst-case scenario, we could jump on a flight and be with her in 8 hours. This was exactly the ‘growing up’ adventure she needed. But, emotionally, it was so difficult to let go. While acknowledging that this is definitely a ‘1st World’ problem, I haven’t felt so sad in a long, long time.

Empowering Staff: While the analogy isn’t perfect, as managers we face a similar dilemma.  People who work for us are like younger family members.  Our ‘job’ as managers is to get them ready to move on, to make big decisions on their own, to learn (sometimes by making mistakes), to trust them to do the right thing. In contrast, managing in an autocratic (i.e. ‘dominant parent’) way, allows us to stay in the driving seat, to feel important. It’s about ‘us’ not about ‘them’. Like the old joke about the poor listener: “Anyway, that’s enough about me. Let’s talk about you. Now, what do you think about me?” As a manager, you should practice the art of letting go. Hey, sometimes I even do it myself.


PS: In 5 years of writing blogs I don’t think that I’ve ever asked you for anything. That’s about to change right now! If you have any contacts in Dubai that might be able to give Amie a steer on the job front, it would be great if you put them in touch. Her email address is Thanks a million – Paul

Lighter Note 1: Repartee (from Larry McGivern): When Mahatma Gandhi was studying law at the University College of London, a Professor Peters, supposedly disliked him intensely. While the reasons have become unclear over time, perhaps it’s because Gandhi never lowered his head when addressing the Professor as was expected at the time. What’s clear is that there were many arguments and confrontations. One day, Professor Peters was having lunch at a dining room in the University. When Gandhi came along with his tray and sat next to him, the Professor said: “Mr. Gandhi, you do not understand. A pig and a bird do not sit together to eat.” Gandhi looked at him as a parent would a rude child and calmly replied, “Don’t worry, I’ll fly away,” and sat at another table.

Professor Peters, reddened with rage, decided to take revenge on the next test paper. However, Gandhi responded brilliantly to all questions. The Professor, unhappy and frustrated, then asked the following:
 “Mr. Gandhi, if you were walking down the street and found a package which two bags, one full of wisdom the other which contained a lot of money, which one would you take?”
 Without hesitating, Gandhi responded: “The one with the money, of course.”
 The Professor, smiling sarcastically said: “I, in your place, would have taken the wisdom.”
 Gandhi shrugged indifferently and responded, “Each one takes what he doesn’t have.”

Wouldn’t you just love to be able to think that quickly on your feet? But…perhaps wait until after the exams are over!

Lighter Note 2: Lie Detector Robot (another one from Larry; he’s on fire this week).

A father buys a robot that slaps people when they lie. He decides to test it out at dinner one night and asks his son what he did that afternoon. The son says:

“I did some schoolwork.” The robot slaps the son. The son says:

“Ok, Ok. I was at a friend’s house watching movies.” Dad asks:

“What did you watch?” Son says, “Toy Story.”

The robot slaps the son. Son says:

“Ok, Ok, we were watching porn.”

Dad says, “What? At your age I didn’t even know what porn was.”

The robot slaps the father. Mom laughs and says:

“Well, he certainly is your son.”

The robot slaps the mother.

Next Day: Robot for sale!

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.


About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
This entry was posted in Management Practices. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Practice The Art of Letting Go

  1. laurencemcgivern says:

    Hi Paul That’s a tough thing to deal with but they all need to fly at some stage . I’m dreading it myself but I know it’s got to happen and maybe sooner than later.You need to work on some happy songs for your party pieces. Have you heard of Tom Waits?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s