Old Bull, Young Bull, or Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

An old bull and a young bull were roaming in the pasture when the young bull spotted a herd of beautiful cows.  “Pop,” he said.  “Let’s charge up that hill and service one of those cows.”  “No, son,” replied the old bull.  “Let’s stroll up the hill and we’ll service them all.”  Beyond it’s humor, lies the metaphorical wisdom of the elder: slow down and you can accomplish more.  As I get older, I sometimes – I guess more than sometimes – want to move faster.  Achieve more in less time (maybe because there really is less time). I need to slow down my golf swing.  I need to slow down my typing.  And in doing so will have fewer shanks and typos.  But I find that hard to do.  Neither my golf swing, nor my typing nor my writing keeps up with my brain speed.  Thoughts, ideas and specific words fly by and I’m simply unable to capture them as quickly as I’d like.  When I try to do so, I find they’re frequently lost to my memory.  In fear of this, I try to write them down as fast as possible.  A paradoxical source of encouragement: Maybe I have more in common with the young bull.

Segue to reflection.  I’ve always talked to myself.  Not out loud.  I can honestly say, that if asked at any moment, “What are you thinking?”  I couldn’t answer, “Nothing.”  There’s always something going on inside.  It can be frustrating at times, like at 5:00 am when I wake to turn over (sore shoulder on one side, sore hip on the other) and the wheels start cranking.  Meditation helps somewhat but is often insufficient, so I’m up for the day, eager to go into my office, a place of enormous comfort (no pain sitting on my butt).  Topics for reflection range from thinking about thinking to what I’m doing at the moment, today and tomorrow… to the past: a childhood experience or friend.  It’s fun to reflect.  Our 15-year-old granddaughter does that brilliantly in her bi-weekly blog.  But reflecting on reflecting is a bit more complex. Why do I do it?  What’s my goal?

When my brother, 4 years my senior, reconnected with grammar school classmates a few years ago, I wondered, “Why now?”  Then it was my turn, and I eagerly attended my 50th college reunion and my high school 55th.  So, “Why?”  To see so many people I hadn’t seen in 50 years was a bizarre experience.  I recognized the names on the nametags, but they physically appeared as caricatures of themselves.  For some reason, they were in their fathers’ bodies.  Opening conversations, superficial at best, were all about, “Remember when…” It felt strangely comfortable to be in the present but live in a whirlwind of images from the past.  I felt young again.  So, is that the goal?  To feel young again?  To be the young bull? I don’t think so.  I tend to prefer the wisdom of the elder: “Let’s stroll up the hill and we’ll service them all.” Yet there is something that keeps drawing me back to the past.  I don’t have the desire to relive it and am not sure how much I’d change if I could.  The more I reflect on it, the more I realize that my reflection on the past is more on pleasant memories than on the painful ones.  It’s a source of pleasure for me, a sense of fulfillment and gratification.  Yes, some narcissism and hedonism as well.  Self-validation in relation to my career is significant.  It leads to a stronger identity, more confidence and a greater comfort in “letting go.”

So now it’s time to turn the mirror in the opposite direction.

I read, but don’t remember the author (and if it’s you, please let me know), a most memorable line.  It went something like, “The time for succession is not when the senior generation is ready to let go, but when the younger generation is ready to take hold.”  Wow.  A powerful and scary thought?  It need not be.  But, of course, for that to be enacted, the parent must let go.  And that’s, most often, the scary part because all too few seniors are prepared to let go because they have nothing else to more toward.

A client of ours was struggling to “let go” and grant her sons more responsibility without her direct oversight.  I asked her what she thought was holding her back.  She responded, “I need to be relevant.”  Her need for relevance in this case was more than being connected and even more than being important.  It was about more than being needed.  It was about needing to feel wanted to be needed.  I wonder how many seniors have that feeling but are either unable or unwilling to articulate it quite so well.  And I wonder how much that inability inhibits the younger generation in the quest for more responsibility.

Isn’t transitioning your enterprise to the next generation the ultimate compliment to you?  It is a testament to your success as a leader.  When seniors are totally self-focused and unable to look beyond themselves, their own thoughts, needs and wants, they are inhibiting the opportunity for the sustainability of their enterprise.

The question that remains for seniors is, “What do you need to accomplish (or feel you’ve accomplished) before you will be comfortable letting go?”

Answer that.  Achieve it.  And move on.

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