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

Go Confidently in the Direction of your DreamsI 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

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