‘Quitting is leading too.’ ― Nelson Mandela
How many times have we said or heard the phrase ‘it’s time to let go’? Letting go entails change, and change generally entails both difficult decisions, and uncertainty. If we were able to let go, there would be no problem in the first instance, right? Letting go – if the phrase makes sense at all – it’s a process that requires time. Letting go demands an openness to uncertainty that in times of transition is hardly easy to embrace. In less glamorous terms, letting go sometimes simply means it’s time to quit.
The problem is that we equate quitting with failure, with lack of resilience, and with weakness. We live in a world where putting up a cheerful show is the thing to do. Exhausted, burned out, going through a crises? Cheer up, look at your friends and colleagues, they are strong, able to keep a stiff upper lip and carry on. Why shouldn’t you?
When the news about the Pope’s resignation broke out I was writing a report on burnout. My work day stopped around 2pm: all afternoon I could focus on nothing else but Joseph Ratzinger’s decision, and reflect on how people with a supposedly ‘meaningful career’ find it hard to step aside when life calls for a radical change.
It’s not surprising then, that I was rather inspired by the Pope’s decision to resign, and by how he admitted that he no longer had the required ‘strength of body and mind’ to carry on. Many applauded this unconventional decision, many criticised him for it, many want to know his real motivation for stepping down.
If more people saw ‘quitting as leading’, individuals, as well as organisations, would probably be in a much healthier place.
Transition phases often feel lonely because no one can make decisions for us. But once we take that step into the unknown, there may be family and friends out there who are prepared to support our choice to change path, go back to school, take a sabbatical, pause and refocus before taking the next steps. Many will be critical of our decision too. Does it matter? If the Pope could resign knowing that the whole world was watching and judging, I think there are limited excuses for any of us for not ‘letting go’ when the time comes.
In a society where ‘being busy’ and having no life outside work is seen as a sign of success, and where openly acknowledging one’s own weaknesses is the ultimate ‘taboo’, I am inspired by those who are able to relinquish power, acknowledge mistakes, accept that no one is irreplaceable and move on. Chapeau to @pontifex!