Suppose through the application of money and perseverance you could cheat death for a significant amount of time. You would continue to age with all that entails, good and bad. You would live to 150 years old and your body and mind would be whatever they would be at that age. Would you do it? I think many of us as we watch ourselves age and our parents get old start to think that maybe going out when it is our time will be fine. Living “too long” would mean outliving family and friends and might leave us feeling alone and without purpose.
It is the nature of our world that everything dies; some by expiring, others by erosion. The sun has a lifespan and so does the earth. No one needs a 56-year-old consultant in a morose mood to tell them that. The issue is not whether we die, but how we live and how do we move on from what has died along the way. There are true physical deaths of loved ones with which we must cope, but there are thousands of “little deaths” that we experience on a regular basis. These are the relationships, ideas, expectations, enterprises, jobs, businesses, and personal mythos that are not valid anymore or no longer serve us. Many times, however, we refuse to admit the obvious and cling too long no matter how much we suffer.
An old client of mine who was a very successful restaurateur once told me that the key to being successful in the restaurant business was not in opening great places, but in knowing when a restaurant started to decline and closing it. He told me that every restaurant will peak and fade, the key was not taking all the money you made during the good times and farming it back in to try and save a dying business. In our affluent society, we have the ability to keep people, organizations, and ideas on life support well after they have expired. Think of how many charitable organizations survive based on the support of a few wealthy donors, even though needs have changed and other newer charities may be doing a better job of delivering services. You could also walk through any shopping mall and consider how many of these businesses are the walking dead of the internet age.
Success in any endeavor requires the timing to know when to get in, and, just as importantly, when to let go. Whether you are up or down in the stock market is not actually important until the moment you decide to sell. Knowing when to let go involves regularly taking some time away from your daily activities and taking an inventory of what is working for you and what is not. This is particularly important with regard to preconceived notions of the way we think life should be. The best evidence that exists of the potential death of a concept is the realization that you are suffering. Things may seem unfair or unusually frustrating. It may be hard to get up in the morning or you may spend inordinate amounts of time contemplating your next vacation. The biggest clues, however, are how much time you spend clinging to the past and complaining about the present reality compared to how it used to be. The pace of change in society has accelerated to the point where you can hear people in the forties using the phrase “back in the day."
Although it sounds a bit harsh, living in the past in a world of memories of triumphs and regrets is living among the dead. The people we were and the situations we faced in the past no longer exist. They are part of who we are in the present and hopefully add to our wisdom, but life exists only in the present moment. Success in business and relationships is only possible by addressing reality as it exists right now. You cannot resurrect last year’s crops in the following spring, no matter how much water and fertilizer you throw at them. As the winter of our discontent of 2016-17 slowly trudges to its end, it is a great time to take a personal and professional inventory of what conceptions we have that no longer survive. Take a moment to thank them for all they have done for you and let them go. Live and let die.