“Knowing when to walk away, is Wisdom. Being able to, is Courage. Walking away with your head held high, is Dignity” – Author Unknown
I dedicate this to every person who has ever been part of a group, club, or organization that had the best of intentions, but never quite lived up to expectations. The story is also about making decisions. The decision to stay in an impossible situation. Or, the decision to walk away – holding your head high, saying, “I gave it my best. Time to move on.”
From the personal side, walking away from someone you love is the most difficult. There are always painful scars. Interesting though, no matter how bad the times, one never forgets the good times. And, there were good times. However, some relationships are not to be. For these, walking away is not quitting. It is the beginning of another journey.
All professional athletes eventually quit the sport that brought them fame and fortune. A few, they walk away. These few, had the wisdom and courage to walk away when they were on top: Jim Brown (football). Bobby Jones (golf). Rocky Marciano (boxing). Then, there were ones who, stayed too long: Evander Holyfield (boxing). Babe Ruth (baseball).
Athletes who walk away while ‘on top’ show enormous courage. Jim Brown did not quit football at age 29, he walked away with dignity. He scored three touchdowns in his last game. He left on his terms.
And that… “Leaving on your own terms,” is the difference between walking away and quitting.
I would like to share some personal reflection on my opening quote. Those thoughts center around, not personal relationships or sports, but on the many organizations throughout every community. Some show consistent progress. A few fail and fade away. Some just seem to spend eternity in neutral.
For 40-some-odd years, I have been a member of various organizations. Many were career-oriented. Some civic-minded. A few recreational. A couple had political agendas. Regardless of intent, the reasons I joined were very simple. I believed in their vision and I felt I had something to offer.
Nevertheless, I wanted to make a difference. To be part of something positive and help the group move forward. Those I found successful: They recruited or accepted the right people for the right reasons. They embraced diversity. Communicated well. Worked through their differences.
The less than successful: They may have initially recruited or accepted who they thought were the ‘right’ people, but for some reason(s), the leadership lost their vision. They slowly turned away from “Let’s make a difference” and became “Let’s just meet and do nothing?”
I remember well what Stephen Covey once said, “Without involvement, there is no commitment.” Years ago, while attending one of his seminars, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the presenter stated, “Without like-minded people who have the time, resources, and energy to devote to a cause, failure will knock loudly at your door. Let this be your guide…If you are going to become involved with a cause, be damn sure you are ready to give it your full commitment.” I have never forgotten these words.
Most organizations fail because their vision is distorted. Often caused by: A clash of egos. A lack of insight and understanding. Personal agendas. And, an absence of (critical) resources. Yet, the one characteristic which heads my list is, “Unwillingness to commit the time required for success.”
Pause and consider this “unwillingness” for a few moments before you read further.
Let us continue: Sandra once gave me a t-shirt that said, “Life is too short to drink bad wine.” Although the shirt is long-gone, the message has stayed and I have begun to apply it to my remaining years: “Life is too short to be around mean people, dead-end situations, wasted days, false self-centered people, AND organizations which have become stagnant.”
Walking away from a group or organization is certainly not like the break-up of a personal relationship or leaving a much-loved profession, but it still can be very difficult. Quitting means: You left something on the table; You failed to apply all your personal energy and resources. “You gave up before you gave your all.”
Walking away means: You realized the group did not share your level of commitment and there was nothing else you could offer that would change their direction. You made a full commitment. And, it was time to move on.
Organizational failure is like an old discarded puzzle, with mixed up pieces – some just do not fit together. No matter how hard you try, it’s just not working. The continual frustration drains the very life from your days.
If I may, I would like to paraphrase the beginning quote: “It takes wisdom to recognize a hopeless situation. It takes a lot of courage to walk away. But, I would rather leave with my dignity held high.”
I have a lot to contemplate. In my remaining years, I think I will choose a fine wine.
Until next time,