26 Dec 2019 16:02 IST

Bridges to cross and bridges to burn this New Year 2020

How do we ensure we enter a new decade with an energy renewed rather than a vitality that is sapped?

In the movie The International, Louis Salinger, the idealistic Interpol agent played by Clive Owen tells the Assistant District Attorney character, Eleanor Whitman played by Naomi Watts: “Sometimes the hardest thing in life is to know which bridge to cross and which to burn.” As we near the New Year, that’s a good question to ask ourselves — which bridges in our life, in our careers do we cross, and which do we burn? How do we ensure we enter the New Year with an energy renewed rather than a vitality that is sapped?

Bridges to cross

Perhaps the biggest bridge to cross is the challenges we have been afraid of. Things we know we must do, but that we have been avoiding. Maybe it is a professional assignment that has been offered to us that will take us out of our comfort zone? A different location? A different vertical or division? A different boss? We are right now cruising in our current assignment. We are enjoying success. We are receiving accolades. The thought of leaving all that behind has made us nervous. We would much rather things continue as they were. But in our hearts, we know that the new assignment holds the potential for growth, for learning, for meaning beyond just success. But we are afraid of the unknown. But this is one bridge we must seriously consider crossing.

What are the passions we have always shoved away? The quiet voice that has often urged us to pursue an alternate path. We have always told that voice to shut up. We have always told that voice it is too unrealistic. We have told ourselves we can pursue that dream ‘someday’. But as Tom Cruise in the movie Knight and Day told us: ‘Someday’ is code for ‘never’.

A business newspaper recently carried an interesting story on women bikers. One of the bikers featured was Candida Louis — she didn’t just like bikes, she loved them. She took up a typical IT career. But the call of the throttle proved too strong. At 28, she quit her job, first took a sabbatical to explore her passion riding across the north and south of India. As she put it: “After I got a taste of the freedom and independence that comes with biking, I could never go back to a desk job. I resigned and then went back on the road for four months.” A few difficult years followed but today she is full time into biking — making a living and having a life as a ‘professional biker and travel designer’.

Our journey may not be as dramatic, but the process should be similar. What fears are holding me back? What bridges have I stood at the edge of, but dared not cross? Maybe the New Year is time to take that first step.

Bridges to burn

What are the things that sap our energy? What are the things that drain our lives? Is it work we consider drudgery? Is it a habit that steals our time and distracts us from our purpose? Is it a conflict that keeps us high strung and on edge?

The recent news of Cyrus Mistry having the NCLAT verdict go in his favour gives an opportunity to both sides to look anew at their perspectives. Till now, the approach has been win-lose. Is there a creative way to make win-win happen? After all, there certainly was some alignment to begin with which is why there was a long, solid relationship in the first place. The IndiGo Board has become a battleground where friends turned foes, spar in full public view. Ranbaxy’s late founder must be looking on from wherever he is, in frustration and regret as his sons war with each other and have successfully destroyed the organisation he created.

Perhaps, it’s time to look at what are the things we agree on, what are the things that unite us rather than a focus on the things that separate us, that divide us. For that to progress — some bridges must be burned, and some bridges must be crossed. This kind of situation plays itself out in every business organisation. Not every conflict happens at ‘newsworthy’ scale. Team leaders who don’t get along with each other. Team members who have stopped talking to each other. Divisive politics that began because of one-upmanship, slowly descend into pettiness and destructive behaviour. There was one situation I recall, where the teams fought over seating spots so they could avoid being within proximity of the other. Attitudes driven and encouraged by their leaders. Another situation where one business leader would always criticise his own colleague to a client. The client of course manipulated the obvious conflict to her own advantage. In each case leaders need to sit back and question how their attitudes and behaviour is destroying the organisation, its mission and the team.

Again, the New Year offers us an opportunity — what bridges should we burn. That will force us to look ahead rather than continue to live in the past.

Hate is considered the opposite of love. Not so. It is fear. As we celebrate the Christmas season, we should remember that one of Jesus’ most frequent opening statements to his disciples was “Fear not.” We realise that the only way to conquer fear is to bring in love. We realise that the quickest way for love to be destroyed is for fear to creep in. This is true of our choices, our relationships, our work, our life. We then hate what we fear. I hate public speaking, because I’m afraid of it. I hate my colleague. Because I’m afraid she’ll outshine me, and I might lose out in the career race. Consider this conversation between Storm and Senator Kelly from the film X-Men:

(Spoiler alert)

“Do you hate normal people?”

“Yes, sometimes.”

“Why?”

“I suppose because I’m afraid of them.”

Much of the hate we see in our country — majority vs minority at its root is about fear. It is the job of the real leader not to sow fear but to conquer it.

New Year provides leaders the opportunity to let go of fears and to embrace what we love. New Year is a time to let love extinguish fear.

Khalil Gibran should be our inspiration as we enter the New Year: “It is said that before entering the sea, a river trembles with fear. She looks back at the path she has travelled, from the peaks of mountains, the long winding road, crossing forests and villages and in front of her, she sees an ocean so vast, that to enter there seems nothing more than to disappear forever. But there is no other way. The river cannot go back. Nobody can go back. To go back is impossible in existence. The river needs to take the risk of entering the ocean, because only then fear will disappear, because that’s where the river will know it’s not about disappearing into the ocean, but to become the ocean.”

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