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Why can’t we let go? - of projects, products, or structures

Updated: Jul 22, 2023

A couple of years ago, at 7.00 p.m. on a Thursday, as I was packing my laptop to catch a flight back home, I heard a loud knock on the door. As part of the strategy assignment, I had just presented product-wise profitability analysis of client’s insurance product portfolio, and the results opened a can of worms. Craig, Sales Director, entered the room shouting, “You think you can stop our motor product, just because it has low profitability. This is how we started the company, this product makes us who we are.”

I had only shown a factual slide and raised rationally induced questions, without recommending anything at this stage. Once we know the objective truth, strategically there could be many options of addressing it e.g. even keeping low profitability product if it is a symbol of the company's heritage. However, I was astonished by the strong emotions the slide, the mere possibility of death has generated. Why the thought of death, ours or someone/thing we love, bring out such deep-seated emotions? Where does this fear come from?

The value of letting-go | MQ Learning
The value of letting-go, Photo from Instagram

The consciousness of death is the first sign of being human. Even though, death existed in Universe since long, humans are the only known species with a self-reflective consciousness that we are going to die. What if we would not have Death in the Universe? One thing for sure, the world as we now know would not have existed. The past would not have created space for the present. Going back only 65 million years, we know that mammals got more space for evolution with the extinction of Dinosaurs. Death was not always part of the universal process; some of the earliest bacteria like prokaryotes could have survived even now, however with the increasing complexity, death became an inevitable part of evolution. With human evolution, we become consciously aware of it, with an ability to plan and prevent death. 

The awareness of being transitory, of dying every single day, and that death is built-in everything around us, is overwhelming at times. The paradox of building something through the dying body, and being aware of that, brings a multitude of emotions at different times including meaninglessness, existential angst, depression, grief, fear, or anger. One of the common responses if the desire to hold on to things as long as we can while being aware of its and our mortality. 

Craig was feeling the pain of letting go. It might seem related to his insecurities about his job, however, the source could be his experiences in his personal life e.g. of losing someone he loves or finding meaning through work. Letting go is one of the most human of all experiences, and can become manageable by the idea of greater good. William Faulkner wrote, “In writing, you must kill your darlings.", highlighting the need for a sacrifice for the greater good. We need to be aware of how our subjective behavior impacts the objectivity of the decision process, whether in writing, in business, or in life, and constantly overcome ourselves. Nietzsche's "over[hu]man" is not a far-away idea but a constant process of sacrificing oneself in daily actions and finding new meaning. 

The client put the motor business "under watch" for the next three years and mandated the division's restructuring under new leadership. Craig was given the task of renewed focus on other divisions. He never talked about the Motor business since then. 

What are you letting go of today? Please write below in the comments!

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