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How to Pass the Torch: Reflections on being next in line

Updated: Mar 7

I cannot speak for how it feels to pass a torch, not yet. I can, however, muse and reflect on a few lessons I am learning as someone in that stage of life where the responsibility to try to pick it up and carry it forward seems to land squarely.

This is a very delicate topic, but I feel it is relevant for many of us in this middle age bracket who are working with our Boomer friends and colleagues as they feel their way into the next stage of life. This isn't just about Ananda, or the founders of life coaching, or equine assisted learning schools of training and thought where I find myself involved, this is happening in every corner of our world, this is universal.

Here are some quick, but important notes that I am making as I walk with others through these generational transitions:

1) The role of Elder is best understood as the keeper of story and history, the wisdom of experience, and the vibrational anchor in an uncertain world.

Elders who lean into this role know that they are not the future, that the opportunities and challenges the current generation face are entirely different than those that were faced by them. The organizations and institutions that are being passed forward are in a different life cycle stage than they were when the Elders were middle-aged managers. Most of all, the world we live in continues to move at break-neck speed and elders are rarely the expert on where we are now or where we are headed next. Do not groom your leaders with your ideas, empower them and be the vibrational anchor that helps them ride the waves.

Elders who embrace this role know that it is their calm intuition, loving acceptance born of life's hardest lessons, and detached perspective born of ego surrender that will act as anchor and guide to the torchbearers through the many unknowns ahead. This should not be underestimated. In it's highest expression, this is the greatest gift and legacy any one of us can offer to the world.

My first experience of this role was my grandmother on my father's side. In her middle years (40's to 60's), when I was just a child, I watched her and my grandfather struggle with the choices of their children. I watched them argue and shun them as their children wrecked their marriages, spoiled their children, or messed up in the myriad ways we often do.

When she lost her husband to cancer, I watched my grandmother progressively soften and expand into her heart. She was not a cold or harsh person before, but the expansion of her love in the last chapter of her life was so palpable that I am certain we all felt it. Life seemed to have taught her to let go of the outward form that her children's lives might take, to let go the idea that their success or failure reflects on her. By the end, her love was unconditional. Her children didn't become perfect through her love, but her acceptance changed them in the way that only love can.

2) Change is the only certainty. Every aspect of our current society is different. Whatever had not yet changed is in the middle of upheaval in our post-pandemic reality. Hierarchy has flattened to create greater agility. Patriarchy is losing against matriarchy, although it's certainly putting up an intense fight and matriarchy may not win. Church has been replaced with inner wellbeing. Academia is being replaced with skills training and certifications. Priests are being replaced by coaches and teachers and therapists.

The torchbearers passing the baton in the relay race need to understand that in order to thrive, the baton will need to be as malleable as a piece of clay or, maybe even silly puddy. The point is that only the essential elements that make up the baton will make it through the transition. The shape, size, and way of holding the baton will not. Expect chaos. Expect destruction. Expect the pheonix rising to be almost unrecognizable.

3) The torchbearer will need to master uncertainty. For those who are taking over, it is going to be an intense ride. The past year I have made a study of moving through uncertainty and there is a lot to say on the subject. I invite you to embrace a few valuable concepts that I have learned along the way so far:

  • Prioritize your wellbeing. Uncertainty is not an acute emergency, it is a long-term reality. To make it through, you will need to be running on full inner resources. You need to be alert to changes in your environment, agile, and able to communicate with calmness in order to maintain positive direction. In horse culture, the leaders prioritize their need for rest and refueling because the herd depends on them for safety and survival. The organizations you are taking on need you in the same way. So, cultivate small habits and large ones that support your inner and outer wellbeing.

  • Listen with all of your senses. As you explore new territory, realize that it is not only your eyes, ears, and big brain that offer you information that can help you make wise decisions. It is also your touch, smell, emotions, and yes, your intuition. If you open all of your sense faculties and take it all in without judgement, you will be in the most informed place to make decisions about where to go next.

  • Rely on each other, embrace diversity. Whether it is politics, religion, or business, one perspective is simply unable to have an inclusive and comprehensive view of reality. Diversity is strength, learn to engage with a diverse array of perspectives in order to truly navigate the complex world in which we live. People of like-mind tend to collect together, but they rarely make the best decisions. They need to invite people of 'other-mind' in a respectful and authentic way in order to truly navigate this world.

4) Question everything. This is not a time to accept the status quo in any aspect of life, leadership, institutions, or our world. Every assumption, belief, theory, idea is on the table for questioning. Do not be afraid to ask the hard questions and explore uncharted territories.

5) Fail faster. This comes from start-up wisdom. The idea is that if we learn to embrace new ideas and fail faster, we will soon be iterating on something entirely fresh and new that will disrupt the status quo and rise as a leading idea in a new paradigm. So, get comfortable with failure, it is the fastest path to success.

Okay, that's enough to digest for now. May the passing of the batons in your world lead to ever greater wisdom, expansion, and opportunity.

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