How Long is Your Runway?
Courtney Lynch, October 3, 2016
I recently turned 42. Not young, but not ancient, as my business partner Angie offered on the occasion. My birthday always inspires reflection. This year, I had two conversations around my birthday that left a strong impression. One took place in a well-appointed office on the top floor of a stately skyscraper and the other while I was sitting on a pile of sand on the beach.
Let’s go to the office first. I spent the day working with a talented CEO in his early sixties. We were discussing the leadership styles of his colleagues and he was talking specifically about a woman in his organization who was no longer a good fit. He admired her talent, praised her contributions and then remarked on how it would be best for her to leave the company. Sensing my surprise after hearing his glowing appraisal, he explained that she had so much talent, and “so much runway in front of her” (the woman was my age) and that she needed to be somewhere where she could level up and find new challenges. He admitted candidly that they didn’t see eye to eye on issues, yet his respect for her was strong. He wanted her to find a place she could flourish.
His remarks reminded me that people evolve, fit is fleeting and often as leaders we have to make changes to keep progressing. Two weeks after our talk, I learned the woman had left the company.
Now, to the beach talk. That memorable conversation was with my dad. He’s 78. The sun was setting and we were watching my younger siblings playing with my kids on the beach. I was lamenting that I was old and my dad was telling me how young I was. (Thanks Dad!) Together we were recalling where he was at 42. After doing some rough math, we concluded that he was 42 in 1980. His whole life as I know it today was just beginning. Three months after turning 42, he married my amazing stepmother. At 42, he only had two of his five children. He was only 11 years into the career he would retire from decades later. At 42, my dad had a lot of runway in front of him.
While we never know exactly how many days are ahead of us, it can be quite valuable as leaders to see the expanse of runway in our futures. Whether we have five years or 25 years to retirement, knowing that we have time to recommit, reinvent or redo a decision is comforting. We are only stuck in time if we choose to be. I encourage you to imagine what’s next, what’s left or what’s still in your heart to become. Embracing the now includes understanding longevity and respecting that we are all still works in progress.
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