Letting Go…

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves…”  -Anatole France

Change is difficult, whether we want to admit it or not, for anyone and everyone.  And while change often ushers in the new…it is also equated with and requires some form of loss.  Even when we know the change will improve our lot, we are still slow and hesitant to embark on the process, knowing it is much easier to remain with the known, the safe…than it is to stretch ourselves and dive into the unknown.

While being a creature of habit, I have had the opportunity to stretch myself and accompany my wife several times over the last fourteen years to the incredibly beautiful country of Ecuador.  And though, in the beginning, I fight the challenges required of travel and the disruption to my daily schedule, I must admit that I am truly energized from each and every experience.

We have had the pleasure to spend the majority our visits in the beautiful city of Cuenca, Ecuador.  While we have visited the city during many different seasons, it is especially beautiful during the holidays…with its many different traditions, parades and celebrations.  It is an incredibly festive time to be in this historical city.

It is during this festive time, that one of the city’s many traditions has etched itself in my memory.  It is Cuenca’s New Years Eve tradition of the burning of the ano viejo, or what I refer to as the Burning of the Effigies.  Sylvan Hardy provides insight to this tradition, as it is considered…“one of Latin America’s most colorful – and bizarre traditions” and when “the clock ticks over to the new year, they burn the ano viejos, which are made of cloth, straw, leaves, or even paper mache.  Many are even stuffed with fireworks so that they do not go quietly into the night or the new year.  While others are seen as works of art.  Even some are filled with barnyard manure and tend to make and put out an unsavory smell.”

What’s interesting is that “the tradition goes back over at least two centuries, but its origin is largely a mystery.”  And while the tradition has spread across Latin America, its roots point to the city of Cuenca, Ecuador for originating this New Year’s tradition.

The burning of the ano viejo is much about the process of throwing out the old and ushering in the new.  It is symbolic of “catharsis and purification” for the year that has passed and the new year to come.  The burning of the ano viejo or effigies are “simply acts of good riddance” and or the “cleansing of bad habits.”  It is seen as an “important act of renewal.”  The tradition is about “erasing the past” and “leaving the things behind that must be left behind.” 

As we move into the new year, as leaders there are many lessons to be learned from this tradition…

It begins by, each year, taking a long, hard, honest and introspective look at our organizations, our culture, and the traditions that are ingrained within.  It is about determining the good and bad of our traditions.  It is about determining what new traditions need to be ushered in, what traditions need to be refreshed and revitalized, and traditions have served their purpose and now hang like an albatross around the neck of the organization.

As we know, this is not an easy process.  And like the effigies that are stuffed with fireworks, many of those traditions will not go quietly…many may go kicking and screaming loudly into the night.  While other traditions may have lost their freshness and taken on an “unsavory smell” like those ano viejos stuffed with the barnyard manure.  They have run their course and it is time to throw them out.

And while many traditions play an integral part to the history and well being of the organization, many others, much like the ano viejos, have long since served their purpose and the time has come for cleansing and renewal.  So as you start to tackle this new year…it may be necessary to take a long hard look at your organization, the culture and the traditions that exist within and determine what is in need of change.  As difficult as that might be, it might be time burn a few effigies if growth and renewal are to occur.


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