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Tending the Fires of 21st Century Organizations

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Now I live in the State of Maine. My home has a brick fireplace that is much smaller in size than my fireplace in California. The size of my fireplace is appropriate, given that it resides in a single-story living room. There are not many trees located on my property, so I usually have to rely on cut wood that I order (mixed with some of the wood I am able to retrieve from several trees that I have cut down or more often pruned). Next door to my home is a small cottage I bought many years ago (before my wife and I purchased our current home). This cottage has an even smaller fireplace. I spent many years sitting in front of fires I built in this cottage, and I now love sitting in front of the fires I have built in my home. My fires in Maine are filled with soul—and I, in turn, am filled with soul and reflections on the dreams that were realized and those that were not realized in the organizations I led. I have had to come to terms not only with the limited wood that is available for my fires, but also my limited ability to change the world in which I have lived and worked.

The transition from big house and expansive spirit to smaller house and more intimate soul is not easy—nor is the transition from dreams and aspirations (in midlife) to reflection and integration (in later life). Fortunately, transitions can be supported by what some psychologists (especially those who embrace object relations theories) call “transitional objects.” These objects are often actual physical objects that we carry with us from our former life into our new life. At the very least, they are memories that we hold over from the old life.  Childhood transitions are often aided by the child bringing something from their “old” life into the “new” life – this might be a piece of blanket or a teddy bear. A little later in life, the transitional object can be a yearbook filled with signatures, a set of photographs, or a bookcase filled with memorability. For me, the transition between fireplaces was aided by tools I brought with me from California to Maine. Because the fireplace in California was quite large, the poker and shovel were also quite large – probably too big for my current fireplace. Still, I love tending my somewhat smaller Maine fire with these majestic bronze-tipped tools.

A parallel process has occurred in my tending of fires. In California, I often accompanied my fire-tending and fire-watching with grand symphonies that were shouting out from some large speakers I had installed in my home. Here is Maine, I have much smaller speakers and I often play much more constrained music while tending and watching my fire. I love to listen to chamber music—especially piano, violin and cello trios. Symphonies are still wonderful, but I sometimes like something a bit smaller that fits better with my smaller fire.

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