Janus was the name of the Roman god of gates and doors, beginnings and endings, and is therefore the linguistic root for the first month of our year, January. Images of Janus show him with a double-faced head, each looking in opposite directions, one looking behind at the past, and the other facing forward toward at the future.
Once he was made into a god, Janus was worshipped at the beginning of harvest time, before planting, before marriages, at births, and other types of ‘beginnings’ or transitional moments, such as the beginning of a new year.
Even though any day of the year represents a potential beginning or fresh start, for many around the world, January 1 has become a new beginning. In my own family’s tradition, we spent some time on the last day of each year looking back, Janus-style, to reflect on what had happened that year—and what we learned from it. Then, on New Year’s Day, we took time to turn our attention to look ahead, Janus-style, and record our intentions for the coming year.
Possibility and Transformation
For most of my professional life, I have been studying possibility. Where does possibility come from? What conditions make it more likely? In ‘The Role of Chaos in Creating Change’, a chapter in Many Facets of Leadership, I suggest that Pain and Possibility are the ‘parents’ of transformation, with Chaos being the ‘birth canal’ through which something completely new comes into being. Creation Stories from virtually every ancient culture contain some variation on the same theme: the world came out of ‘the abyss’, ‘the nothingness’, or ‘the chaos’. Newness comes into being from empty space. ‘More-of-the-same-only-different’ (what is called ‘First Order Change’ in our field) can come from modifying or improving what is already present. But something completely new (called ‘Second Order Change’ or ‘Transformation’) cannot come into existence when something else is occupying the space.
My hunch is that in our eagerness and even fear about the empty space we have just created by letting go, we often rush to fill it with something to make sure we don’t have to hang out in the ‘abyss’ or nothingness’ or ‘emptiness’. When we act out of anxiety or fear, however, what shows up next is likely to be more-of-the-same-only-different (First Order Change), because the underlying paradigm may not have gone yet. Einstein’s famous quote comes to mind: ‘Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them’.
How many times does an organization ‘create change’ only to have it fail? How many people rush from one relationship or job to another before they have become aware of—and let go of—the basic way of thinking that led to the existing situation. Being too eager to fill the space blocks the space.
So how do we open the door, Janus-style, for possibility, for something new and more appealing (transformation) to occur? By creating an empty space for it to show up. This means letting go of what is currently occupying that space. Some examples:
The thought of letting go of something that has been in your life or business for a while can be daunting, even scary. Yet that is exactly what must be done to set up the condition for a new possibility.
If you are not at least a little nervous or scared about what you are letting go of, you are either not actually letting it go—you are pretending to let it go, or thinking about letting it go—or you are letting go of something that is not ‘real’ for you anymore, something that has already been let go. No risk/fear, no empty space. No empty space, no transformation, only more-of-the-same-only-different.
Let it go. . .