When the Eagle Flies Again

Our thoughts and opinions mold our beliefs and shape who we are as human beings. These beliefs solidify as we gain experience and move through life, becoming truths that we cling to and find hard to let go. It’s easy for us to stay one way forever, stuck to our ideas of what works and what doesn’t, but this resistance to change is more harmful to us especially when it comes to work. And hence it becomes imperative that we reinvent ourselves and our beliefs before our careers stagnate.

In this context, I’d like to share with you the story of the eagle. It is an inspirational narrative of how eagles go through a ‘rebirth’ when they reach the age of 40, breaking free of its redundant physical features and painfully growing new ones so that it can survive longer. Now, this isn’t an accurate presentation of facts by any means. But this story, grounded in fiction, offers us a way to reflect back on what we go through and our response to situations. On some level, this urban legend resonates with me and captures the essence of my thoughts on the ‘reinvent yourself’ phenomenon.

It is said that eagles have the longest lifespan among all birds. It can live up to 70 years but to reach this age, the eagle has to make a tough choice. By the time the eagle enters its 40th year, its long and flexible talons can no longer grab the prey, leaving it hungry most of the times. Also, its long and sharp beak starts to bend, and its ageing and heavy wings stick to its chest, making it difficult to fly. At this point, the eagle has only two choices – to die or go through a painful process of reinventing itself. She chooses pain.

It flies to a secluded spot to a mountain top. It then starts knocking its beak against a rock until it breaks. Then, it waits for the beak to grow back. Once the new beak forms, the eagle starts to pluck out its talons. When the new talons grow back, the eagle starts plucking out old and heavy feathers. This painful period lasts for about 150 days, after which the eagle takes its famous flight of rebirth and lives for 30 more years.

Years ago, I had a colleague who was a lot like this eagle. Upon reaching the age of 40, his skills had dulled, and his way of thinking had rusted. With every passing day, his team’s response stopped being as positive as it used to be. His feedback was often ignored, his instructions countered, or his advice disregarded. His style and approach became a favourite punching bag for the rest of his team members.

He came to me with his problem and started sharing everything with me. I listened and quickly understood that his entire focus was on ‘What was happening’ and was completely ignoring “Why it was happening”. I knew that I had the responsibility of bringing him out of this black hole.

I told him to look through the eagle’s story and follow its path, which may be painful and tricky but would ultimately yield success. In this phase, I introduced him to two friends called Realization and Preparation.

The first order of business was to make him realise where he was missing the point and make him move on from the ‘what’ of the issue and focusing on ‘why’ this change had occurred. Here he understood that he must not keep relying on his depreciated skills and processes, as the newer workforce would not find them useful. He had to work on adding value to his team’s work. This he must achieve by first shedding his old baggage, thoughts, and ideas—much like the eagle in our story sheds its bent beak and dull talons—to make way for new ones. He needed to accept that he must undergo a painful process of reinventing his role and contribution. This he could do by learning new technology, solving problems of young team members by understanding their paradigms and language.

Only once this realisation set in could he begin stage to and start preparing a plan to update his skills. Here, like the eagle plucks its old feathers, he would strategically pluck out the restrictions he had set upon himself so that a fresh coat of behavioural patterns and skills could take their place. This would help him move towards the final stage of survival – the ‘rebirth’ of the eagle, the reinventing of ourselves.

It is often a struggle for us to change our beliefs and ideology once we get to a certain age and have become used to our own methods. But this way of thinking can ensure that we are able to reinvent ourselves according to the needs of our environment and, like the eagle, survive past the age of what could be our career’s ‘death’. Even that’s a painful situation. The choice is between which pain you want to go towards – the pain of reinventing yourself or the pain of losing your relevance and being called a relic.

This post was originally published at – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/when-eagle-flies-again-jitendra-malhotra/

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