Since a “refusal to resign” is far more common than a voluntary resignation, the latter certainly catches our attention, especially when it involves the relinquishment of power and prestige dearly attained. Probably the two most salient historical examples of such action come from the same man — George Washington, who both turned in his commission (and army) at the end of the Revolution and turned over the reins of power after his second term by refusing to run for a third. It was not until Franklin Roosevelt went on his four-term spree from 1933 until his death in 1945 that this implied two-term limitation was shattered (later to be ensconced in law).
I got to thinking about the rarity and mystical attraction of the voluntary resignation after reading a blog post by John Halamka, M.D., describing why he was resigning as CIO of Harvard Medical School (he will continue to serve as CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center). Interestingly, the post was not headlined with an announcement of the resignation, nor was it stated at the opening. Rather, Halamka wrote the post in a style that likely matched his actual progression from problem experience, to problem identification, and finally to problem resolution. First, he registered a sense of discomfort with something going on in his life (stress), then he strove to define the cause of that discomfort (excessive demands), and finally he decided upon a solution to remove it altogether (resignation resulting in the elimination of some of those demands).
Though the process seems clear cut and logical, Halamka admitted that coming up with “the answer” to his dilemma required a “tough decision.” With that in mind, and with a desire to learn more, we’ve scheduled an interview for Aug. 9.
But based on what we already know about his decision, I believe there are many takeaways that lie within it. As this month’s SnapSurvey (see our Top News story) shows, many CIOs are extremely overburdened and, as a result, highly stressed out. Applying Halamka’s method of stress reduction to any part of one’s life — be it professional or personal — can be highly effective. As with most self-improvement projects, the likely cause of failure is overreaching.
“I’ve got so many stresses in my life,” you say, “there’s no way I can address them all.”
“That is absolutely true,” I say, “so don’t even try.”
The best path forward is to take a bite-sized approach to conquering your stress. Make a list of the top three things that give you angst, keep you up at night, or simply exhaust you by the constant friction they produce. Usually these are of a repetitive nature — something you have to do every day or every week. If so, eliminating even one of the top three can bring about a huge quality-of-life improvement.
Perhaps in your case, our stress reduction exercise won’t result in anything as dramatic as giving up the power to command a victorious fighting force or resigning from a prestigious academic position, but all things are relative. Inherent in the power of resignation is the payoff of “not having to do that anymore.” While most cannot conceive of letting something hard-won go, those who have know the satisfaction that comes with refusing to do that which cannot be done with absolute excellence.
Halamka also touches on another theme in many of his posts, that of karma and harmony. I agree that the enjoyable life is one which contains copious helpings of both, but such a mixture cannot be attained without proper stress management. Try the aforementioned stress reduction exercise, consider the power of resignation — be it from a professional or personal obligation — as one arrow in your quiver, and invest the worthwhile effort that will bring your life into better balance and harmony.