When Does Rescue Turn Into Recovery?

What we call the beginning is often the end, and to make an end is to make a beginning.  The end is where we start from.

~T.S. Eliot

Have you ever been faced with a situation that requires you to make a difficult choice?   Has that choice ever included acknowledging an ending or a loss?  Perhaps you have been faced with a choice that included having to end an initiative, a business, a job, a person’s employment,  or a personal relationship.   Those decisions can indeed be painful.  Our perception of the pain that lies within those decisions often keeps us from facing reality.   As a culture, we just don’t like endings.  And yet endings are often required in order for us to create new possibilities, new options and new opportunities.  But how often when faced with having to end something, do we resist? It is this difficult dilemma that I want to address in this article.

“Hope is the expectation that something outside of ourselves, something or someone external, is going to come to our rescue and we will live happily ever after.” Dr. Robert Anthony

In  back country rescue, a team will be called upon to find a person or group that is missing or in distress.  These missions are called “rescue missions”.  The idea is that people are alive and need help out of a difficult situation.  These missions have several elements of danger.  For one, there is the person or group  in danger and who need rescue.  There is also a danger that is posed to those persons involved in the rescue attempt.  Rescue teams risk their own safety in order to save the lives of others.  When the rescue is successful and done safely, everyone involved experiences relief, joy and appreciation.  However, sometimes the rescue team must acknowledge a grim reality; that time has run out and rescue is no longer possible.  The rescue mission must then turn into a recovery mission. 

The rescue team must essentially decide that the fate of the person or group of people has already been decided.  They must accept reality and shift the mission away from rescue and toward recovery of the bodies~sad and dreadful, but at times necessary.  The timing this decision is critical. If the decision is made too late or too soon, there can be loss of life as well as the wasting  of valuable resources.

There is often only a short period of time when rescue is available. If you wait too long, it’s over.  This statement applies to more than a rescue mission on a mountain.  If something can be rescued, then there is usually a short window of time available for optimum chance of success.  Waiting to rescue or rescuing for too long can both have negative consequences.  As the song says, “you’ve got to know when to fold them” (Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler”).

You must also recognize what your own story is about ending something. What words do you associate with acknowledging that something is beyond rescue?  Maybe the words are “quitter”, “wimp”, “not good enough”, “let others down”, “failure” or “unlovable”.  Whatever it is, start by acknowledging your own bias toward ending a rescue.  Your own bias can sabotage your willingness, and therefore effectiveness to address an issue.

Leaders every day are faced with the challenge of ending a rescue so recovery can begin.  Some examples are:

  • Business leaders need to know when to reorganize.
  • CEO’s need to know when to shut down a business unit.
  • Stock traders need to know when to sell.
  • Managers have to decide when it is time to let an employee go.
  • Employees need to know when to leave a bad job.
  • AND we all need to recognize when a relationship of any kind is no longer serving us.

I am not advocating quitting something based solely on the reason that it is hard. Hard, on its own, is not a reliable indicator or predictor of success or failure.  Am I just being a big downer? Well, that is not my intention at all.  I want you to free up energy that you may be using on something that will not give you any positive energy back.  I want for you to contact courage and acknowledge what needs to end so that you can move on to what is next for your business, your work team and for you.

What is taking up energy in your business, your career or your personal life that is not giving you energy back? What are you trying to change that has no chance  of getting better?  In other words, what are you trying to rescue that can no longer be saved? What is the cost associated with avoiding a needed ending?  Only you know these answers, but you can not do what is next until you stop doing what is not working now.  Sometimes we have to acknowledge the darkness before there can be new light.

“If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” Orson Welles

Maybe you tend to hold on to hope when faced with a potential ending?  It is wonderful to have hope, but hope is not a plan and cannot dictate change on its own. And, sometimes, hope can be the undercover agent for denial. “Hope is the expectation that something outside of ourselves, something or someone external, is going to come to our rescue, and we will live happily ever after ” (Dr. Robert Anthony).  Hope can also keep us stuck and build on the inertia that keeps things the same, (read more about inertia here).

Our lives are full of endings.  Some endings we choose and some happen to us.  Notice where you have choice.  New opportunities can be created by freeing up energy which is being wasted to rescue that which can no longer be saved.

I wish you all courage  and support in this challenging process of your leadership journey.

Please share your comments, ideas and impact with this leadership community in the below section.  Thank you for reading and for your thoughts.

Larysa Slobodian, MA

Principal Consultant

L4 Leadership LLC


  1. Lisa February 10, 2011 at 4:24 pm #

    Great article. It is difficult to call the “time of death” in so many circumstances. Knowing when to ‘fold them’ is hard; deciding to ‘fold them’ is courageous.

  2. Steve February 10, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

    Powerful article.

  3. Mary February 10, 2011 at 5:35 pm #

    “Hope is not a plan” has been one of my Pillars of the Universe ideas for a long time – this is a thoughtful, robust and visual context to put it in. Having the image of the mountains and mountain rescue will make it real for people. Thanks!

  4. Kathy Cabral February 10, 2011 at 8:22 pm #

    ‘What are you trying to rescue, that can no longer be saved?’ Great question! I know that I can be better by thinking about the answer, and moving forward. Thanks!

  5. DJ February 11, 2011 at 10:38 am #

    Very insightful article. Thanks!

  6. donna February 14, 2011 at 5:35 pm #

    What a wonderful, thought provoking article. I often have trouble with moving on from the rescue phase. I always believe in having hope, but a back up plan is also necessary.

  7. Beth A February 14, 2011 at 8:57 pm #

    There is such a lightness and freedom that comes from letting go. As your quote at the top implies…with every end, is a beginning. As always, love your articles Larysa.

  8. Ben Trelease February 19, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    You really frame this dilemma well. I really appreciate how you acknowledge the difficulty in letting go sometimes while inspiring us to accept the reality of where we are right now. If we can’t do that, than we are at high risk of making decisions which don’t serve us or the systems we are in.


  1. L4 Leadership » Leading Your Vision: Using Goals as Checkpoints - March 5, 2012

    […] course if you’re feeling a bit off track.  Acknowledge reality and adjust course before it’s too late. Whether you are really thinking about your goals for the first time this year, or already have them […]

Leave a Reply