Otto loved cruising around Lake Barcroft on his boat—with company, always with company. I was with him on one of these lake cruises—this time, uncharacteristically, scotch and donuts were our only companions. It was a damp, gray autumn day, the wind off the water hinting at winter. Otto, 64 years old at the time, said with solemn clarity and authority, “Life after 30 is relinquishment and diminishment.”
I asked if he was feeling down or particularly empty, and he immediately replied that it was not a personal statement—but rather a truism. “Life after 30 is about relinquishment and diminishment. Period.” I needed a moment for that pronouncement to sink in.
“You mean,” I asked, “that as someone gets older, the more he must face his physical limitations?”
“No,” Otto replied. “That is too limited. Life, I’m telling you, after 30 is about relinquishment and diminishment.” He went on to say, “Your body, your mind, your potency, your power—these are all your ego’s fantasies and they struggle to stay in control, but it is the loss of control that defines life’s ultimate journey. You give up, you lose, you diminish—the ego relinquishes and you finally learn to say, ‘Thy will be done’.”
“I understand,” I said, “but while there certainly is loss and diminishment with age, there also comes increased knowledge, development, wisdom, self-actualization, individuation. Yes? Are we not bestowed with gifts on the one side even as we relinquish them from the other,” I asked.
“No,” Otto said in immediate reply. “Listen, Hile,” he said, “you are only—what –32years-old? I’ve got neckties older than you. Trust me. Even your need to see growth keeping pace with decline is a construct of the ego. Life is ultimately about relinquishment and diminishment, and that is a path you are already on.”
My head was spinning—this idea was huge, a paradigm-changer, and more than a bit of a bummer. I sat there in silence—scotch in one hand and a half-eaten donut in the other—trying to integrate this idea and to lay this life truth over the mental model I had for Otto, my friend and mentor.
While my mind was swimming , Otto kept talking: “This idea is worthy of more work—I should write it up for publication, and maybe even put a training together—an advanced training. . .” He kept going, but I caught only blips from there on out. My mind was adrift grappling with the weight of this new idea—how do I take it in and fully understand and integrate the great man’s philosophy?
It was Otto’s 70th birthday, and he was laid up in the hospital. He was there only briefly, and we all knew he would be fine—released in just a couple days, but he was pretty deflated having to spend his birthday in the hospital. Just ten years earlier he had been celebrated at a legendary 60-hour party for his 60th birthday. It started at noon on Friday and went non-stop until midnight on Sunday, and over the course of this epic celebration, 524 of Otto’s family and closest friends actually signed the guest book. He stayed engaged nearly the whole time—sleeping only four or five hours that weekend. Otto often spoke of that party later, as if it were the culmination of his active,engaging ENFJ life. The comparison of that triumphant and relentlessly social birthday to this hospital room— exactly ten years later—was unavoidable, and depressing.
I sat there with Otto and said, “Well, you’ve always said, life after 30 is relinquishment and diminishment.”
“What?” Otto asked.
“You know,” I reminded him. “Your life’s philosophy. . . Life after 30 is relinquishment and diminishment.”
He paused, and then he said, “Oh yeah, I guess that’s right. I do remember saying that. Hmm—you know, that’s not a bad idea.”
“What?!” I could not believe what I was hearing. “That day out on the lake—over scotch and donuts—you shared your life’s philosophy. ‘Life after 30 is about relinquishment and diminishment.’ I’ve been wrestling with that idea for almost ten years now! What do you mean, ‘Oh yeah, that’s not a bad idea.’?”
Otto grinned: “Come on, calm down. That was just some shit I said.”
In type terms, EJs (people preferring Extraversion and Judging) show up in life attentive to and energized by the outer-world of people, places and things. As Judgers, they seek to structure, order and control the people and things around them. As a result, EJs have a public face and a voice track that project certainty, clarity and confidence. Even when EJs are tentative, they sound sure.
Otto Kroeger was a poster-child EJ (ENFJ). He always sounded sure and was repeatedly seduced into the dramatic presentation, the certain statement, the bold pronouncement. He loved delivering the punch line–anything ending with an exclamation mark.
His full embodiment of EJ preferences was perfectly evidenced in this bold, emphatic pronouncement of what was actually a fleeting, half-engaged thought. It was one of the things that made his presence so commanding and compelling—so attractive to so many (and off-putting to some). And while I loved it, I understand anyone’s aversion to what can seem like excessive volume and over-statement.
The fact is that much of Otto was larger-than-life. He drew attention and affection wherever he went, and his voice, humor and knowledge filled every room he entered. My life, my company, and every type training will now suffer a bit for the loss of Otto.
So. Otto once told me that life after 30 is about relinquishment and diminishment. At 46, as I face the loss of Otto, I believe he was only partially correct. Relinquishment—yes. Otto is gone, and he must be relinquished. But diminishment—I don’t think so. Because of Otto’s friendship and humor and the overwhelming intellectual and type-based gifts he’s given to me and the world, today I feel life’s abundance more than ever.