Stay in or Pull Back: A Founder’s (and Father’s) Challenge

David Hamilton / Director of Programs, Sbu Economic Development

One of my biggest challenges, in both my personal and professional lives, is knowing when to pull back from a discussion or decision, and when to take control and drive the thing home.

It’s always a hard call. And pulling back is usually a hard choice, especially if you’ve been in control for a long time, or if you know your way is right!

I helped create CEBIP back in 2011 and ran all aspects of the program since its inception. I also helped create my children – and as anyone who has kids will tell you, that’s a full-time job right there, full of critical decisions (and declarations of “this is not a democracy!”).

At some point, the program (or company) you create grows up and others need to take over – the same way your kids grow up and must be allowed to make their own decisions (including the poor ones).

So, when do you let go? When do you finally keep your mouth shut, regardless of your personal feelings or opinions?

I pushed off letting go of CEBIP for a long time. I had an amazing team working on the program and I had increasing responsibilities outside of CEBIP demanding attention, but this was my baby … who could run it better than me?

It turns out Heidi Anderson and Shruti Sharma could. After a lot of soul-searching, I handed over the reins, and they have gone above and beyond – earning U.S. Department of Energy grants (something I was never able to do) and developing newer, stronger relationships with national laboratories and international organizations.

These were things that were considered over the last decade-plus, but never accomplished. It was time, and the right people took the ball and ran with it.

I’ve been struggling toward the back seat with my kids as well. It’s hard to let them move forward in this strange, tough world without telling them what to do and when to do it. I fail sometimes, but I am trying.

My daughter has been hospitalized recently, and as a 22-year-old adult, the doctors look to her to answer questions and make decisions. As a parent, I want to interject, take control, drive the discussion, make the decisions.

But this is her fight. And over the past month, I’ve come to realize that she’s smart enough, brave enough and strong enough to understand what’s happening and make her own decisions.

Does she look to me for guidance? Absolutely, and I’ll always be there to give it. But I’m trying my best not to answer questions for her, or to overrun her thoughts and opinions with my own.

As I force myself to sit back and watch, I see that my daughter has this under control – just as I learned very quickly that the CEBIP team knows exactly what to do and when to do it.

Do I let these things go grudgingly? Yes, I do. But deep down, you know that it’s time to fade back and watch the fruits of your labor over the years continue to grow and succeed without you.

And when that happens, you feel pride and joy that make the pain of letting go worth it.

David Hamilton is director of programs for Stony Brook University Economic Development and the cofounder of the Clean Energy Business Incubator Program.