Some endings are a long time in the making. Others are a bolt from the blue, untimely and unexpected. We're not always prepared, even for the ones we see coming. Yet, sometimes, we do find ourselves prepared for unexpected ones.
Endings can be contradictory: they signal the ending of one thing but can mark the beginning of another. They fill us with dread or excitement, or both. Sometimes, we feel relief and it's easy to let go of an era, a place or a job. At other times we want to dig in our heels and cling to something for just a little longer.
"Beginnings and endings are simply part of a journey that isn't stopped by either."Craig D. Lounsbrough (U.S. author and counselor)
We knew months before my dad's passing that he was terminally ill and didn't have long to live. But, even though we had time to prepare for the inevitable, his death left an empty space and severed a bond.
An ending is never just one thing. Endings are about attachment and fulfilled or unfulfilled expectations. They take away one thing and allow us to see another. They're full of uncertainty, yet also bring opportunity. And they cause us to run the gamut of emotions: grief, sadness, relief, excitement, resignation – it depends on the type of ending.
The ending of my dad's life forced me to accept a new way of being: a life without my dad on this earth. There would be no more "silent conversations" – no longer just the two of us sitting in the lounge, both lost in our thoughts and being content with that.
It was also the end of him getting lost three streets from home (he had no sense of direction!), and the end of our in-jokes about my mom and her compulsive need to make all of us eat three square meals a day at the dining table under her watchful eye!
We marked the end of Dad's life with a ceremony that celebrated his life and mourned his passing.
And, suddenly, there were voids everywhere, bits of empty space scattered all over the house. His bedside table was no longer home to his water carafe and Bible. His reading chair under the window sat empty. After we cleared out his closet, the door closed with a sad, hollow echo.
Vacant seconds and moments were strung throughout the day like beads on a string, slivers of time that would have been filled with bits of him, his routine, and his habits. "It's three o'clock," he'd say, "isn't it time for coffee?" And then three o'clock was just that: a number on the clock that came between two and four.
But voids don't like being voids, and always become occupied again. Or maybe we don't like voids, and fill them to experience comfort and familiarity: "I've been here, I've done this, I know how it works, it's 'normal' and safe."
But, despite the morsel of familiarity it provides, filling the voids of an ending reminds me of how my new school shoes felt at the start of the year: squeaky and comfortably uncomfortable. It took time for my shoes, my feet, my gait, and the road I walked home to become comfortable and familiar.
Dad's empty bedside table, lonely reading chair, and unfinished books didn't remain like that either. They now hold the things and habits and routines of my stepdad, who respectfully navigated the voids and now fills them in a way that is unique to him. An ending, and a beginning.
Our switchover to a new Mind Tools website last month also marked the end of an era. One of the features of the old site that we weren't able to carry over was the members' forum.
It was the space where we had conversations about things that happened at work and in our lives. Sometimes, people needed coaching, or a shoulder to cry on, or simply a non-judgmental space to vent.
We're grateful for all the wonderful conversations we had with our members. At the same time, we feel a bit sad and lost without our beloved forum, but we're excited about the Coaching Hub, a fantastic new feature that will be added in the new year.
At the end of a year, we also look back. We might mourn what we leave behind but, hopefully, we allow ourselves time to rest and reflect so that we use our energy to only carry things that will serve us well into the new year.
Situations change, they end, and new things begin. Although we celebrate change, it's normal to feel sad about endings, to be ambivalent about change, and to experience that knot-in-the-stomach excitement about new beginnings.
An ending is never just one thing. Endings are mourning and celebration, vulnerability and courage.
They are morning and evening, winter and spring.
Sometimes they are happiness and sadness intertwined, uncertainty and opportunity woven together.
Endings are sunsets – and sunrises too.
During our latest #MTtalk Twitter chat, we discussed why we fear endings, why we need them, and what opportunities they present. Here are the questions we asked, and a selection of participants' responses:
Q1. What are some of the reasons why something might need to end?
@MarkC_Avgi Something may need to end because of health (physical or mental) reasons; the need to remove oneself from a bad situation; the return on investment of time or money is not positive; just the need for a change; or for any number of reasons.
@Dwyka_Consult Toxic things must end because they don't do the world any good. Beautiful things must end because they will lose their magic if they carry on forever.
Q2. In your experience, what do we fear about endings?
@_GT_Coaching Some people may fear endings if they don't have something else planned to replace what has ended.
@garyrgruber People seem to be afraid that they may be leaving without having a fulfilled life and have unfinished business left behind.
Q3. What can happen when we fail to end something in time?
@ThiamMeka2Gogue Forcing things in a way that wreaks havoc and distress holds us back. Being overly attached to an outcome makes us so obsessed with perfection and our own timing that we end up sabotaging what really matters, which is the end result.
@Dwyka_Consult Conflict that carries on after it should have ended becomes ugly and personal. There's a time to start and a time to stop.
Q4. What have you learned by ending something too early?
@ColfaxInsurance (Alyx) Ending something too early can make whatever that was feel incomplete or rushed. It can leave you with a sense that something is missing or you feel unsatisfied with the final product.
@MarkC_Avgi Ending something too early may result in not achieving a goal that was just "inches" away, had we just kept trying a little longer; giving up too soon.
Q5. How do you know it's the right time to bring things to an end?
@SoniaH_MT You know it's the right time to bring things to an end when: your software no longer updates with the manufacturer; you see little progress for too much effort; or you've given your all but others coast by with the minimum.
@ColfaxInsurance (Alyx) When you get feedback from your audience indicating that they're done with that thing. Sometimes a gut feeling can tell you it's time to end something. Something just doesn't work anymore and you have to find a replacement or do something else entirely.
Q6. How can you bring a positive perspective to endings, without resorting to "toxic positivity"?
@MikeB_MT Be specific, honest, and transparent. Celebrate small victories and outcomes with specificity. What did we learn? What will we do differently next time? Some of my favorite celebrations have been for projects that may not have hit the mark but still added value.
@Midgie_MT I maintain my positive perspective by acknowledging the positives from the journey that I have shared with the person or the job. Then focus on the new beginnings, the opportunities, and the potential that might open up.
Q7. Why are endings necessary (maybe more than we realize)?
@_GT_Coaching Some endings happen out of people's control but other endings such as admitting failure on something can lead to new possibilities.
@ZalaB_MT It's the cycle of life. Nothing lasts forever. Seasons change, and so do our life and/or career. We enter into different stages of life that bring new opportunities... letting go of what no longer serves us.
Q8. How have endings created new opportunities in your career and life?
@ThiamMeka2Gogue The end of my career as a civil servant has been the beginning of my beautiful and exciting entrepreneurship journey.
@Yolande_MT Moving to a new city, a new country, ending a relationship, losing a job... all of these create voids that make you actively seek new opportunities. When you wear your "opportunity glasses," guess what you see?
Q9. What do you do to acknowledge, mark or celebrate an ending?
@greatergoodgeek It depends on the ending. If it relates to finishing a job well done, I try to reflect on the work, to get a feeling of accomplishment and celebration. And maybe enjoy a delicious treat to celebrate too!
@garyrgruber Celebrate by having great food and drinks and telling stories. OK to dance and sing, too!
Q10. In the future, how will you support yourself when experiencing an ending?
@SarahH_MT I'll continue to process endings with my head and heart as this has served me well. If I am struggling to balance these I try not to end things until I feel content with both. Trust that I will know when the time is right.
@MarkC_Avgi I will support myself in the same manner as I did through so many endings throughout my career. As the famous line in the song goes, "I will survive!"
To read all the tweets, see the Wakelet collection of this chat.
#MTtalk is taking a break over Christmas and New Year, but we'll be back on Friday, January 6.
Beginnings and endings influence your everyday activities and your longer-term goals. In our next Twitter chat, we'll be discussing the importance of balancing your goals with reality when setting your objectives for 2023. In our Twitter poll this week, we'd like to know how you approach planning your life.
If you found the questions and responses interesting and would like to delve into Mind Tools resources that could help you to explore the subject of endings, we recommend the following reading list. (Please note that you may need to be a Mind Tools Club or Corporate member to see all of the resources in full.)
Our coaches share how long-term uncertainty has impacted their lives. Join our upcoming #MTtalk Twitter chat to share your thoughts and experiences too.
"We can start with the question, 'What do you need me to do?' and respect their answer at the time. Let them know where you will be and BE THERE if they reach out. " @eriphar
"I have personally gone off track at times due to a lack of awareness in the moment and because my distractions have been stronger than my intentions."