How to Befriend Endings
“I hate endings,” declared Frances, one of my mentoring clients. “I want to let go of the familiar, but I can’t even donate a pair of jeans that I haven’t worn in eight years.”
Frances (name changed to project me) is a rock star in her field, known throughout her industry as a well-connected, top business developer. She is very proud of the framed satellite photo of Hurricane Frances, given to her by one of her bosses, that hangs in her office. With her shock of red, curly hair, she is a force of nature, someone to be reckoned with who is used to shaking things up and getting results.
She started working for her current firm fifteen years ago, awash in positive anticipation and filled with passion. A series of re-organizations has left her feeling disconnected and uninspired. She’s bored, going through the motions, and because she is a woman of integrity, it feels like a violation of her character.
She’s explored options for re-creating a new position within the same company, which says something about her capacity for loyalty. She’s sought after by competitors, and has done several exploratory interviews, but the next step—something that would make her heart sing—has not yet revealed itself. Naturally, she has moments of impatience. Now she struggles with the decision to stay or leave before she finds her next job, a financial indulgence requiring a leap of faith that she’s not comfortable with.
It becomes easier to “let go of the familiar” when we understand that it requires a willingness to live with uncertainty developing the capacity of not knowing. Frances has heard me say this in the months we’ve worked together. She has taken on specific practices and expanded her capacity to trust divine-right timing not believing everything she thinks (which includes disaster scenarios about becoming a bag lady).
This conversation centers on letting go and I am sensitive to the loss of her mother three years ago. I point out that she was always going to have a final working day at this firm. She started the job in good faith and it unfolded in unexpected and rewarding ways, but she never imagined at the start she would stay fifteen years. Why? Because she knew it would end. That was an unspoken Given from Day One.
I invited Frances, over the course of several days, to observe with the soft eyes of the fair witness all of the endings that unfold throughout her average day.
She might notice the routines of early morning: She begins her day getting out of bed and feeding Chester the Beagle. She gets dressed and takes her daily run. The run ends. Returning home, Chester has emptied his bowl. It’s time for his walk. Frances eats breakfast and gets dressed for work. The home-segment of morning ends. There is time spent in her car listening to All Things Considered, which ends when she arrives at her office.
At work, there are phone calls and meetings. Each phone call ends. Each meeting wraps up with a handshake or a nod. “Nice to meet you. Good-bye.” Morning is officially over. It’s lunchtime.
How many mini-endings have occurred in her day so far? How did she navigate them? Which ones were welcome and when did she want to linger, hold on? What allowed her to let go of that desire and move on?
My hope is that Frances will see the continuum of endings and beginnings and how they flow into and out of each other like Russian nesting dolls. Endings are built in. Would we want it any other way?
Imagine a world without endings? You’d be stuck in your college dorm with a roommate who snores, those ghastly shoulder pads from the 80s, or listening to a church sermon that doesn’t speak to your heart.
If we can notice the persistent continuum of endings and beginnings and acknowledge how many times we have moved so capably through them, it will go a long way toward developing the capacity to be with the unknown, to trust. This practice can help us be better prepared for the life altering exits and endings, like leaving a job, relationship or community, any situation that we’ve outgrown.
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