The Art of Endings

The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships that all of us have to give up in order to move forward

Necessary Endings

What do you need to end today for a better tomorrow?

In my work as a clinician, a leadership consultant, and a fellow sojourner, I have found something to be true: in both our personal and professional lives, it is often the exact same issues that can hold us back, or even derail us. Find a control freak at home, and chances are that their their co-workers have the same complaints that the spouse has. Or, if someone is an enabler in their love life, they are also a boss who doesn't confront poor performance. In short, we usually don't have personal issues vs. work issues...what we really have are "me" issues. And they show up wherever we are. Which brings me to our topic: Necessary Endings.


In both the personal and professional life, there are times when reality dictates that a person must stand up and "end" something. Either it's time has passed, it's season is over, or worse, continuing it would be destructive in some way. The situation requires someone to:

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• Fire an employee who should be fired
• End a dating relationship that is not going to go where they need to go
• Shut down a product line or a business unit (remember GM's troubles?)
• Get out of social ties and activities whose "season has passed"
• Letting go of a dream that is not going to materialize and moving on
• Leave a job or a career that they know is not right, or is even toxic for them
• Ending a marriage with repeated unfaithfulness that is not changing
• Admit that something is failing and waving the white flag
• Unplug from toxic friendships or family ties
• Giving up on an addict who does not want to change

But too many times, with clear evidence staring them in the face, people find it difficult to pull the trigger. Why is that?

The reasons are varied, but understandable, especially in light of developmental psychology, our understanding of trauma, and cognitive mapping. Some people's developmental path has not equipped them to stand up and let go of something. For example, if they did not develop what psychologists refer to as secure attachment or emotional object constancy, the separation and loss that ending a relationship triggers for them is too much, so they avoid it. In addition, in their development they may not have been taught the skills to confront situations like these. 

Or, if they have had traumatic losses in life, another ending represents a replay of those, and they shy away or frantically try to mend whatever is wrong, way past reason. Or they have internal maps that tell them that ending something is "mean" or will cause someone harm. In any case, fears dominate their functioning, and they find themselves unable to do a "necessary ending." See if you can relate to any of these fears or inabilities that can cause people to hang on or stay somewhere too long:

• You can't tell if an ending is actually necessary, or if "it" or "he" is fixable
• Being afraid of the loss and the sadness
• Fearing the confrontation
• Fearing the unknown
• Lacking the skills to execute the ending
• You lack the right words to use
• You fear hurting the person
• You have had too many painful endings in your personal history and don't want another one
• You've blown endings before, and don't want to repeat it one more time

Probably all of us can relate to something on that list. But even so, here is the issue: endings are necessary. They are an essential part of life. Everything has seasons, and we have to be able to recognize that something's time has passed and be able to move to the next season. And, everything that is alive requires pruning as well, which is a great metaphor for endings. Gardeners prune a rose bush for three reasons:

1. The bush produces more buds than it can sustain, and some good ones have to go so the best ones can have the resources of the bush
2. There are some branches and buds that are sick and not going to get well
3. There are some that are already dead and are taking up space

So, let's apply that to life:


1. Over time, you gather more activities, relationships, work, interests, etc. than you can really feed with the best of your time and energy. You have to realize that you cannot go deep with everything, and figure out which ones you are going to invest in.
2. Face it....there are people who you have tried everything with to get them to "get it," or businesses/strategies where you have also tried everything and there is no reason to keep throwing good money after bad.
3. And, there are people, places and things around which have been dead for a long time, and it is past time to let go.

Therefore, we have a dilemma: life and success require "necessary endings," and we are afraid to execute them. That equals a conflict worth solving. So, what to do?
In future blogs I will talk a lot about this topic from my new book "Necessary Endings", but for now, lets start with a few thoughts:

• Consider how you look at endings in general. Do you perceive them as natural? Do you have a world view that everything has its season and life cycle, or do you think that if something comes to an end it means that "something must be wrong?"
• When you see that you need to let go of something, or a person, what happens inside? What fears emerge? How paralyzing are they? What can you do to address them?
• Have you really thought about the fact that if you don't do the pruning in that area that is needed, then you won't get what you ultimately want? For example, if you keep that employee then that department will never perform well? Or if you stay in that dating relationship you will not find the one that fulfills? Play the movie forward a year or two and see if you like the results of not making a decision.
• If you are holding on to hope, what is the basis for that? Is it rational and objective? Or is it just a defense against facing the issue?

Endings are a part of life, and we are actually wired to be able to execute them. But because of trauma, developmental failures and other reasons, we shy away from taking the steps that could open up whole new worlds of development and growth. Take an inventory of the areas of life that may need some pruning, and begin to take the steps that you need to face the fears that are getting in the way. If you do, you might find yourself getting unstuck and entering into a whole new season of life.

 

 

 

Henry Cloud, Ph.D., is a psychologist and bestselling author whose new book Necessary Endings will be published by HarperBusiness in January 2011.

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