Photo by Katie Moum on Unsplash

Wondering What’s Next? Start With Endings.

Honoring our endings allows us to reflect on how we’ve grown, brings awareness to the ways we are developing, and supports us in connecting to what lies ahead.

Many of us have experienced a variety of shifts in the past few years and are in a time of personal or professional transition. What we do next in the context of so many shifts is often the focus of our attention in these moments. Where do we begin? The most generative way forward involves a counterintuitive step: pausing to fully recognize the endings that have or are taking place.

There’s a natural tendency to look ahead, determine a desirable future, gain clarity, and move toward this next thing. We then often focus on execution and results. An outcome-oriented, performance-based approach such as this is often the default approach for managing change. It’s most helpful when we understand our context, when we have clear options and choices for what lies ahead, and when we aren’t personally undergoing an internal shift within ourselves.

However, when any of these elements are not stable, we may find ourselves trying to use this method to move through the less comfortable places of not knowing. The “get clear about the future and then just make it happen” approach can actually make us increasingly stressed, overwhelmed, or out of alignment with who we’re becoming. We may also entirely miss the possibilities that are new and possible only in the presence of transition.

While Common, the Future and Performance-Based Approach Has Its Limits

The “get clear about what’s next” approach is understandably common and is often a default approach when navigating shifts. Elements of this approach are found in our education systems and other performance-oriented activities, such as athletics and learning a musical instrument. We establish a target for us to move toward, figure out a way to get there, and then move with the practice and activities that should support us in achieving our goals as we monitor progress along the way. The same process is common in business and is a basis for strategy development. We look ahead, identify the outcomes we seek, and then determine the strategies and tactics that will support our progress and become the basis for monitoring success and learning along the way.

In times of transitions and challenges, we’ll find this future-focused, performance-oriented bias in our languaging as we tell ourselves, or hear from others, words like:

  • “Get over it, and move on.”
  • “Just do it.”
  • “What’s done is done.”
  • “Start with the end, or outcome, in mind.”

At its best, all of this is intended to support us in moving on and toward the next rewarding and successful experience ahead. This approach sometimes, however:

  • Tends to prioritize a rational or analytical “right” or “correct” choice and may undervalue what matters to people involved (including the individual or leader making the choice). For example, decisions may be made based on what is best for our financials at the end of the year versus the mission of our organization, or our brand, or the relationships with our customers and partners. Challenging choices to be sure.
  • Be at risk from unresolved tension or competing commitments at the individual and collective level. For example, I may choose to find a new role in a company that I find to be challenging and maybe not a good fit for me rather than find an entirely new job because I believe jobs that I’d like may be hard to find. A choice that seems to be the right one, but is it best? How would one know?
  • Risks moving forward with an intellectually understandable and “correct choice”, but somehow out of alignment with who we are (particularly who we are at our best) or who we are becoming. For example, an organization may choose to return to a physical office or in-person work as the priority of how we work together, using economics, work studies, and research as the foundation for making the choice. The organization may, however, be missing the opportunity to see or more fully understand the unique preferences and possibilities of their employees. The choice may be “justified”, but is it of alignment to bring forth the best of their employees and this organization?

When Navigating Shifts, Start With Endings

When context and individuals are in transition, a valuable approach to transitions is to start with the endings. William Bridges, in his book Managing Transitions, named this as the first stage in the human experience of transition in times of change. Transitions begin with endings.

There’s more that we can do to support ourselves in times of significant shift starting with and honoring our endings. Starting with the “endings” means to look at what is presently ending, coming to a close, here to shed, or ready to stop.

Using these different words may help you to see and acknowledge what for you, in fact, is coming to a close. This approach is helpful and applicable for both individuals and groups. It can support you, personally, and it can be helpful for your team, you and your partner, your family, and your organization. It’s to inquire into, reveal, and name what is actually ending.

The future may still lay ahead for us, but in this moment we can turn towards our endings to help support what is coming to a close. When we bring our attention to endings, we come to see what matters for us. We can see how we’ve grown and are developing. We can connect with the potential for what lies ahead without needing to know the specifics or intended outcomes of our future.

We also support ourselves by ending that which doesn’t need to have a place in our future. In doing so, we are relieved from unnecessary burdens or confusion of obligation or responsibilities that used to be real or present for us.

Turning toward the endings also gives us a chance, individually, to see what’s true for us. We reflect to see what has been and what is here now. We get to take stock of our own internal shifts so that we see how we are no longer the person we were. We are then able to see more clearly who we are and are becoming. Honoring endings frees us to more fully step into what is ahead and what is also of alignment for us.

Honoring Endings.

To help what is ending come to an honorable close, there are four steps to take:

  1. Name what is ending.
  2. Describe how you have benefitted from the thing that is ending.
  3. Consider the limiting implications if this thing was to continue.
  4. Give your findings an external expression.

Step 1: Name what is ending.
This first step is seemingly simple but can be challenging to do well. What is important in this step is to name for yourself (or for your team, family, etc.) what specifically is ending, coming to a close, or at its limit. The specificity matters. Be as specific as you can. Include all of yourself when naming what is ending. Include what is true professionally, personally, and any other ways you may be experiencing endings.

When we are specific in naming what is ending, it also helps us to see what isn’t ending. For example, while it may be true for me to say “My job here is ending,” not everything about my job may be ending. I may continue elsewhere with the role I had, or may continue the relationships with the people that mattered to me, or may even work with many, etc. Our ability to be specific helps us to discern what is ending from what is not.

Consider words and phrases other than endings when naming what is ending. Sometimes using words such as “coming to a close,” “here to shed,” “not going forward,” or “part of the chapter that is ending,” may bring up other insights regarding what is ending.

In this first step, be particularly careful to name what is actually ending. The opportunity is to see and name what is presently happening. At this step, there can be a tendency to name what should end or needs to end. This sensibility can come from a strategic orientation or a strong sense of responsibility or obligation. This isn’t wrong or bad: it is importantly different from seeing what is here and happening. See and name what’s happening free from any obligation to do something.

Step 2: Describe how you have benefitted from what is ending.
For each thing that is ending, name how its presence has been of benefit to you. Let yourself see it directly from the vantage point when it genuinely was of benefit for you (or your team, family, etc). This action supports a genuine honoring of that which is coming to a close. It is not trying to make lemonade out of lemons, nor is it being overly or blindly positive about what is ending. Often, we can look back and see how that which is coming to a close has helped us to grow, learn, and positively contributed to shaping us into who we are today. It may have helped us to be safe or to survive. It may have helped us to belong or to feel worthy. Here, too, be as specific as you can when naming how the presence of what is ending has been of benefit to you.

Step 3: Consider the limiting implications if this were to continue.
Consider the possibility that this thing wasn’t ending. If this thing were to continue, how would its presence hold you back, keep you small, or otherwise limit your ability to step more fully into the life here for you to live? If we can reflect and see our own answers to this question, it can help us to see the value and importance of letting go, stopping, putting to ground, or handing over what has been here for us. Sometimes this can support us in seeing that it is presently time for us to honor this ending.

Step 4: Give your findings an external expression.
Lastly, it is valuable to find some kind of external expression for the responses you came up with for the steps above. This could be as simple as sharing your perspectives and awareness with a friend or colleague. It may be more formal — such as a ceremony that honors what is ending. It may be speaking about these things as a family, or as a team, while letting each person who’s experiencing the shifts speak and name what they see and are experiencing. Collectively, we can witness and support each other. We may also benefit and learn from others in ways that shift our orientation, sometimes opening new possibilities we hadn’t seen earlier. Finding external expression helps to make these honorable endings that much more real, while also helping us to integrate the shifts that are underway.

Next time you are experiencing challenging shifts, be mindful of the push toward the future and remember to support yourself by starting with and honoring the endings.

Photo by Jim Marsden