Who doesn’t like to start shiny new things?! Indeed: we both ***love*** new projects, collaborations, and ideas. Enthusiasm flows—and inspiration reigns. It feels so good! Yet, it’s as, or even more important to know when the time is right to end something that’s been precious. To give up—in order to get on.
Endings in academia come in many varied forms. Halting a project. Leaving your PhD program. Dissolving a difficult relationship. Letting go of a team member. Leaving a dysfunctional workplace.
Far more often, we talk ourselves optimistically into believing the situation, people, or prospects will improve: “It’s gonna get better … Just wait ….!” We dismiss gut feelings that something deeper is wrong that won’t be solved by our hopes, or optimism, or actions. Faced with the prospect of endings—we’d do anything rather than confront reality and the need for the ending. We do anything but an ending.
We’ve both made hard choices in recent times to decisively end aspects of our academic lives which we valued immensely. Some of the most difficult situations we have ever had to grapple with. But these were situations in which the intense difficulty of the ending was matched only by our crystal clarity that the ending was essential.
This month’s remarkable resource addresses the importance of endings in work, life, and relationships. Good endings require clarity of values, thought, and decisive actions irrespective of what others may think or value. Putting your courage before your comfort. It will help ensure you know when endings are necessary and help you do them well.
Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud
Life is as much about endings as beginnings—but endings get a much worse rap. We avoid endings, dismiss their necessity, hope that they never ever have to happen. This compromises our work and ourselves. It compromises our ability to be effective, happy, and successful.
Life is about seasons. They all have their place—including endings. Start to view ending things at the right time and in the right way as a natural and important part of life and work as ‘startings’. Just as the seasons inexorably move—so too endings are essential to life and work.
How do we know when we need to end something? Our natural optimism which usually serves us well beguiles us: we talk ourselves out of the need for any ending at all. Things will improve. People will change. I can handle it all. However, a hollowness often accompanies such self-talk. Our feeling don’t match our thoughts. This is a key signal the ending needs to occur.
To end things well, set a deadline for when you will make the ending happen. Plan and implement how you will end things, not only in terms of your actions but also about how you want to feel. Prioritize self care. Do nothing you will regret in terms of tone, your care for others involved, and try not to burn any bridges. To quote Henry Wadsworth Longfellow “Great is the art of the beginning, but greater is the art of the ending.”
What aspects of your past life or work do you wish you had ended sooner or ended differently? What stopped you ending at the right time or in the right way?
Which parts of your current life or work do you, deep down, sense that endings are overdue or should happen? What is stopping you doing this? What tensions exist between your optimistic self and your realistic self?
Prioritize one aspect of your life and work to end over the next month. Come up with a plan for how you will do this. Make it happen. End it well. Repeat over time.