By Marquita Herald, Emotionally Resilient Living, July 30, 2015
There are no happy endings. Endings are the saddest part about change. So just give me a happy middle and a very happy start. ~Author Unknown
Life is full of endings. There’s the ending of one job for another, ending your single life to marry, ending your life in one home or neighborhood to relocate to another, the end of a relationship, or the end of a cherished life with the passing of a loved one.
Some endings blindside us, while others are intentional. Regardless of the source or nature, it’s natural to want to push past an ending as quickly as possible in an effort to minimize the discomfort and move on to the more positive feelings associated with new beginnings.
But endings represent extremely significant turning points and often include some pretty unruly emotional swings. You might feel grief one moment and liberation the next; you could struggle with uncertainty and fear of the unknown and at the same time feel a sense of relief for the ability to move on to the next phase of your life.
How you manage endings will either enhance your sense of well being and make you stronger and more resilient, or add to the stress and emotional roller coaster ride by prolonging your period of transition as you struggle to deal with the changes in your life.
All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another. ~Anatole France
Why We Struggle
It’s human nature to define ourselves at least in part by our relationships and surroundings. When these change, especially if the change is forced upon us without the grace of a period of adjustment, it can be disorienting because it shakes up our identity. Getting married changes your identity from a single person to a member of a couple. Having a child changes your sense of identity from wife or daughter to include being a mother. Changing jobs shifts your identity from someone who is established and comfortable with their environment and routine to the “new guy” who has to learn the ropes and fit in with the new company culture.
So how can learning to manage endings to make transitions easier? Your attitude toward change is certainly important, but simply being aware of what’s involved with a period of transition can go a long way toward easing the process.
The typical approach to dealing with an ending is to work through releasing the past as quickly and painlessly as possible and jump right to focusing on the bright new future. The problem is that there are actually three phases to a period of transition and when we ignore this natural progression through a period of transition that’s when we find ourselves struggling.
The Transition from Endings to New Beginning
Regardless of the circumstances of the ending coming to terms with what is ending in your life is the important first step … you are no longer single, married, employed, etc. But this is only the beginning of the process.
Once we acknowledge something as an ending, the next phase is normally disengagement from the activities, relationships and settings in your previous role. For example if you are getting married you may begin detaching yourself from certain ‘single’ activities and maybe even particular relationships.
This then leads to unplugging from the interpersonal and social world that once gave you identity. It may seem this happens in a moment, say for example when you leave a job and walk out the door for the last time, but the old habits and practices that associated your identity to that job will likely take time to dismantle. Maybe the people you associated with at your old job made a habit of meeting at a favorite place for drinks after work and you continue to join them for awhile after changing jobs. But eventually you’ll find yourself ready to let go and begin focusing in earnest on establishing habits and practices associated with your new job identity.
The Internal Process
In his book Transitions: Making Sense of life’s Changes, author William Bridges refers to this period as ‘The Neutral Zone.” This phase is often lumped into “endings” or glossed over under the label “suck it up and move on.” You’ve accepted the change, but still struggle to move forward. This phase can look and feel like periods of idleness or even depression; feelings and reactions to things go flat as you struggle for direction and the will to move forward … it’s like spending time in your own cocoon.
It’s very tempting to be self critical at this stage if we feel that we should somehow be able to move things along faster, but the truth is this is where the most important work of a transition takes place as the days, weeks or even months pass of awkward emotional spaces where we have cut ties with the familiar but have not yet quite settled into what is new.
While there are no benefits to remaining indefinitely parked in this gray zone, it’s critically important to give yourself the time you need to mourn the ending and acknowledge your emotions. This is your time to begin exploring new possibilities in order to make peace with the change and begin moving forward.
For everything you lose, you gain something else; and for everything you gain, you lose something else. You don’t have to like it, but it’s just easier if you do. So pay attention to your outlook on life. You can either regret or rejoice; it’s your choice. ~Karen Fitzgerald
A good example of this process was a transition I went through several years ago while working for a small independent hotel here in Maui. I really enjoyed the job and as cliché as it sounds the people there were like family. Then one day I was contacted by the owners of a new tourist attraction on the Island. They were struggling and wanted to talk with me about taking over their sales and marketing which also included managing education and community outreach programs. It was a major career opportunity and had the title, salary and benefits to go with it. All good, right?
Well as negotiations continued and it appeared that I’d be changing jobs I became uncharacteristically emotional about everything because in my mind I was already mourning the end of my working relationship with all these people that I had come to love as family. It wasn’t just that I’d worked there for ten years; during that time I’d gone through a divorce and a major health crisis, and these people had all been there for me as the family I never had. Gulp! One morning a bunch of us gathered in the hotel lobby to sing Aloha Oe to a guest who’d just completed her 32nd stay with us and as I began thinking about how I’d no longer be doing things like this the tears began to flow and I experienced a very real pain in my heart.
When the time finally came to leave I’d undergone a very difficult period of grieving, and while it was some time before I got to the point of feeling comfortable with my new role, I have to admit that acknowledging those emotions and allowing myself to go through that process at my own pace helped me to make a much smoother transition to my new identity and vastly different circumstances.
Embrace the Change
The last phase is embracing the change. There’s no handy road map for this passage so it can be challenging sometimes to know when we’ve completed the ending and internal work and finally arrived at the “new beginning” phase of a transition. The signs are there, but most of them are internal. You begin feeling lighter, a sense of rightness and clarity as you find yourself once again feeling comfortable in your own skin and thinking about the future.
Endings come in all shapes and sizes. Some pass in the blink of an eye with little notice, while the residual effects of others may linger on for years. But you can learn to manage and stop struggling with endings if you will acknowledge and give yourself time to adjust to the change … let go of what was, celebrate the good and forgive the bad. It’s all part of the journey, and the journey is your life.
Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
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