How Can You Create a Clean Ending?

Spring is a fantastic time for fresh starts, but it’s hard to make a new beginning unless you take the time to acknowledge the end of what’s come before.   

Last week we talked about following the natural rhythm of changing seasons to open up space for growth, push through obstacles, and encourage transformation.  I hope you were able to listen for which new beginning is calling to you.  

Yet, it occurred to me that I might have overlooked an earlier step in the process of creating a fresh start…and that’s knowing how to craft a clear ending.  

 

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

― Lucius Annaeus Seneca

 

When is the Best Time to Make an Ending?

If you aren’t certain whether you need or even want something to end, then I invite you to revisit our inquiry on how to make the decision to start again.  

However, sometimes we’re aware of the need to move on, but still unsure about the timing or exit strategy.  Regardless of what it is—a job, a relationship, or an unwanted habit—is there a “right time” for something to end?   

I believe the best time is whenever you feel that certainty in your gut, or your heart, that things must change.  I’m not talking about minor frustrations or wishful thinking—sometimes situations simply need an infusion of energy, a fresh perspective, or honest communication in order to get them back on track.  

True endings, on the other hand, usually arrive after lots of soul searching, trial and error, and a moment of clarity.  Although they seem like opposites, in reality endings and beginnings share a lot of the same qualities we discussed last week.

 

What Makes Spring a Season for Endings?

Woman walking away between the sea and mountains

 

The most obvious similarity between beginnings and endings is how they revolve around Change.  Spring is more than a transition to milder temperatures and increased daylight.  It’s also the movement away from cold weather, indoor activities, and a more introspective social calendar.    

Change can be hard.  Giving up something familiar brings a ton of questions, and possibly as much anxiety as a new beginning.  We don’t always know what will come next at the exact time we realize that we’re ready to let go of the past.  

Endings can also be transformative though.  Whether they arrive with a thunderous clash that leaves us tender and wounded, or ease their way in like soft rains to wash away what once was, we’re more likely to remember the way something ended than how it began.  

There’s a tendency to rush through endings, trying to avoid awkwardness or emotional distress.  Yet to end something well demands presence.  We must slow down to bear witness to the passing situation in order to move forward, open to all our possibilities instead of tied to the past through regrets and What if’s?

Endings, if done well, can become a source of beauty in our lives.  A story well told, an encore to an amazing concert, or a gorgeous sunset after a splendid day…all of these events conclude with joy and satisfaction.  This isn’t restricted to pleasant occasions either, since endings can acknowledge tough times and heartache, while still maintaining gratitude for the experience.  

 

What Are the Steps to a Clean, Clear Ending?

So if you’re ready to make the transition to something new, how do you start?  By making sure that you’ve taken the time to end what has come before with deliberate intention and a graceful surrender.

Here’s the roadmap I follow to make a proper ending, as well as a recent example from my own life.  You see, just last month, I ended my employment with a phenomenal online magazine.  It wasn’t an easy decision, but the time was right.  And these are the steps I used to prepare for my new beginning…

 

The Declaration

How many times have you looked back only to discover that people, places, or things had slipped away unnoticed?  Without fanfare, without a goodbye, without even an acknowledgement?  

It’s hard to move forward when you’re carrying lingering thoughts or reminders of the past.  That’s why the first step in crafting a clean ending is to make a declaration.   Say that it’s over.  In writing, or out loud if it helps.  

 

THE END

 

These simple words carry a special kind of power.  We use them at the finish of novels and movies to create a sense of conclusion, so that readers and audiences can move on, satisfied that they’ve experienced the whole story.  

When you’re ready to make an ending, start by formally recognizing the occasion.  Don’t let old ties persist in weighing you down with uncertainty or lack of conviction.  

My process for realizing I needed to make a professional change took many months.  Once I was sure that resigning from my editorial position was the right direction though, I made a declaration.  Several of them, actually…

First, I declared my intention to myself, in writing.  My morning journaling habit outlined my desire to step away and confirmed my need to act.  Next, I shared my conclusions with my husband, letting him know my thoughts, my concerns, and how I envisioned this transition.  Finally, I wrote to my amazing boss and explained my decision, as well as making sure the magazine was covered until he could fill the position.

As you prepare to make your next ending, I invite you to start the process with a simple declaration that your passing situation is done.  Full Stop.

 

Find the Lesson

Couple holding a shell shaped like a heart

I have certainly experienced my share of mistakes and endings, but I’ve always preferred to try something and fail, than avoid taking the chance and experiencing regret.  Regardless of whether your ending is tinged with remorse, or a quiet passing of one situation into the next, reflection can help you find the clarity and peace to move forward. 

I’m a big believer in pausing to ruminate over what you’ve learned from any experience.  Nothing in our lives is without meaning, and unless we learn from our past, we’ll be destined to repeat it.  

 

Enumerate the Good

  • What did the experience add to your life?
  • How did it change you for the better? 
  • Why was it the perfect opportunity for you at this time of your life?

 

Own up to the Bad

  • Where did you lose sight of your boundaries?  Or stay too long?
  • What mistakes did you make?
  • How were you hurt? Or did you hurt others?

 

Respect the Ugly

  • Did this situation create trauma?
  • Do you need help to process it?
  • Are you willing to do what it takes to break this cycle?

 

Though we typically entertain these type of thoughts prior to making a choice to end things, it’s equally valuable once the decision has been made.

After taking steps to resign from my professional position, I returned to my journaling practice to evaluate what this incredible experience has meant to me.  My editorial work was an amazing opportunity to develop both my understanding of story and my ability to communicate succinctly.  It came into my life at the exact right time when I needed a push to try something new, and introduced me to a wonderful community of writers.  

My job also required me to make a serious evaluation of my own time management skills, as well as consider how I wanted my work life/family life to balance out.  Though I’m sure I made a handful of mistakes while first getting acclimated, no boundaries were crossed or damage done.  I’m exceedingly grateful for the experience, and processing my decision has helped me look forward without regrets.  

 

Feel the Loss

Woman looking thoughtful.

No matter how necessary or desired your ending is, there’s always an accompanying sense of loss.  Something about the situation was at one time good, and so the passing of anything valuable deserves time to be mourned.

Your sense of grief will vary depending on your ending.  My part-time work was a short-term position, and I felt eager to transition to something new.  In contrast, getting fired, terminating an established relationship, or making a long-distance move are huge transitions.  You’ll need time to adjust to these experiences and be ready to dive into your new beginning with enthusiasm and energy.  

Allow yourself the space to feel the reality of closing this chapter in your life.  Spend some time in silence, or in Nature, appreciating whatever emotions arise—even if they seem out of sync with how you think you’re supposed to feel.  Riding out the waves of difficult physical sensations or intense feelings is the surest way to enable yourself to weather the challenges of an ending.  

During the first weeks after my job duties ended, I suddenly had a wealth of extra time in my schedule.  I’ve been able to catch up on neglected household business, plan ahead, and add back more time to my creative writing practice.  However, I also made sure to include some protected white space on my calendar.  Time where I could notice my feelings around the change in schedule, and welcome the mixed emotions about leaving behind some really great work.

 

Seek Closure

Rope knotted tightly with no loose ends.

This phrase is often referenced at the end of a relationship, particularly if one party didn’t want the termination.  Yet closure is an important step for all endings.  It’s what allows us to turn around and start moving in a new direction, without constantly looking back.

Even after you’ve sought the lesson and acknowledged your feelings about an ending, there can be loose ends that need tidying up.  Sometimes these are physical…emptying out a work desk, giving away supplies for an old hobby, or putting away photos from a past relationship.  In other instances, our loose ends can be limiting beliefs that need re-framing or emotional closure for a troubled heart.  

Tying up loose ends isn’t always in our complete control…other people and ongoing circumstances might limit the resolution we can obtain.  As much as is possible, though, take action to wrap up anything left hanging that might draw you back into the past.  

Writing a final letter of farewell to the situation is a great way to achieve closure on your own terms.  You can shed all your unresolved questions and conflicted feelings onto the page.  It’s your choice whether you share the letter, bury it, or burn it.  Either way, you’ll be ready to let go and open yourself up to something new.

For me, loose ends came hand in hand with my feelings of loss.  In the first weeks after my job ended, I kept running across prompts of my old daily routine, which brought pangs of nostalgia for the enjoyable aspects of my work.  Getting closure meant deleting browser bookmarks and my now empty email account.  I can still choose to recollect the highlights of my job with fondness, but I’m no longer confronted or held in the past by unnecessary reminders.  

 

Immortalize the Experience

Tree bark carved with initials

Sometimes an ending is a blessing, and we tell ourselves that we don’t want to ever look back.  But even when escaping dark situations, there’s a gift in the grace and growth we encounter as we move forward.  

In any situation, it’s essential to have a way to remember the past and what we have gained from it.  A token, a memory, or a keepsake can provide a touchstone for future opportunities and decisions—reminding us of lessons learned and what we’ve come to value.  

How you choose to document the experience that is now ending is up to you.  Maybe it’s simply keeping the journal entry of your reflections on the past.  Perhaps you wish to create an album of photographs reminding you of good times.  Or you might hang onto a simple memento: a work badge, a dried flower, or a souvenir of where you’ve been.  

Whether you keep a physical item, an electronic copy, or only vivid memories to reflect on, acknowledge your experience as real and important to your journey through life.  

Since I worked from home in a freelance position, I never had a name plate or work ID.  However, I did save the email from my boss telling me I’d passed my audition and offering me the job.  As I go forward, looking to change gears on my career, I’ll keep his words as a reminder that I’ve got what it takes to succeed.  

 

Remember your ending’s beginning. 

toddler at the base of a huge stairway.

Before you embark on any new adventure, take one last look back.  Because whatever just ended in your life had its own beginning once upon a time.   

When we launch ourselves into something new, there can be an awkward period of not knowing what we’re doing—we merely lack the confidence of experience or certainty of outcome.  It isn’t easy to start again.  But it is necessary for growth and maturity.

Try not to let anxiety about your future keep you from going after it with your whole heart.  The best way to feel brave in the face of uncertainty is to recall how you’ve faced and overcome challenges in the past.  

So as you say your final goodbye to an old situation, pause to reflect on how it all began.  At one point, this old experience was brand new too.  It was fresh, exciting, and filled with promise.  Maybe it was also a bit scary or pushing the edges of your comfort zone.  

Revisit how you grew into things, how you gained confidence and found your way.  Carry that knowledge forward with you for each new beginning to come.  

You can bet I will.

 

What Are You Still Carrying That Needs to End?

You may have freshly exited a situation, or you might be satisfied with where you’re at.  Most of us have old experiences or relationships that we still carry around in our daily lives, however.  Sometimes they’re old, buried in history, and relatively unacknowledged.  

I invite you to take the Small Step of downloading this week’s worksheet and inquiring as to whether any aspects of your past need an official ending.  

The marvelous thing about us as human beings is that we’re always dreaming up fresh ideas and desires to achieve.  Just remember that to move freely into a new beginning requires you to fully embrace the ending that proceeded it.  

 

Do you have any experience with clear endings that helped propel you forward towards personal growth?

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