From the vantage point of a 65-year-old, as I look back on my life, there is a theme that really stands out for me. It is the ephemeral nature of virtually all of life’s experiences and relationships. Ephemeral simply means something is temporary or short-lived, similar to the Buddhist concept of impermanence. It is a powerful word, and we all might benefit from bringing it forward into our consciousness.

Why is ephemeral such a powerful concept and guiding principle? Because it refers to the fact that everything has an ending. By accepting that all things have an ending, we are much better equipped to plan for endings, create endings, accept endings and benefit from endings.

Some of the ideas in this post are drawn from a very impactful book by clinical psychologist and leadership coach Dr. Henry Cloud called Necessary Endings. I highly recommend this book. It has amazing insights that will substantially benefit anyone in everyday life.

Our pervasive cultural narrative doesn’t support us in creating endings. If you hear the word “quit” or “quitter,” I can guess what likely comes into your mind – the word failure. But let me suggest this: quit and fail aren’t even related.

In fact, planning and initiating endings (quitting) is a very powerful tool for a more successful life.

Quitting is often the best decision – it allows us to create possibilities for success elsewhere. I’m sure we all have situations or relationships we can look back upon and know we should have ended sooner. And if we think of our lives as constantly juggling a bunch of balls in the air, we know we must let one ball drop (an ending) to fit another ball in.

But that new ball represents a beginning. So, you see, endings are just beginnings in disguise. Framing our thinking like this tells us that quitting brings on new beginnings, which can lead to greater life success and fulfillment.

Undoubtedly, some endings can be difficult, maybe very difficult. This is usually true whether we plan the ending, or it is thrust upon us. A good part of our pain around an ending is from our (quite natural) focus on what we are losing or leaving behind. A great way to ease the pain of loss is to reframe our focus toward what we are gaining. This may seem cold-hearted or inappropriate in some cases of loss. Nevertheless, after any loss, our objective is to regain our equanimity and move forward in life, and that requires changing our focus away from fighting reality (the loss), which is out of our control, to something we can influence, which is our exciting potential (the future).

Dr. Cloud introduces the idea that we are all hoarders. We cling to people (relationships), activities, ideas, dreams, and of course, “stuff” past their expiry dates, sometimes long past. But he also introduces a solution which he calls pruning. We all know that pruning a tree of dead branches can help keep it strong and vigorous, but Dr. Cloud goes a bit further. He references rose bushes and advocates two other categories of pruning. He advocates pruning sick branches that are not going to get well and even pruning healthy buds or branches that are not the best but ones that offer false hope.

As a very positive and optimistic person, I really resonate with Dr. Cloud’s concept of false hope. False hope is a real barrier to initiating endings that we know in our hearts are necessary. Three relevant quotations from Dr. Cloud speak volumes:

  • “It is imperative that we give up hope if our hope is not hope at all but just an empty wish.”
  • “In the absence of real, objective reasons to think that more time is going to help, it probably is time for some sort of necessary ending.”
  • “What reason, other than the fact that I want it to work, do I have for believing that tomorrow is going to be different from today?”

Another obstacle Dr. Cloud identifies to making necessary endings is having an abnormally high pain threshold for suffering. As a coach, I see this often and empathize deeply. There can be a myriad of reasons for this, mostly related to past experiences and/or a lack of self-regard. We become enured to continuous pain and suffering from completely changeable circumstances. I often try to open awareness with the question, “What would a normal or good (relationship, job, employee, vacation etc.) look like?” This can precipitate an understanding of how dysfunctional the situation may be.

We are 100% responsible for how we experience our life. Like Dr. Cloud, I believe it is axiomatic that there are times in our lives when something needs to end to protect our well-being or promote our growth and happiness.

What endings can you identify in your life that would facilitate something new and stronger to emerge?

Since hope is not a viable strategy, where are you engaging in hope that has no basis in behaviour, fact, or evidence?

Deeply investigate where you are experiencing frustration, pain or suffering in your life, and identify what necessary ending(s) may be required.

With loving kindness,

Coach Billy