Difficulty with Endings: October 2009

At every step of life, and almost at every school learn many ways to start new things… a new adventure, a new relationship, a new business; very few, if any, has taught us to understand, when an end is near and how to call it quits, gracefully.
It has always amazed me to think why we have such difficulty with endings; it could be our Abrahamic faith views life very discretely, with a distinct beginning and an end, and therefore, why worry about this unpleasant ending scenario? Or, simply, it could be the western inclination of our values that views ending and death as a failure of some sorts, thereby negating any need for training to gracefully and meaningfully, close a chapter in our lives or its enterprises.

Whatever it maybe, such fear of endings leaves us completely unprepared to diagnose when things are getting close to end and thereby paralyzing us with fear of calling it quits even though, in our hearts, we may know that such a venture or a relationship maybe untenable in the long run.

In my leadership roles, I have known people whose current role was about to end very soon; the only person who seems oblivious to this fact is the incumbent in the role. It is not his fault; he walks around the office with a bullseye on his back without anyone ever telling him that it doesn’t matter how hard he tries, this role is not going to continue for long.

Similarly, a pet project, that may have run its course, often needs to be cut-off before they become gargantuan in size and drain the organization both financially and emotionally.

I know the leader of a company who had a pet project that was not supported by many of his business leaders. The leader personally championed the project and poured millions into it. At the end, the project cost a lot more and never really delivered on its promised results. The leader lost his job as a consequence of such a large undertaking, during a transitional time in the marketplace. More importantly, no one in the organization had the “heart” to tell him that this project was headed downhill and could eventually lead to his downfall.

Both professionally and personally, it is very important to let our instincts guide us; if one is not enjoying something, work or personal, it’s probably not working right. By no means, this means that if you had a bad day at work, you should go and quit (I know some people who are prone to do that too); but if you have had a bad year at work, you should clearly question yourself and have the discussion with your peers and boss about what’s wrong with this situation. If you don’t, they will most likely bring this to your attention, soon. It is very likely, that they are not thinking about the same things and once they decide to talk to you, it’s already too late for you;  at that point, you have very little control on the outcome.

In one of my business roles, I had one of the best jobs of growing a business, both globally and organically through new products and “white space” entries. Over five years, I enjoyed considerable success in this role of moving the organization forward, and in return, building wonderful relationships with one of the most talented group of people I have ever worked with.

There came a time though, that I realized, I had accomplished what I came for couldn’t see a “next step”; As realization set in, I actually decided that I need to create options for myself. This was a really sad moment because I had a hard time separating my emotions from what was practical and necessary. However, once I crossed that bridge, I went and talked to people and within a very reasonable time frame, had three wonderful opportunities pop up that met both my personal and professional needs.

Lesson learned, at this juncture, was that it’s very important for one to create options. This allows one to look at things objectively. You may never exercise the option, but the fact that you have them, allows you both flexibility and provides mental leverage. Without well planned options, one is likely to feel trapped and unable to think objectively about how to get out of such a mental barrier.

Why do things change and why do good things come to an end? Why can’t we just “keep the good times rollin’”?

Of course, we wish that all good things keep going forever; however, every fun party has to end at some point; things change; people change; the environment around us changes constantly. Sometimes, things we did in an early stage of our careers (or relationships) were fine for that time frame. As people (and environments) change, we are sometimes unable to identify and adapt to these changes or our expectations may change, all of which lead to disappointments. Our children grow up and have different expectations from the world than we did.

One of the very powerful questions I have found helping me in changing situations (both personal and professional) is: knowing what I know today, would I start this (particular project)? If the answer is negative, I try to re-evaluate the strategy or seek alternatives to improve the scenario.

By no means am recommending that one abandons their responsibilities, but I think it is critical to evaluate alternatives and seek balance.While there are many things beyond our control, I also believe in the power of perseverance and effort to “right wrongs”. We owe it to ourselves, and those who care for us, to make things right. One always has choices; make it work right, or get out of it.

At the end of the day, we have one life to live. Life’s too short to live miserably, have meaningless conversations or do things you detest in the first place.

When you decide to do the right thing, and end this journey, let’s do it with grace, dignity and holding our head held high. Not everyone will be happy with our decision;  however, in the long run it will be the best for us and those we love.

Even if we don’t have a choice about whether we will live long, we do have a choice to live Big!


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