It might seem strange for a blog about change to focus on endings, but as the psychologist Harry Levison once said: “All change is loss and all loss must be mourned.”
For a new beginning, there has to be an ending. Acknowledging this is essential to make a successful change, whether personal or professional.
It can be easy to just focus on what's ahead - on uncertainty and new horizons - but if we do that we run the risk of leaving unfinished business behind. Without a proper ending, change is only half complete.
There are many reasons we might make a change. It might be a long-planned move to a different way of life, a new job, or a decision to exercise more. Recent years have seen many of us grapple with unavoidable or unwanted change, both at home and at work.
Whatever the case, it’s unlikely that the change will be a simple good versus bad equation. Even leaving a situation that is bad for us, or moving away from something that is not working to something that will ultimately be better, doesn’t mean that there is no loss involved.
It might not be obvious, but there is likely to be something in our current situation that is serving us in some way. Even a job that is unfulfilling and stressful can have wonderful colleagues you’ll miss, or come with an external status that’s hard to let go. A decision to eat more healthily might mean letting go of the option to order a takeaway on a Friday so you don’t have to cook.
William Bridges identified three stages of change in his model of transitions. The first of these is “Loss and letting go.” He recognised that different people in different situations would move through this phase at different speeds, but that it was unavoidable.
This is an opportunity for personal reflection. You could try writing a letter to your job, your past self or to an ex-friend. Acknowledge what you have experienced together, the good and the bad, and that this time is coming to an end. Then seal the letter and put it away.
You may also want to celebrate the ending as a way of recognising the positive. Have a big leaving party, create a photobook of your old home before you move, or take some time to write down all the things you’ve enjoyed in that stage of your life.
Endings are important. We need to take time for them. Whether we’re leaving a job, a relationship or a place. By giving space to loss, we can recognise it, honour it and move on.
Ruth Richards is one of our partner coaches, working with leaders who want to feel calm, confident and in control.