Endings are a necessary part of life. Despite their inevitability, most of us face endings with a sense of regret, anger, and even fear. Whether personal, job-related, or relationship-oriented, endings are tough. But realize this — to move forward, you sometimes have to give up relationships, businesses, and even dreams to make room for new beginnings.
Recently, I’ve been working through a number of personal and professional endings in my life. As I began to explore this concept in my personal life, I came across a new book, Necessary Endings: The Employees, Business, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up, written by bestselling author Dr. Henry Cloud. While much of his book focuses on endings in the business realm, applying the principles outlined the book can be particularly helpful for the chronically ill.
Dr. Cloud compares endings in our lives to the necessary pruning of a rosebush. He writes:
Growth depends on getting rid of the unwanted or the superfluous. . . Pruning is a process of proactive endings. It turns out that a rosebush, like many other plants, cannot reach its full potential without a very systematic process of pruning. The gardener intentionally and purposefully cuts off branches and buds that fall into any of three categories: 1) Healthy buds or branches that are not the best ones, 2) Sick branches that are not going to get well, and 3) Dead branches that are taking up space needed for the healthy ones to thrive.
Pruning Your Life
In gardening and in life, pruning is essential for reaching your full potential. Without it, you will never realize abundant living, despite your physical or emotional limitations.
As I work with chronic illness clients, I find that limited thinking holds them back more then the limitations imposed by their illness. It is not that my clients cannot achieve their goals, it’s that many of them are reluctant to let go of their pre-illness selves to embrace their post-illness lives and the challenges it brings.
Olivia lives with severe rheumatoid arthritis, a potentially crippling and debilitating disease. When her disease flares or she faces yet another surgery, she grieves her losses. But once the grieving is over, she looks ahead, ready for new challenges and opportunities.
Although traveling remains difficult, she continues to take on a limited number of speaking engagements. Why? Because she loves what she does. And although speaking strains her body, it nourishes her soul. A few weeks before her event, she cuts back on other commitments so she can focus on adding some much-needed physical and emotional margin to her life.
Olivia is smart. She knows she can’t do it all.
Pruning the Good to Make Room for the Best
Neither can you. You have just so much energy and resources to go around. That’s why it’s sometimes necessary to limit and trim even good things from your life so you can experience the best.
Part of my job as a professional coach and communicator entails speaking at corporate, community, and church events. While I love meeting and connecting with people, I am always somewhat floored by the number of people who contact me after an event. People seek me out not only about coaching but also because they are looking for someone who listens and understands what it’s like to live with chronic illness.
The people who contact me are wonderful people, people I would enjoy getting to know. But because my physical and emotional energy is limited, I decline many professional and personal invitations. I can only do so much before my health and family suffers.
Do people understand? Not always. But I need to honor my limits and guard my health to pursue those things I feel called to do.
Giving up Unhealthy Patterns and Relationships
And what about unhealthy relationships? Do you allow them to sap the life right out you?
You know what I mean — those people who when you see them coming make you want to run the other way. They drain your energy and grate on your last nerve. You feel trapped, overwhelmed, and angry when you’re with them but guilty if you ignore their calls.
A failure to address these types of destructive relationships can lead to more than overload. Unhealthy behaviors and symptoms, such as overeating, mood swings, and exhaustion can sometimes develop when you continue in unhealthy patterns of behavior. It is better to dray healthy boundaries and risk being understood than to take on more than you can handle.
Another unhealthy pattern I see in my life and the lives of others is denial. Larry, who lives with severe Graves disease, tried to meet others’ expectations of him for years despite his body’s persistent protests. Over time, the unreasonable demands he placed on his body led to severe complications and a complete physical break down.
Was it worth it? According to Larry, no.
When you proactively rid ourselves of unhealthy relationships and patterns, you preserve your health and free up physical and emotional energy you could devote to pursuing your passions and exploring new opportunities.
Burying the Dead
For many, including myself, it is easier to remove what is no longer working from our lives, to bury the dead. But emotional attachments can sometimes make it harder that you think.
Isn’t it possible that the project or relationship you’re investing in is just going through a dormant season. How do you know when a venture or relationship is really dead?
Here are some practical examples that might help clarify your thinking.
- An entrepreneurial business initiative is off to a great start, but costs are greater than planned and you’ve blown through your savings in the first few months.
- The organization at which you volunteer continually demands more of your time and resources. Your health and your marriage are suffering.
- With reduced income, you continue to live at the same standard of living as when you earned three times as much.
- You struggle with limited mobility and the dream vacation home you purchased at the beach sits empty year-round although you continue to invest in maintenance and upkeep.
In short, when you find that your investment in projects or people diminishes or does damage to you or your loved ones, you need to face the truth. It is not sustainable long-term; its end must come.
However, it is possible to be too close to a situation to see clearly. If you find yourself questioning whether terminating a venture or relationship is the right thing to do, ask a few friends for their input. Sometimes, all it takes to find the strength to move on is for someone else to confirm what you already know to be true.
Endings can be hard, but they don’t have to be. When you accept necessary endings as a normal and healthy part of life, you begin to recognize them for what they truly are — stepping-stones to something new and often something better.