As we approach the end of this year, you may look back on your year and decide it was a great year or a lousy one. None of that matters now. The only thing that matters is that you complete it with style, spirit, and integrity. As Longfellow noted, “Great is the art of beginning, but even greater is the art of ending.”
In my book Happily Even After, I cite many couples who, as a result of breaking up, shifted their relationship from hostility and bitterness to profound connection and mutual support. They all reported that their separation was one of the greatest catalysts for growth in their life; some of them declared, strange as it sounds, that their real relationship began when they broke up. Their imminent parting moved them to speak more truth and develop richer communication with each other than when they were together. (My subtitle for the book is Fifty Ways to Love Your Leaver.)
If you are in an unhappy relationship, job, or year, it is not ending that you seek – it is completion. Completion implies soul satisfaction, a sense of wholeness with yourself. We lurch for endings to escape the pain of feeling broken. Yet if you can face and heal your sense of emptiness, endings – or continuings – will not be a torturous question. They will arrange themselves. You can be complete without ending, or end without being complete. Marriage or divorce papers do not ensure completion. Hearts do. Tend to your soul, and endings will bring you not despair and loss, but joy and empowerment.
Industrial efficiency studies show that more progress is accomplished at the beginning and ending of a cycle than in the middle. For example, before I leave on a trip, I power through lots of completions, and do so again when I return. My departure prompts me to return calls I have put off, pay bills, and clean the house well. When I come home I deal with newly arrived mail, debrief from my business meetings, and initiate projects. Over years of going through these cycles, I recognize that the turning points of leaving and returning are windows of opportunity to finish old things and start new ones – and that feels great.
Counselor Steve Sobel notes, “From speaking to many cancer survivor groups, I have learned that the watch on your hand no longer says, ‘tick, tick, tick.’ It now says, ‘precious, precious, precious.’ When you understand that, every chapter you write in your life becomes fascinating.” The imminent ending of such patients’ lives moves them to evaluate how they are living and appreciate their days far more than if they expected them to go on forever.
You don’t need a terminal diagnosis to begin to enjoy your loved ones or make the most of your time. Every start and finish is an invitation to more deeply value yourself, your relationships, and the ways you fill your moments and hours. Birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and new years help you focalize to evaluate the cycle that has passed and set your sights on higher goals for the cycle to come.
Some people move through many jobs, relationships, or homes during their lifetime. Observers might criticize such people for being unable to commit or maintain their position. In some cases, this may be so. Yet more often, people in motion have signed up to learn many lessons in a short time; the more cycles, the faster growth. As Albert Einstein declared, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”
In the movie Ground Hog Day, Bill Murray’s character keeps facing the same day over and over again until he learns to use the day well. So do we keep receiving one day after the next, each one a fresh template to practice the life skills and feelings we want to develop. If days were longer or had no beginning or ending, it would be more difficult for us to frame our work or progress. Think of a day as a microscope lens you can use to more sharply see things you would not have noticed if your vision had been more generalized.
You can look at this year through the same lens. How has this year served you? Where have you progressed in your soul’s journey? What riches do you own that you did not own a year ago? What are you grateful for? What would you do differently next year? If you look, you will find many blessings in this year, both through joyful experiences and challenging ones.
The holiday season has a way of bringing to the surface issues of relationship, family, social obligations, loneliness, guilt, and self-valuing. Some people feel burdened by such issues, and other use them as springboards to new levels of empowerment. You can use this holiday season to master completion and enter the new year with the confidence that who you are is enough, and that life will support you to have all that you deserve. Then you won’t need any New Year’s resolutions. Your evolution, prompted by a dashing completion, will be quite sufficient.
By Alan Cohen