Seasons of life change, careers change, organizations change, and relationships and friendships change. Change is—as they say—inevitable. How do you deal with change? Do you embrace it, reluctantly (and stubbornly) submit to it, or run full-speed in the opposite direction of it?
I’m a loyal person by default. Perhaps you are as well. I’m loyal to good people, good organizations, and good products. There’s nothing wrong with loyalty per se, except when that loyalty exceeds the season for which that allegiance is needed. Thus I find I struggle with change.
Well-known author, leadership coach, and clinical psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud believes that if we do not embrace necessary change (i.e. endings), then we are simply coping with life as opposed to thriving in life. In his book, Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward, he writes, “…Endings are a natural part of the universe, and your life and business must face them, stagnate, or die.”
I don’t think any of us want to live a stagnate life or pursue a dead career. Thus we have to come to terms with the fact that endings are an inherent reality and must be embraced and looked at in a positive light instead of in a negative light.
Dr. Cloud explains, “Endings are a part of every aspect of life. When done well, the seasons of life are negotiated and the proper endings lead to the end of pain, greater growth, personal and business goals reached, and better lives. Endings bring hope. When done poorly, bad outcomes happen, good opportunities are lost, and misery either remains or is repeated. So let’s get empowered to choose the necessary endings, execute them well, and get to the better results we all desire.”
The question is then, how do we navigate necessary endings well?
First we need to put things into proper categories. Areas in which endings are required are as follows:
- Personal (Relationships)
We then get to pruning. In the horticulture world pruning is viewed as positive. Pruning allows a plant to develop larger and fuller. Dr. Cloud believes (as does a good gardener), “Pruning is a process of proactive endings.”
With the gardener mentality, Dr. Cloud divides endings into three types:
- Prune the Healthy: Prune relationships, business aspects, or resources that are healthy but are perhaps not the best. (e.g. Healthy rose buds are pruned in order to make way for the best blooms.)
- Prune the Unhealthy: Get rid of relationships or business aspects that are never going to recover. Realize that no matter how much water (i.e. time, talent, emotions, or money) you give something unhealthy, it will ultimately die. So it’s best to purge and prune sooner rather than later.
- Prune the Dead: Then there are personal and professional relationships and business aspects that are done, finished, caput. They are just taking up space. Pruning these will make way for healthy growth and opportunities.
Action: I challenge you to take a piece of paper, draw vertical lines to make three columns, and start assigning either personal and/or professional items into the three pruning types listed above. When that is done, then get to the really difficult part—overcoming our internal issues and reluctance to change.
Dr. Cloud states we get to the place where we can start taking pruning action by:
- Normalizing endings
- Getting hopeless
- Creating urgency
How do we normalize endings? First, we normalize endings by changing our mindset. Too many of us (myself included) see endings as a failure instead of as a normal and necessary part of work and life. Necessary endings are not the problem. Hanging onto something when more effort is not going to bring about a different result is the problem.
The writer of Ecclesiastes understood this when he wrote, “For everything there is an appointed time, and an appropriate time for every activity on earth. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot what was planted…” (Ecc. 3:1–2)
Second, in order to start the pruning process we need to get hopeless. (Yes, I wrote that correctly.) We need to get hopeless, not hopeful. Dr. Cloud explains, “If you are looking for the formula that can get you motivated and fearless, there it is: you must finally see reality for what it is—in other words, that what is not working is not going to magically begin working.” Hoping things will just work out, while changing nothing, is not living realistically. We need to stop continuing to do what we’ve always done and expect different results. We need to get hopeless.
Third, because endings are hard, we must create urgency in order to stay motivated, committed, and invigorated during the pruning and changing process. Our brains are hardwired to resist change. We like comfort and we like things to stay the same. Therefore, if we must, we need to “trick” our brains into seeing that not changing is actually the uncomfortable decision. Pain and discomfort usually speed up the changing process.
Dr. Cloud states, “Getting our brain to move to create an ending, and getting the people around you to do the same is going to take both the fear of the negative and the draw of the positive.” Basically, we need to tell our brains that something bad is going to happen if we do nothing. Stagnation is bad. We owe it to our Creator to thrive using the gifts and talents he has given us.
Ways to practically create urgency are as follows:
- Create Vision
- Set Deadlines
- Create Structure
- Stay Close to the Misery (Remember, we avoid pain.)
- Measure Progress
- Harness Alliances (e.g. Exercising with another person or in a group is always more motivating than exercising alone.)
Action: Take another look at your list now. Identify in what ways you can get hopeless and create urgency with those items on your list that need to be pruned.
Are you still waffling on the idea of necessary endings? Perhaps looking at your life with a little hindsight will help. Let me share some of my personal examples of necessary endings:
- Many relationships in my dating years did not work out and those were hard at the time. But now I am thankful because if they had not ended, I would never have met my husband, and he is truly a gift.
- I thought that I wanted to be an engineer and I pursued engineering education for two years. But finally I realized it was never going to get fun (for me), so I ended the engineering program and transferred into the architecture program at the beginning of my third year at the university. Yes, some credits and classes did not transfer and I had to spend another year longer than anticipated. But I graduated, became a licensed architect, and successfully practiced in that profession for fourteen years.
- In my late thirties I said goodbye to my career as an architect so that I could finish pursuing theological education. Had I not ended that career in order to pursue ministry, I never would have finished my theological education and I would not be a published author or blogger. (And this very blog post you’re reading now would not exist.)
Action: Write down past endings like I have. It will motivate you to go back to your list of pruning items and start implementing ways to create urgency.
Do I still struggle with necessary endings? Absolutely. My discomfort with change and my loyalty to people and things still gets in the way. But in reading Dr. Cloud’s book and in looking back at my own life I realize that it is ultimately better to be loyal to our higher authority. What endings is your Creator working to create in your life?
Dr. Cloud concludes his book by quoting a friend as saying, “…Endings and the great new beginnings are somehow linked together. You can’t have one without the other. It is a weird paradox.” My personal endings list above proves this paradox to be true.
So let’s embrace change instead of reluctantly avoiding or running away from it. By creating and navigating necessary endings we choose to live in fullness instead of stagnation, and where we are planted will thus be bursting of blooms and color instead of limited, unhealthy, or dead growth.
This blog article was originally posted on June 10, 2019.
Henry Cloud, Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give up in Order to Move Forward (New York: HarperBusiness, 2010), xiii.
Ibid., 156, 159, 162,165, 166, 169.
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