Necessary Endings: Give Up to Move Forward

Yet another year at an end. Yet another year about to begin.

As I reflect upon 2017, I remember both good and tough times, moments I laughed, cried, grew, and struggled.

For me, 2017 deviated from my life script that whatever I treasure will be taken from me. I’m no stranger to loss: I’ve lost dear friends, communities, homes, dreams, and parts of myself in traumatic, involuntary ways. To avoid future heartbreak, I fought hard to prevent them as much as possible, even to the point of not creating new bonds altogether.

Of course, this set me up to be hypervigilant, anxious, and wary of any signs of change, even good ones. Whenever transitions happened, I vacillated between anxiety and numbness to control how much my experiences would impact me, not realizing how these extremes would interfere with forward movement in my personal and professional life.  

That was, until this year. Early this year, I quit my other job to devote all my attention towards building my therapy practice. It was a risky move to take, given that I had no safety net or any guarantee that this would work out or even be worth it. All I knew was:

  1. I was exhausted from working more and more hours for less and less outcomes.
  2. Despite my best efforts, things kept getting worse.
  3. This position was increasingly deviating from my main profession as a therapist.
  4. Thoughts and emotions about work was spilling over into my personal life.

Though I deeply wished that things would turn the corner, the prognosis was poor. I wrestled for months about whether to stay or to leave, as I haven’t had the best experience with endings. I feared that I would reexperience the same kinds of painful, negative consequences that I had before.

Why People Avoid Endings

If only I had read Necessary Endings sooner. Henry Cloud, the same author of bestselling book Boundaries (1992), wrote why endings are natural, essential, and strategic to our personal and professional development. However, we tend “avoid them or botch them” (2010, p. 9):

  1. We hang on too long when we should end something now.
  2. We do not know if an ending is actually necessary, or if “it” or “he” is fixable.
  3. We are afraid of the unknown.
  4. We fear confrontation.
  5. We are afraid of hurting someone.
  6. We are afraid of letting go and the sadness associated with an ending.
  7. We do not possess the skills to execute the ending.
  8. We do not even know the right words to use.
  9. We have had too many and too painful endings in our personal history, so we avoid another one.
  10. When they are forced upon us, we do not know how to process them, and we sink or flounder.
  11. We do not learn from them, so we repeat the same mistakes over and over.

Of the eleven reasons listed above, I hit eight. Not ending things well costed me heavily in the long run. Fear kept me from pushing the EJECT button, prolonging pain and stunting growth. Fortunately, the ever-increasing frustration and depression I felt about work signaled that it was time for me to leave so that I could move onto the next stage of my growth.

Pruning: Getting Rid of the Unwanted or Superfluous to GROW

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Roses don’t just spontaneously grow into their majestic form on their own; their bushes are carefully and methodically pruned so that they can reach their fullest potential. So what exactly is pruning? Simply put, it is “the process of proactive endings,” or the art and science of cutting away what does not belong to the optimal end goal.

Cloud describes three types of rose branches that the gardener prunes:

  1. Healthy branches that are good but aren’t the best.
  2. Sick branches that aren’t getting well, despite efforts to make them healthy.
  3. Dead branches that are just taking up space and are interfering with other branches.

For the rosebush to thrive, all three categories of branches need to be cut. For us to thrive personally or professionally, we may need to look for and cut out the activities, commitments, materials and/or relationships that are:

  1. Taking up limited resources that could more effectively go to another area,
  2. Causing ongoing pain and have low prospects of improvement or change,
  3. Unnecessarily cluttering our lives and decisions.

Elimination of these instances involve insight, commitment, action, and follow through. They will not happen on their own. We can try to prolong these uncomfortable and effortful tasks as much as possible, but we may end up experiencing much more pain than is helpful.

Onto Bigger and Better and Blissful Things

I’m glad that I decided to pull the plug, as I would not have experienced the surge of growth and life that soon followed. The Monday after my last day of work, I sat down at my dinner table with a sketchpad and markers and began expressing whatever was locked deep inside of me. From the random jumble of words and pictures came the name and logo for my practice, OliveMe Counseling. Not long after, I created and launched the website that you are seeing now and have done seven workshops and seminars about topics I am deeply passionate about: emotional and relational health.

If I hadn’t ended my job, none of this would have happened the way that it did. Rather than reactively waiting for an ending to be done FOR me or TO me, I faced the fear, rode out the wave, and reaped its rewards. Though the process was terrifying and painful, I am proud that I went through with it. With this new experience, I am emboldened to identify other areas of my life that need to say NO to so that I can say YES to greater things.

What's in the way of growth in your personal, relational, or professional life?

What are some life-depleting areas that you need to end?

How can you prepare to end well?

Want to THRIVE?
Learn to END WELL!

© Copyright 2017 Joanne B. Kim. All rights reserved.

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Joanne B. Kim, AMFT

Joanne is an Associate Marriage & Family Therapist in San Jose, CA, who loves empowering individuals and couples to create emotionally thriving relationships. She fully believes that emotional health and relationship health have everything to do with each other: when one part hurts or heals, so does the other.

She holds a special place in her heart for adult survivors of emotional abuse/neglect and for high-conflict couples - those who desire deep connection, but feel stuck, anxious, and frustrated in their significant relationships.

What began as her own mission towards wholeness became a passion and calling to accompany others on their own journey to love and be loved. She loves creating a safe space for others to cultivate their curiosity and courage to explore the deeper places that hold the secret to meaningful relationships.

Further Reading

Henry Cloud (2010). Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships that All of Us Have to Give Up In Order to Move Forward.