Exit Gracefully; Honour Your Ending

In 2010, a veteran flight attendant landed in New York City and announced over the plane’s public address system that he had been abused by a passenger and he was quitting his job. He grabbed a couple of beers and then exited the plane by deploying the evacuation slide. His exit was dramatic and unforgettable. Exits are not easy. I won’t even get into famous divorce scenarios that play out in the media and discredit all parties involved. Clearly there are more amicable ways to end a relationship, be it your employment or marriage. You cannot control everything or everyone but you can try to control how you act and react.

Change can be hard, no doubt about it. I had the pleasure to study change management with M. Beth Page, author of “Change Happens: Your Guide to Navigating Change Using the 5C Model”, in 2013. The book is an insightful guide to best practice management of change. Beth is an engaging and knowledgeable expert in the field on all things change management but what really stuck with me were her thoughts around honouring endings. So often we try to push through a change to the new beginning that we miss that opportunity for closure and in doing so, miss the chance to reflect and learn. 

As I mentioned, endings can often be quite difficult and there is almost always emotion involved. Whether you create the ending yourself or it happens to you, I believe you need to find a way to honour the ending. This is not necessarily about avoiding burning bridges (but avoid that anyway) but more about you. I want you to leave with your dignity and respect for yourself intact. It isn’t easy, but I hope you’ll consider these tips.

Time Out

When you are hit with an ending, you need to allow yourself time to absorb the shock. It is perfectly normal to feel sad, mad or uncertain. Depending on the size and magnitude of the ending, you may require more or less time to gather your dignity and collect your thoughts. For little shocks, I advise waiting a minimum 24 hours before you wade into the fray. Immediately after a change occurs is when you are most vulnerable to your emotions. Although you may be hurting or raw and want to lash out at someone, wait. Don’t pick up your phone and for heaven’s sake, stay off social media! As a friend, I’m advising you to stop before you say something in the heat of the moment you will regret later. Need someone to discuss it with? Find a therapist, coach, friend or family member whom you trust to just rant at and get it off your chest. You really do need to face those feels for closure. If you can release the emotion in safe environments, you’ll be able to move forward easier. Think small, bite-sized chunks of emotion like releasing steam from a pressure cooker or one big release like a geyser to put this behind you – whatever works for you! You need closure. After the shock wears off, you are more likely to engage in constructive discussions rather than reactionary ones.  Even if you create the ending, be prepared for a number of feelings as you move to your new beginning. It is okay to take the time you need to reflect and sort out your thoughts.

Avoid Collateral Damage

Hurt feelings can be a powerful guide. When you are navigating an ending, it can be difficult to put the feelings of others first but you need to try. Try not to put other people into your change management experience. If you are leaving a job, don’t pull other co-workers into your emotional journey. If you are divorcing, do not put your children into the middle of pain. This is easier said than done but you have to make a concentrated effort to try not to involve the people that are inadvertent parties to your change. In the long run, you will hurt them in ways you do not intend while you try to claw your way through the ending. Find someone outside of the change process to lean on and save your emotional processing for them.

Honour Others’ Endings

There will be times that you create the ending yourself. As you execute on your own change, remember that you are impacting those around you. When possible, honour their endings as well. Be patient and kind. Everyone navigates change at their own pace. If you have ended something, remember that they are just starting the process of dealing with this and trying to honour their own ending even as you are already well on the way through the change and transitioning to your new beginning. 

Remember the Good

By the time an ending occurs, there is usually an unraveling of affection or commitment. As the emotion drives behavior, it is often common for people to focus only on the bad things. For your sake, you need to isolate the cause of the hurt from all of the good experiences you’ve had before the change. I’ve seen it with friends who’ve divorced after many years and one of them says, “I never loved you”, or a layoff where someone fixates on the bitter ending as if that is all that ever happened. Those mean words said in the heat of the moment are not the whole truth. Eventually, after the hurt heals, you should try to remember the good times, experiences and learning you had. Again, this is for you. You cannot hang on to the negative; it will hold you back. It was not all bad hopefully. The goal is to get to the point where you do not look back with many regrets. Don’t regret how you handled your ending. Trying for an attitude of gratitude can be difficult but worth it.

Avoid Trash Talk

Misery loves company; in fact, it often seeks it out. It is normal to try and find support to validate your feelings. That is why you need to limit the anger-filled rants to one or two people who are not directly involved in the change. Get a good support system and don’t overshare your anger with anyone who will listen or wanders into earshot. It is not healthy for you. At some point, you need to put the emotions behind you and move forward. In addition to making you look bad, it holds you back from finding the really awesome thing waiting for you in the future. Honestly, if someone asks you for details and you cannot contain your emotions, stay silent. If you cannot say something nice, do not say anything at all. Once said, it is hard to take it back later when you have better clarity and perspective.

Be Kind to You

A friend of mine told me that the best advice they could give someone embarking on an exit was to be kind to themselves. There is a natural reflection that comes from an ending and it can turn into a negative exercise of ‘should have, could have, would have’ done differently. Make sure you give yourself a break and that you take time for self-care. Not sure how to do that, read my article “Throw Off Your Pity Party” – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/throw-off-your-pity-party-michelle-dulmadge-cphr/

Move On, Move Forward

You have to believe that the best is yet to come! Believe that this change is happening for a reason and that reason is because something amazing is in your future. An ending makes way for a new beginning and you need to make the most of it. After the hurts heal (or even before they do), do not let this change, pain or ending define you. Put the past behind you and push forward. You can, and should, exit with dignity.

Celebrate New Beginnings

The real idea behind honouring an ending is give yourself closure and leave behind the old so you are able to accept the new. That time, experience or lifestyle is over and it is okay to acknowledge what once held meaning. In fact, it is critical to acknowledge it. Only by honouring the past can you move forward. Honouring your ending isn’t really about everyone else around you and all of the feelings surrounding them. It is about honouring you…and you are worth it!