Some people just hate endings. They are troubled by goodbyes and they don’t even like finishing a project they’ve put a lot into. But endings, like beginnings, are essential for life. If there weren’t any endings, life would get extremely clogged up.

In Gulliver’s Travels Johnathan Swift came up with the gruesome idea of the Struldbrugs, a race of people endowed with a ghastly immortality. Because they don’t die, the Struldbrugs just live on, toothless, hairless, joyless, witless, for hundreds of years. They are the living dead. Swift makes it clear that these immortals are the most miserable of all races, simply because their lives don’t have an ending.

The point is that endings – and even deaths – are necessary for life, for regeneration and renewal. Ripeness is all, as King Lear says. And ripeness is all about lives, relationships and many other things ending in an appropriate fashion at an appropriate time. As we shall see, a good ending is often something you can work to create and derive pride and even pleasure from.

Good endings don’t just happen

Think of a situation where you would like to move on or would like things to change.

The context could be to do with work and public issues or it could be concerned with your most private and intimate relationships. But if a real need to change it there, there will always be a need for some kind of ending.

To make change happen, you and others will have to let go of old ways or the old situation, as well as putting in place the new. The old will often need to be ended and closed off first, to give a new idea or system the chance to flourish. Just rushing from the old to the new always carries the risk of jumping straight from the frying pan into the fire, as anyone who has ever started a new relationship while on the rebound will testify.

So part of the art of beginning afresh is finishing what you’ve begun and bringing what needs to be finished to a fitting conclusion. In order to get it right you will want to ask yourself four questions in relation to your particular situation.

How to go for a good ending:

Ask yourself –

  1. What kind of ending would make this a good ending?
  2. What needs to occur so that this good ending can happen?
  3. What would this look like, sound like and feel like, for me and for others?
  4. What could I do to make this good ending happen?

What might happen if you were in control?

We ran this process once with an experienced woman who was about to make the long-awaited career move from a senior position in a large national consumer goods company to a parallel post in a truly global multinational.

Having given in her three months’ notice, Estelle wanted to end her career at the British company on a positive note. The four questions helped her formulate an ending that was right for her and meant she left behind a positive legacy and an excellent professional reputation.

First of all, she decided that a good ending would mean she would have done all she could in her job and set the tone for the future department.

Secondly, she realised that to do this she would want to leave on a high note, with a successful campaign that proved her marketing strategy for her product group was on the right track.

Thirdly, she could see herself making the board-level presentation, unveiling the bright, colourful storyboards, feelings confident and outlining a clear, convincing rationale. When she imagined the scene, she could see the key people nodding, looking engaged, asking perceptive questions and sounding highly enthusiastic.

Fourthly, she recognised that achieving this would require her to enlist the active co-operation of her whole department and several outside suppliers to produce exceptional results within a three-month span. Far from the demob-happy cynic some people might have expected, Estelle became very determined and focused on her final project for her last few weeks.

She took the task of creating the right ending very seriously, for herself. But its wider importance was emphasised a few months later when she met her old managing director, more or less on an equal footing now, at the European business conference. ‘I don’t think we knew what we were losing until after you’d gone,’ he said. ‘But if you ever want to come back to us, just pick up the phone. And, Estelle, next time we’ll make sure you’re up there in the right position.

Excerpt from ‘Manage Yourself, Manage your Life’ by Ian McDermott and Ian Shircore