I recently returned from an amazing trip though China with my family. Many of you followed along as I climbed The Great Wall, played with bugs, and ate Noah's entire ark. It was a great experience, but (as with all things) the cliche rings true and that wonderful trip had to come to an end. Bummer.
I'm a sucker for nostalgia and prone to post-vacation blues. I used to hate endings and change as much as I expect them to happen. These days I welcome the freedom that change and new beginnings bring, but that was a learned skill. As a child, I was a massive hoarder because I wanted to have mementos and keepsakes from every cool experience that I was lucky enough to have. My cluttered room drove my mother nuts! When the first season of Big Brother aired back in 2000, CBS originally ran it 5 times a week because it overestimated it's popularity. I watched every episode that summer. When the season ended, I felt like CBS had killed 12 of my friends and I went into a depression for 2 weeks. Curtis! Brittany! Come back!
Endings became easier to handle as I got older. It just became expected at the end of summer camps and church retreats that you would exchange landline phone numbers and AOL screen names but never actually stay in touch with any of the friends you made. At the end of every semester during college I would pack my boxes with sadness as I got ready to leave. But I understood the drill, and the repetition of doing that along with other experiences finally helped me grasp the concept of an "ending" and how to move forward.
It's a bit ironic that I now work in an industry that loves to pull the rug out from under you when you least expect it. I've become a bit of a masochist, haven't I? But it's all good now. I have my coping mechanisms.
I've learned a fact of life: CHANGE AND ENDINGS ARE INEVITABLE
Jobs, friends, relationships, the neighborhood where you grew up, your hairline... none of it will be the same 10 or even 5 years from now.
Even within a close friendship that spans decades (I've gotten to the point where I'm embarking on a few now) there will be aspects of those relationships and the people involved that have ended. The reasons why you became friends in the first place are probably not why you still maintain a friendship today. But I digress...
Endings. I been putzing around this past week trying to let go of China just like I had to do 6 years ago when I first went. I had to do the same when I came back from my study abroad in London, when a romantic relationship ended, and when I graduated from college. It's a good idea to not bury your emotions, but to work through them. And it's certainly easier when you see the ending coming a mile away. Endings can be hard. But with the right frame of mind, they actually become wonderful experiences of growth.
Here are some ways you can have a great ending:
PLAN FOR THEM
If you know an ending is coming, make a concentrated effort to enjoy every moment you have with that experience/person/thing while you still can. I'd rather not live a life of regret and impending doom, but a life of day-to-day joy. Planning for an ending will also prevent prolonged sadness or bitterness when it finally comes. The ritual of a funeral was created so that loved ones of the deceased could find a way to gather and deal with the loss. Even better: Colin Wright (of Exile Lifestyle) had a break-up party with his girlfriend! If that doesn't go down in Guinness as the "best ending of a relationship, ever!" I'd like to meet the winners.
MAKE GREAT MEMORIES
My sister and I are goofy and fun when we get together. But we also fight because we're different people with different needs and require our own space - and you don't get much closer and in each other's spaces than when traveling. Despite the conflicts we had, we both made a conscious effort to enjoy the time we had together while we were in China because we knew it was only for 11 days. Why be miserable when the time you have together is limited? And boy did we live it up!
HAVE A KEEPSAKE (THAT DOESN'T PHYSICALLY CLUTTER UP YOUR LIFE)
I like to pick up a refrigerator magnet at every destination that I travel to . It's a small little memento that adds character to my kitchen. And of course I am all for digital media. Take a ton of pictures and videos of the things you want to remember. Store them on a separate hard drive so you can have them handy whenever you want to reminisce about the good 'ol days. Or turn them into slideshows or videos montages and post them online :)
APPRECIATE AND LEARN
Experiences, people, relationships... they are what they are and not all of the memories you walk away with will necessarily be good ones. Still - they happened. So instead of holding on to any bitterness or anger, try to look back and be grateful for all the things you learned about yourself. If you had a horrendous travel experience, what are some of the things you can do the next time to avoid those pratfalls? If you dated an asshole, you now know what red flags to look for the next time you go out with someone.
But on the flip-side, rarely is everything lost. Perhaps you figured out how to read a trail map or learned to survive a grizzly bear attack on your vacation from hell. And maybe that asshole taught you how to make an amazing salmon you can whip out the next time you want to impress a dinner party. Journal, mull, reflect. Consider those learning experiences a gift! Thank them for the time you had together and acknowledge the fact that they are now behind you.
When an ending happens, you inevitably leave people behind. If you feel so inclined, exchange contact information, give hugs, and find each other on Facebook. You may decide to even make future plans to re-unite. That is all great. However, there is something to be said about moving on without drama. I'm not saying you aren't allowed to shed a few tears over a loss or ending. In fact, I would question your humanity if you were at your mother's funeral and didn't cry. However: don't drag out a break-up, don't linger in the room after an audition is over... and for crying out loud, if the buffet dinner is closing and you've already had 8 plates of food - leave already!
With that being said...
I used to shoot myself in the foot a lot because I had a difficult time being in the moment with my present experience.
- "This vacation is everything I want it to be, I won't ever have another one like it!"
- "I'm so lucky I booked this job, but if I don't book a better paying one my agent will drop me!"
- "I hope this friendship is forever because I could never imagine blankety-blank not being in my life."
In those instances, I failed to recognize that my whole future is still ahead of me. When you approach life with the confidence that "there's another train coming," the things you want come SO much easier. You've got NEW places to be, NEW things to do, and NEW people to see. What are you waiting for?
An ending means a new beginning. It means freedom. We heard many of these types of stories after the financial collapse in 2008: A bankers loses his/her job so he/she reverts back to what he/she always wanted to do - be it opening a cupcake shop, making wine, or home-schooling their kids. Now that's what I'm talking about.
That attitude also gives you the confidence to terminate a current experience that may not be working out because you know there is something better out there for you. Sometimes you do indeed need to create your own ending. People get stuck in miserable jobs, relationships, and god-awful apartments because they don't have the balls to call it quits and seek happiness elsewhere. Don't be that person! Do not be afraid of endings. They will happen whether you like it or not. The trick is learning how to deal with endings properly so you can move forward and on to your amazing future.
I wish you (and I) the best of luck.