Something I’ve learned about myself over the years is that I’m not great at goodbyes.
It’s not that I find them difficult or onerous, but rather that I often fail to register them as being negative. Yes, we’re approaching the end of something, which is consequential. But I generally spend more time thinking about what I’m moving toward rather than what I’m leaving behind, which can conflict with the moroseness one is supposed to feel at such moments.
I’ve gotten better at explaining this to people so that they don’t get the wrong impression. In my mind, this isn’t ‘goodbye’ in the sense that we won’t see each other anymore, but ‘goodbye’ in the sense of ‘see you later.’ We live in the future, we have astounding technologies that can move us around, help us communicate over vast distances, and allow us to share our lives across planetary hemispheres. Geographic distance doesn’t really intimidate me, but I know that for some, such distances represent a radical and possibly negative adjustment to how things have been. For some, changes represent little more than endings.
I can understand that sentiment. But change needn’t be a bad thing. A change in rhythm, in tenor, in daily habits, in what we’re exposed to, in the work we do, in our relationship status, in the keys we have in our pocket and the space we return to each night—it needn’t be daunting or debilitating. These changes are just as likely to be positive as negative. And the former is more likely, in fact, if we decide this newness is going to be positive regardless of what we find on the other side; if we decide to make the most of whatever comes next.
An established way of living and doing things is calming and comfortable. It’s predictable, and it allows one’s brain to chill the hell out for a time.
But shaking up that routine, those habits, creates a period of near-infinite opportunity. It’s an in-flux quantum superstate that can land absolutely anywhere. If you no longer go about your day on autopilot, if you no longer assume certain cycles and milestones, you can do anything, any time. You can fix problems view new habits. You can take up new hobbies, do your work differently, spend more time with friends and family, or more time with yourself. Or both.
Endings are the opening act for new beginnings, and part of why they can be so stressful is that we’re suddenly responsible for our future happiness in a way we haven’t been for maybe a good, long while. During a period of relative predictability, maintaining our rituals and holding down the fort keeps us engaged and occupied. Moving away from that routine, we instead must exert ourselves by filtering through our countless options and figure out not just what our new lives will look like, but who we will be, next. We have to figure out what priorities will shape our environments, and if we have what it takes to accomplish what we think we might be able to get done.
It’s frightening to think we might want something but cannot, under our own motive power, accomplish it. It’s terrifying to think we may end up someplace new, surrounded by new people, doing new work, and with everything sub-par to how it was before. It’s debilitating to worry that the choices we make might be the wrong ones, and that where we end up as a result will be no one’s fault but our own.
But approached intentionally, with enthusiasm and care, our conclusions can serve as reintroductions. For us toward the world, unveiling a brand new self, but also the world toward us, reigniting a flame of curiosity and passion, rediscovering what it feels like not to know, but to enjoy finding out.
This essay was originally published in my newsletter.