There comes a time in everyone’s life when one must say goodbye.
That was the first line of my high school graduating class’s farewell address 28 years ago. I should have written, “If you live long enough, there will come many times when one must say goodbye.” But I didn’t know that then.
Saying goodbye wasn’t hard that day. For most of us, those four years had been an exciting time filled with new friends, many firsts and the creation of unforgettable memories. However, we had reached the point where we had nothing more to gain. Leaving was non-negotiable.
“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on,” said author Henry Ellis. As adults, we struggle with bidding farewell to situations that no longer serve us. We’re experts at complying with comfort and justifying our presence. I’ve earned this. It pays the bills. It’s cool for now. Pigeon-holed into preconceived or dated notions of responsible adulthood, we convince ourselves that our discontentment equates to restlessness, boredom or worse, immaturity, which are all unacceptable because, well, we’re supposed to be responsible adults. It doesn’t matter if we’re unfulfilled, unhappy or uninspired adults. What’s important is that we behave maturely and responsibly. Right? We hold on to those beliefs until they can no longer justify the discontent. Then frustrated, we recklessly let go and leave chaotically, leaving us strained mentally and emotionally.
Letting go and leaving is a process with mandatory provisions along the way, with timing a pivotal factor. My graduating class was not prepared to leave with previous ones because we lacked the necessary social and academic requirements. Leaving too soon would have left us ill-prepared for the next level, just as staying longer would have lulled us into mediocrity and destroyed our drive.
Therein lies the fine mingling: Staying long enough to fulfill your needs and leaving soon enough to keep you inspired. Staying long enough to gain confidence and leaving soon enough before fear sets in. Staying long enough to enjoy the experience and leaving soon enough to avoid cynicism.
Rarely in life will there be curriculum and standardized testing to nudge us forward. We will only have our experiences, and the reality that we can ride the fence for only so long before we’re forced to a side. More often than we may desire, that side will simply be to let go, to leave, to say goodbye. Sometimes our departure will be in pomp and circumstance. Other times in quiet retreat. And, if we’re not careful, we will exit through total chaos.
There’s no avoiding it. If we live long enough, there will come many times when one must say goodbye. Prepare to do so gracefully.
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