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  • Writer's pictureCarmel Pelunsky

THE END OF SUMMER


Although the temperature often hits 30 degrees Celsius and the humidity hovers around 80%, March in Sydney signals the end of summer. School is back, even university students have resumed their studies and the corporates are in the thick of their strategy and budget cycles. While it may seem more appropriate to look ahead to autumn, this has been a special summer for me, and I want to afford it the ending it deserves.


Sunglasses on sand. Looking at the end of summer.


On the 11th September 2022, I signed up for the Can Too 1km Ocean Swim. I had fourteen weeks to prepare myself and I was both terrified and excited. I soon realised that the two sessions a week were not going to cut it. I needed to correct my breathing, I needed to grow more confident diving through the surf, and I needed to increase my fitness. So, I threw myself into the process with the combined grit of a helicopter mother and a Pitbull terrier. I signed up for stroke correction, I contracted with a friend to do lengths in a pool every Tuesday morning and I spent a few weekend mornings diving through the waves at Maroubra Beach with a friend’s son by my side. On the 12th February 2023, I completed the North Bondi Classic, coming proudly second last!


As a charity that raises funds for cancer research, Can Too, focuses the mind with the statistics that one in three adults will develop cancer in their lifetime. As you would expect, many of the Can Too-ers have a story close to their hearts: a wife, a brother, a mother, or a nephew . . . someone who has lived with, or moved beyond, their cancer diagnosis. As my breathing improved and my body grew fitter, I reflected a lot about living well, and as part of that, ending well.


We seldom end well. We typically lurch from nearing the end to the actual end without having paused to reflect on what we want the end to be or what it means to us or others. As one Can Too-er said to me, this is true not only when losing a loved one, but even when it comes to the end of a project, or a colleague’s last day. We prefer to look forward than to look back, even when that means we lose a fundamental part of the story.


I was recently working with an executive team leading a significant organisational transformation. They had achieved an enormous amount in a short space of time, but they were concerned that they were not getting the engagement levels they needed for the next phase of transformation.


We created a space for a group of senior leaders to tell their stories about what they had most valued in the past, and what they were struggling with in the present. As they shared their experiences, there was a lot of laughter in the room. There was also, however, a palpable sense of loss and grief. One person suddenly shouted out, ‘I think we just need a funeral.’ *


This statement became a turning point for the business. Having faced into what had been lost, tenured employees felt truly heard for the first time; and there was greater empathy and insight across the executive team about the felt experience of all staff.


This in turn led to an engagement program that has facilitated a deeper understanding of the business, enabling a well understood narrative about the shifts required, and a shared excitement about the future.


Whether at an individual, team or organisational level, marking an ending well is an important component of enabling a successful transition or transformation. Holding a space for sadness, loss and sometimes even a bit of nostalgia, allows people to feel understood, share some laughs and get ‘unstuck’.


Endings can also be powerful catalysts for change in and of themselves. A psychotherapist explained to me that proponents of time-limited psychotherapy argue that awareness of, and ultimately reaching, the end point provides the impetus for change (when this is an appropriate intervention). Intuitively this makes sense – consider how much more we tend to cram into the last few days of a holiday when which we know is about to be over, or the robustness and raw love of some end-of-life conversations, or the extra 1% effort we draw on we are about to cross the finishing line.


The ending often provides the space for courage, and the willingness to take a risk and push that bit further.


Even when an ending is almost entirely celebratory in nature, it is important to honour the range of emotions. For me, the summer of ‘22 has been a summer of sunshine, new friends and achieving goals. But it has also been a summer of tears of frustration, embarrassment, and moments of utter fear. They have made the achievement all the sweeter.


Until next season

Carmel

*With thanks to Jackie Price who partnered with me on this work


 

PAUSE FOR REFLECTION

Coffee break for self reflection

1. What is an ending that you could put in place to catalyse action?


2. What is an ending that you know is coming, that may benefit from a little more planning or discussion?


3. What are the range of emotions in your team around a past, or imminent, ending? Does everyone feel truly heard? Has the full story been told?





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