The Power of Goodbye

Image via Garen M's Flickr photostream.

As this year and decade draw to a close, the second most significant relationship of my life is coming to an end. It’s not just been significant in length; it’s also important due to how it has shaped me as a person. In November 2010 I started work at UAL, and my impending farewell on 24th December 2019 has started me thinking about goodbyes. Whether you have chosen to end something – as I have in this case – or whether it has come to a close in another way, being able to say goodbye is an important part of moving on.

When I started work at University of the Arts London, as an excited 35 year old, I’d had a series of administrative jobs that I’d never really called a career and, although I had a degree, I would never have called myself ‘academic’. My first role at this impressive creative university was in the unglamorous world of timetabling, at London College of Fashion, where I quickly made many new friends and developed a strong urge to return to studying. My wonderful colleagues encouraged and supported me throughout the application process and the duration of my course, and by 2015 I was part of UAL’s global network of alumni. Since then, I have undertaken academic research in my spare time and have, after much soul searching, realised that I do already have a career… as a university administrator.

When I leave my current role, I will have said goodbye to six Colleges, nine buildings (that I have strong collections to. UAL has many more), and around 200 colleagues who have made such an impact on my working life that I felt moved to email them with a note of thanks. This place has meant far more to me than just a job, and I will spare you all the details as they probably mean very little to anyone other than me. But the reason I have stayed here far far longer than with any other employer is, quite simply, the people are amazing. Goodbyes are more often related to people rather than places though.

I once worked with a guy who hated his job. We sat next to each other every working day for four years and, whenever we spoke about work he’d quickly become aggressive and frustrated. However, whenever we chatted about something he truly cared about he’d be a smiling picture of happiness. I gradually found out that he was in a couple of bands, made their music videos himself (and often made some for friends too), had a passion for film, and frequently DJed at a pub near his flat in north London. I always meant to go to one of his gigs, or get a group together to end the working week at one of those DJ nights. But I never did. About six years after I met him, he left the job and London, to move to the seaside and start a family. I’d see his updates on Facebook and always meant to visit. But then, one day, it was too late. There was no time left, because life is too short and some people’s time is over far too soon. I never found out how it happened, but I did get to go to his funeral and remember how important it felt to be able to say goodbye.

That sense of closure is important, and a lack of it can lead to being stuck in the past with pain, confusion and an inability to move forward. It’s easier when there’s a formalised process which shapes an ending, but the hardest goodbyes are the ones we have to say to ourselves in order to let something go. Whether it’s moving out of a home filled with memories, realising that your ex will never fully understand why the break up was so hurtful, discovering that an exciting career path is closed to you, letting go of the hope that anything more could ever happen with a friend you’ve fallen completely in love with, or facing up to a truly disastrous general election result, taking the time to say goodbye to what will never be is so very important. Goodbyes can be so fucking hard… but we need them to move on.

Image via Garen M‘s Flickr photostream.