“Once upon a time…and they lived happily ever after” are arguably the most well-known first and last lines of any fairy tale. If only the creator of such fantasies realized the set of expectations that those simple words would ignite in the minds of millions of young, impressionable children for decades to come. An ending to any story implying that everything is tied up into a nice little bow is unquestionably satisfying. But why? As humans we share a culture of distinguishing endings – generally with celebration, unless it’s a funeral – and in my observation, it demonstrates a need for closing chapters before truly feeling prepared to start new ones. It’s as if the acknowledgement of completion gives us both permission and the endurance to begin something else. In the case of the fairy tale, of course it signifies the onset of the rest of the couple’s lives (which is of course, nothing but perfect). When we step outside of that ideal, however, a sign or an act of completion is a dualistic notion worth questioning.
The word “completion” has two connotations. First, it means that something is finished. There is a measurable result and no further action to take. The other significance is one of wholeness or being filled up. Doesn’t everyone want to look into their partner’s eyes and say with conviction, “you complete me”? Maybe that’s a bit extreme, but to some degree or another, we often yearn to be filled by someone or something outside of ourselves. Maybe it’s a person, or perhaps it’s a job or material items like a car, house or jewelry. Speaking from personal experience, we may even seek fulfillment from traveling the world, with its ascribed romantic allure of foreign people and places. The duality in the meaning of the word “complete” makes it easy to confuse wholeness with a final destination. If I only achieve X (fill in the blank here), then I will feel complete inside….but the real Cinderella is surely shaking her discerning head.
This week I finished a yearlong program to become a professional coach, and we marked the end of each class and finally our last, weekly group call with a closing remark followed by the statement “I am complete.” It was a ritual of sorts, and it felt so satisfying to really mark the end of each segment of the journey. What I noticed is that it allowed for reflection of what we learned, recognition of what we accomplished, and a renewal of energy for the next phase or chapter. It felt important to tie up that bow, even knowing there was more road to traverse ahead. And that’s the paradox: there is always more road ahead. The natural order of life is cyclical; there is never really an ending. In the grand scheme of the world, it’s just a continual forward movement and evolution. But perhaps our human limitation is that we can’t always grasp what’s beyond our ability to see, touch and feel: the infinite. Thus, we create tangible endings, not because something has really come to an end, but so that we can feel complete or whole. One meaning begets the other. The act of ending is a condition of feeling complete. There is a satisfaction in the finality because it means that there’s no uncertainty or obscurity. We are in the driver’s seat controlling the pedals of the car that is our life.
I recently found myself yearning for a sign of completion in an area of my life that I perceived to be floating in the space of the unknown. I desperately wished for a marked ending of a relationship, just to escape the ambiguity that I was feeling. I believed that it would give me the closure that I thought I needed to re-open myself. The Universe, true to form, divinely intervened. I listened to a message about cultivating personal power, and it reminded me that my power comes from my ability to decide what I think. I realized that I can choose to think that I create my new beginnings, not my circumstances or anyone outside of me. I can also choose to think that I am complete and whole, no matter what. I do not need a signal of closure to give me permission to open. I do not need an end to begin again. All I need is me and the consciousness that I am on an endless road of possibilities. And with that, I am complete.