Life is a bit like writing a book.
It has a beginning and an end, and in between, there are chapters that catapult you from one event to another. You go to college, you get married, you have kids. Each section of this books seems to have a period (or an exclamation mark).
For me, the hardest part can be knowing when to place that period. I've been told a few times that I'm driven. A less palatable way of saying that is I have tunnel vision, although there are times when you really need to get out of a tunnel and frequent squirrel moments don't help. Tunnels don't have periods, though. They start in the darkness and end in the light. Maybe that's why I like them. I've never been good at transitions. One reason I've been thinking about this is that it's summer and I tend to start evaluating things. I also just spent some time making a list about accomplishments and challenges in my career, which was amazingly helpful. (I'll post a full update soon on what I learned from the process.)
What does a period even look like? For me, there are some specific signs. One is that you get into a repeat mode, like a vinyl record skipping. (If you don't know what a record is, find a Millennial.) In a work setting, you always check email in the morning for an hour, you always get the same cup of coffee at Starbucks, you handle conflicts using the same techniques you learned at a seminar in 2012. Everyone around you knows you are on repeat. Maybe it's the strange clicking sound, maybe it's the look in your eyes. You're going on past accomplishments. You're going through the motions and, quite frankly, the motion was never that great from the start.
Another way to recognize when you need to put a period on something is to evaluate your passion level. Drained of passion, we all look like zombies. It's more than just repeating a pattern, it's that we don't ever try anything new--we're sort of dead.
There's some science behind this condition. One study found that people who travel overseas for work are more creative. A favorite author of mine has written about this many times. New is a perpetual machine. We try something new, we think new thoughts, we embrace new things, and we feel much happier about life.
I won't mind if you close the lid on your laptop or power down your phone and book a ticket to Tahiti right now if you need to try something new. The truth is, new helps you place periods in life. If you are stuck in a pattern of negative thought, or a dead-end career, or even some form of depression, trying something new enlivens your spirit, sure, but it also helps you take a quick look down the road you've been on. When you try new you can see old much better and realize maybe old isn't so great. Something in your thought process changes. More importantly, so does your perspective.
I've told this story many times, but I worked in the corporate world for about ten years as a manager. I realized not long ago that I prefer being an influencer these days, meeting with leaders and writing articles like this as a way to offer up ideas to those in authority. Stuck in that eternal loop cycle in my corporate days, I couldn't quite place a period on that career. I dangled like a ripe apple before I dropped. A week after 9/11 I finally had someone place the period for me, and I've never looked back and tried to make it a question mark instead. That chapter of my life needed to end. Period.
So what about you? Let's say you are starting to sense some repetition, you're losing passion, and you need to embrace something new. Maybe it's in your career, maybe it's in your personal life, or your marriage, or even your vacation plans this summer. There's a certain amount of fear in placing a period because it's hard to go back and erase it. Here's my advice. Place the period. Take the risk. Start a new chapter.
Letting the last chapter end means you have decided to reach closure and you are ready to embrace a new adventure. Without placing the period, there is no way you could ever know what is ahead. I would have never known I would become a writer for almost 15 years back in 2001. I would have never known what it's like to end my single life or end my time before having kids. The period is not the end. It means you can start another sentence. Which one are you going to write today?