How to say goodbye

When it’s over, it’s over. This is one of the principles of Open Space Technology a conversation process founded by Harrison Owen. The idea is this: when your conversation feels like it is over, ask, “is it over?” If yes, you move on to another conversation that energizes you. If no, you make arrangements to continue.

Our default is to fight and resist endings no matter what. We long to keep everything alive at any cost, even when it is more compassionate to embrace death and rebirths in every part of our lives. In any aspect of life it feels easier said than done to even think of asking, “is it over?” let alone pausing to ask it, contemplate the response and acting on it.

George Washington, in the broadway hit Hamilton, chooses to end his presidency on his own terms, despite the resistance of the younger generation (Hamilton):

HAMILTON: As far as the people are concerned

You have to serve, you could continue to serve–

WASHINGTON: No! One last time

The people will hear from me

One last time

And if we get this right

We’re gonna teach ’em how to say goodbye,

You and I–

HAMILTON: Mr. President, they will say 

you’re weak.

WASHINGTON: No, they will see we’re strong.

HAMILTON: Your position is so unique.

WASHINGTON: So I’ll use it to move them along.

HAMILTON: Why do you have to say goodbye?

WASHINGTON: If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on.

It outlives me when I’m gone.

Not only does Washington notice that it’s over, he accepts and embraces the ending to such a degree that he decides to teach others how to accept endings. He accepts the “death” of his presidency as a gift for both himself and his new nation coming of age; he will have his “moment alone in the shade” and the freedom to serve his nation in a new way:

I wanna talk about neutrality…

I want to warn against partisan fighting. 

While noticing the presidency is over he sees a new way to serve. It’s not just about death but about a new beginning as well.

When something is over and it is time to say goodbye, perhaps a 32 minute Open Space Technology conversation, Washington reminds us that an end is also a beginning that leads to new perspective.  This simple understanding is not so simple to activate in life, but perhaps in small ways we can practice this, conversation by conversation.

I believe this: small things lead to bigger things. Little practices to mark the endings and beginnings that come with those endings enable us to better say goodbye. Here are some ways I mark little endings:


Little practices are punctuation so life is not an exhausting run-on sentence. And the little practices add up to more sensible verses and stanzas that add coherence to life.

Thank you, Hamilton, for this reminder to notice when I need to say goodbye and how to do it.

Is there an ending you should be paying attention to? 

This is the fourth post in a series inspired by the Broadway hit Hamilton. Here are the previous posts:

  1. Room where it happens
  2. Stay in it
  3. Say no to this

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