Smashing Paradigms – Take Endings Seriously

Latest in the series on Smashing Paradigms. 

For my story-telling explanation of the definition of a Paradigm, see “What is a Paradigm“. 

One way of defining a paradigm is “we’ve always done it this way”


“The game had ended. The applause had died down, and people had gone home. His work was done, now he could rest. So he took off his cleats and he sat down. Someone took a picture, and it went viral. Andrés Iniesta, one of the most gifted and successful soccer players of his generation, barefoot, alone, on the pitch of Camp Nou, the stadium of FC Barcelona — Barca, as the fans call it — after he had played his last game for the club.”

“Iniesta’s still portrait captured… the moment in which all that remains when the work, the game, and the show are over is a person in an empty space. A space in which the past is history and the future is yet to begin. It is a space we all visit, more or less willingly, ever more often as working lives get longer and careers more fragmented. It is common for people to change jobs over a dozen times in their lives.”

“It was the rarest and most meaningful of endings, different from the rushed and placeless ones that mark, or fail to mark, many career transitions. That is why the image captured people’s imagination, perhaps: It portrayed him still, alive, in the space between two lives.”

This is why we cannot be fully human in organizations that have few rituals and little space for stillness, silence, sadness.

Scholars have a name for that space. They call it liminality, from the Latin limen, or threshold. It is a state of mind and a social space in which we are betwixt and between. Regardless of your line of work, it is easy in such moments of suspended animation to feel lost or stuck. But when we have rituals to guide us, and spaces to hold us, suspended animation turns into animated suspension”

Those reflections come from an HBR article shared by the #ModernElder community from Tim Leberecht, titled “Andrés Iniesta’s Farewell, and How to Make Endings Count at Work“, beautifully musing on the retirement of one of the greats of world football last week.

Inspired by the #ModernElder movement and my recent time at the Modern Elder Academy in Baja, last Friday’s weekly “Smashing Paradigms” post was “Smashing Paradigms – Love of Liminality“, in which I noted :

“The world is in a liminal change. Instinctively we want to exit from this as soon as possible, yet perhaps we need to sit with it (at a macro level) longer and be ready for the fetation, the fructile chaos, to allow the world and society to gestate before emerging into a truly transformed post-liminal state... Let us allow ourselves to “get comfortable being uncomfortable”, then transform that to a positive, to “love being liminal”!”

This week I am back in Cayman, one of my two countries (call me a “Tartan Turtle”, if you will, a Scot and a Caymanian). I had coffee with a colleague I worked with for a decade, starting back in 2002. We remembered moments, told stories, reflected on where we and other colleagues are now. However, I now reflect on how few “endings” were marked and remembered then or now.

That reflection comes from reading Tim Leberecht’s article. In work and in life, we have many endings, yet we have too few rituals to honour endings. When we do honour endings, we often find it easier to do so with bubbly and positive energy, finding it far less comfortable to honour endings with rituals around sadness, grief, loss.

On a personal and professional level, I am on my own Modern Elder journey (you can search this site for numerous references to this term and movement) and also, friends among you in this community know I’ve been in quite a “liminal” space myself personally and professionally.  I pause to contemplate the importance of honouring that liminality, both happy and sad, all is part of being in transition from one space to the next.

Somehow, being in Cayman, I think of funerals.

In Cayman, I have been to quite a number, including sudden departures of dear friends gone far too soon. People from throughout the community attend, whether or not they know the personal well. It is a mark of respect to them, to their family, to the whole community and culture. Once one arrives, the flow of the ritual is to first allow true sadness to be exposed and explored, including through use of open caskets that can bring out often screaming catharsis. However, the mastery of the ritual, particularly when lead by such loving masters as Pastor Randy von Kanel here in Cayman, is to shift from grief to celebration of life. To recognise a passage as something to be honoured in all ways, from deep sadness and loss to joy and happiness.

In the UK, however, I’ve found it somewhat jarring to find how different it is, perhaps from the culture of the British “stiff upper lip” of not showing emotion openly. Often there is a small service for a few people in a crematorium chapel for only thirty minutes mid-morning on a weekday, then tea and sandwiches and awkward small talk standing around in a hotel function room. I have always found something very much missing in such rituals and will always be grateful for the creation of a magical few hours for hundreds of people when the great Ed Pervical left us around three years ago, as captured later that same day by Roger Philby with this piece to mark the occasion: My Hero, Ed Percival – 3 Great Bits of Advice.

So, back to Andrés Iniesta, who joined Barcelona at aged 12, 22 years with the club, the most decorated and honoured player in Spanish history. Tim finishes the article :

“Barca’s motto, “més que un club” — “more than a club” — …transcends mere competition. ….Once the party was over, keeping the stadium open for Iniesta served no practical function. It made Barca no profits and won it no points. But it was in keeping with its ethos, its style. That night, the club lost one of its top players and won its fans an indelible memory: an image of raw humanity connecting them to their own. That is the power of organizations that take endings seriously.

Here is a short video of Iniesta alone in the middle of Camp Nou after midnight after his final game. {My son Alex taught me that one can choose in the setting on the Youtube video to auto-translate to English and close caption the commentary. I love learning from younger people, particularly my sons !}

As someone who spent most of his adult life in the Americas rather than Europe, I recognise the importance of different cultural icons, so I am also reminded of the film made as an ad on the retirement of “#2”, Derek Jeter, another “one club” player, this time playing baseball for the NY Yankees. His entire final season was one where he was honoured at every game (as was Iniesta), and this ad moves me so much every time I watch it. So many of those “tipping the hat” will only be truly recognised by those who spent their lives in the Americas, yet we can all recognise “Re2spect” when we see it.

I’m a Tartan Turtle, a mongrel, so let me mangle my metaphors even more as a cycling fan and simply reflect, remember and respect. Chapeau, Derek Jeter. Chapeau Andrés Iniesta. Chapeau Ed Percival.

Let us take endings seriously, and let us allow ourselves to feel everything about them, to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Every ending is also leaving space for new beginnings.