This post was originally written for the Student Leader Collective, a community of student leaders sharing ideas on how to become more awesome, in May 2014. The Student Leader Collective no longer exists, so I am reposting this here.
It’s hard to leave. It’s always going to be hard to leave. It’s like there’s something stitched in our DNA that makes it feel nearly unbearable to let people and places go.
— Hannah Brencher
Goodbye’s the saddest word you’ll ever hear. It’s also the saddest word you’ll ever say. And May, the month that marks the end of a school year, that marks graduation, is the month of goodbyes.
I’m not entirely sure I understand goodbyes. I said goodbye to junior high school without a problem. I left high school without a trace of sadness. But it’s like once I got to university, every goodbye became a heartwrenching, emotional one.
For my first two years of university, I lived in residence, and leaving residence after second year was one of the hardest goodbyes I’d ever had to say up to that point. For two years, my friends had lived just down the hall, and were a constant presence in my life. Now, we were scattering to other buildings to work as residence assistants, or moving out into our own apartments. It felt like the end of an era. My friends were no longer going to be a hallway sprint away. There was going to be no one to go to at 3am when I was trying to finish a lab report. No more Friday nights sitting in the hallways eating mozza sticks. No more wasting time away playing Super Mario in the lounge.
The majority of the time I spent packing, I also spent crying. I was not ready for this.
Leap forward a year. I had just spent a year being an RA on Dalhousie’s downtown campus, and had just received my placement for the next year- I was moving back up to main campus to work in a different building, with a different team. Regardless of the fact that I had told my boss that I was fine with being moved months earlier, being confronted with the reality of that goodbye changed everything. I did NOT want to go.
Jump forward another year, and I was graduating. They don’t tell you this up front, but I’m pretty sure “graduation” is a synonym for “say goodbye to everyone and everything that means the world to you.” I was saying goodbye to the classmates I had spent four years in class with, to my fellow society members, to my life in residence. I was saying goodbye to a whole lot of my friends, as they moved else where to continue school, or moved back home, leaving me behind. And, perhaps most terrifyingly, I was saying goodbye to a certainty where I always knew what tomorrow would bring.
Saying goodbye sucks, and is absolutely, 100% terrifying. You never know what you’re going to find on the other side of goodbye. It will likely be the last time you see some people. It will be the beginning of infrequent Facebook interactions with others. Sometimes those that you hold closest will start to drift away. The patterns and habits that you’ve become used to will suddenly make no sense. The support network that you’ve steadily built over the years will start to grow holes.
The other side of goodbye isn’t always terrible though. You may find new friendships and relationships, new opportunities, a new support network. All the terrible things you thought were going to happen may never happen at all. After leaving residence in second year, it’s true that I didn’t see my res-friends as often. But we began to form a new sort of friendship, and four years later, I still consider many of them to be my best friends. We may not be with each other for the every day moments, but we’re still there when it matters, and for the big things- you wouldn’t believe how much I spend on mailing costs for them! And spending less time with them allowed me to form new relationships with others, relationships which have greatly impacted my life.
Moving from one building to another as an RA may not have been a goodbye I wanted to make, but it was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me. It was a goodbye to complacency and comfort, and in the end, a good reminder to never settle and always keep pushing yourself- and a reminder that sometimes other people know what’s best for you, and you just have to trust them. As much as I loved my old boss, my new boss was more my style, the team expectations were more in line with what I believed, and my new team took me in like I had always been there. I felt more at home there than I ever had before.
Saying goodbye when there is nothing waiting for you on the other side (ie. graduation, for many) is extremely unsettling. Nobody wants to launch themselves into nothingness- we much prefer to cling to the past instead. Don’t do this. Embrace the nothingness. Use your newfound free time to explore the things you like and care about, to try things you’ve never done before. Use the nothingness to shrug off all expectations, and set out on a journey that is truly of your choosing. After graduating, I ultimately choose to do a fifth year of school (for fun!), and I swear it was the best life choice I’ve ever made. I had opportunities and was involved in projects in my fifth year that helped me determine what I wanted to do with my future, and these opportunities gave me the experience that will help get me there.
Goodbye is the saddest word you’ll ever say. It means that something is ending, that something is changing. Give yourself permission to be sad, to cry, to wallow in misery- but only for awhile. Then dry your tears, and give yourself permission to think about the opportunities this goodbye could give you- opportunities to start down a new path, to challenge yourself, or maybe to rejuvenate a relationship.
Goodbye’s can be sad, but they can also have so much potential.
What goodbyes have you said lately? How are you turning these goodbyes into positive experiences? Share your stories in the comments!