“Magical endings are a sham,” I said to my husband. 

Twelve hours after my daughter graduated from college, she sat on the couch across from me, sharing all sorts of emotions over her final days of college. 

Her own feelings forced me back in time, vis-a-vis my own goodbyes.  

High school graduation. 1995.

College four years later. 1999. 

Like my daughter, I had expected those goodbyes to be beautiful, heartfelt, cinema-worthy. 

But instead, most were hurried and void of emotion. We had futures to start writing, lives to get to, families who wanted pictures. There was no time for any of us to write a storybook ending.  

“We’re taught to believe that endings should come with this amazing bow, as though all meaning and purpose show up when it all comes to an end, but that’s not how goodbyes ever happen,” I told him. 

We both fell silent, replaying the reel of our own lives.

I thought about my aunt’s death in 2014, brought far too soon thanks to the cold grip of cancer. In the last hours of her life, she fought against the finality of death, and as her family stood around her – watching in total surrender – my mom turned to my oldest sister and asked through her own sobs of grief, “Is this it?” 


As though this couldn’t be the end because it was too soon, too violent, too unfair. 

But it was it, and “it” didn’t come beautifully. 

There was no sense to be made of the story unfolding, no dots to connect, no theme that reinforced the meaning of life. 

When she finally crossed the veil, we all just felt robbed of a life cut too short, and if I’m being honest, I think we all still feel robbed, still trying to make palatable sense of it all.

This, I’ve come to learn, is the difference between real life and the stories we’re allowed to make up. 

In her 2015 Atlantic article, Julie Beck echoes this same lesson as she explores the intersection of story and meaning making. 

“Life rarely follows the logical progression that most stories—good stories—do, where the clues come together, guns left on mantles go off at the appropriate moments, the climax comes in the third act,” she says.

And it’s true.

Life is a whirlwind of story – a constant story that forces its way onto our path but never demands its truth to be acknowledged. 

In perhaps the most defining part of our humanity, we are storymakers who are desperate to make sense of the world around us, to still the chaos and the noise and the injustice of life.

We spend our entire lifetimes searching for beauty and goodness, unable to reconcile with the irony: making meaning of any of the stories unfolding before us rarely happens in the moment, and even more, we can’t always find that meaning on our own.

It feels a bit like a plot twist by the big man in the sky, if I’m being honest – being characters in a story that we cannot even deconstruct on our own. 

But Dan McAdams, professor of psychology at Northwestern University, urges me to think of it not as a struggle but more like an intentional design. 

As children, he says we approach our stories like we’re actors – merely role playing as daughters, sisters, brothers, friends without the full capacity to assign meaning to our experiences.

As we learn more about who we are outside of cultural expectations, we step into our stories as agents – teeter-tottering between our cultural roles and our own goals.

It’s not until we get older, McAdams says, that we’re able to step into the role of author – drawing fully coherent connections between our past and our future and making sense of all the life we’ve lived.

When I read those words by McAdams, I felt a tinge of vindication. Maybe I was right when I told my husband that magical endings are a sham – maybe it’s impossible to tie up the end of a chapter with a pretty bow simply because we haven’t lived far enough into our future to make enough sense of it all.

It’s plausible I’m only thinking through all of this right now, in this very moment, because my children are getting older, and (apparently) I’ve stopped getting younger. I have children graduating from high school, children graduating from college, children getting married, and the endings I’d love to write for all of it aren’t the endings that are actually slipping through my fingers.

So here’s what my current story is teaching me (even if I’m still slipping in and out of my own agent/author role): I cannot control the turning of the next page, and that feels weird and weird and weird. I can only peek ahead with anticipation and know that when I get to wherever my story is taking me next, I’ll be able to look back on these days and say that I held out my hands – fingers unfurled – knowing that when I look back with the full power to connect all my life’s dots, I will have lived my days full of love and without regret. 


If you’re ready to work with me on finding and telling your own story, here are 3 ways to get started: 

  1. Power Hour: Get clarity on your next step forward, or strategize on all the ways you can start telling a better story with this Power Hour Session.
  2. The Listening Tour: Get powerful customer insights so you can solve your most complex business problems, increase sales, and build winning offers.
  3. Brand Story Consulting: Start here if you’re ready to find and tell a story that proves your value, connects you with more right-fit clients, and moves your business to the next level.