Got any loose ends? You know what I mean. Unfinished business. Maybe it’s your 2015 New Year’s resolution you haven’t gotten around to yet? Dusting those office shelves? Cleaning out the sock drawer? Starting the new-you fitness plan? Hiring a life coach? Updating your company’s long-term business plan with new “strategery?”

You know the drill. Big things, little things, personal things, professional things—I know I’ve got loose ends, and I’m pretty sure you do, too.

A good friend of mine went through a painful breakup last fall. He is moving on. Slowly but surely, he’s working through the process of grieving what was lost, and he’s beginning to appreciate or at least see the possibility promised by that tired but true aphorism, “When one door closes, another opens.”

The title of today’s post actually hatched a couple months ago when I happened to mention this friend’s breakup to a complete stranger. I was out of town at an American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As) conference and was taking the opportunity to visit the friend, who also lives in that town.

After my morning meeting, driving to meet up for lunch, I realize I am almost out of gas. So I stop at a gas station and start to fill up my tank, when out of nowhere appears an attendant. (Are angels attendants?) He politely lets me know that theirs is a full-service station. I know there are a few of those left, but I don’t know this area, so I have no idea and must have been preoccupied enough to completely miss the bright red “Full Serve” sign I now see hanging over my head.

Turns out the guy dispensed pretty good advice as well as 87-grade Unleaded. He took over at the pump and, quickly deducing I was not a local, asked me what brought me there. I told him I was at a conference and then meeting a friend to share a pizza for lunch. In the back seat I had a special birthday gift, an acoustic guitar, for my friend who had never played guitar or even mentioned ever wanting to play. It was just a hunch my wife and I had that maybe it would be therapeutic for him as he recovered from the breakup. “I guess we’re hoping it becomes an instrument of change for him in the new year,” I deadpanned.

The gas station attendant shot right back with, “That’s exactly the kind of loose ends he should get after right now!” I looked at him, brow furled, puzzled, thinking of loose ends only as tasks we consciously know we’ve left unfinished. Things like overstuffed files and sock drawers. But he looked me in the eye and made his point, “A relationship ending is the perfect time to explore loose ends, things unresolved in our subconscious. Learning to play guitar might be one of the loose ends he never even knew he had.” I made a mental note of “loose ends,” thinking it would make a good title for something.

“Well, look at you, the gas station philosopher,” I replied. He liked that, judging by the smile that flashed across his face. Isn’t it funny how life sometimes puts just the right people in your path, even if just for the few minutes an encounter such as this lasts? People you never expect to meet. People you’ll probably never see again. People that say weird things like “loose ends.”

I thanked him sincerely for the help with the gas and for sharing his timely existential thoughts. He wished me a good day and my friend good luck. God, I miss Full Service sometimes.

And the guitar? We’ll see. I’ll have to let you know how learning to play works out for our friend, who last I heard had been busily breaking strings (more loose ends!) and learning the chords that comprise most songs. Here’s hoping that six-string truly does become an instrument of change in his life. Or at least a new trick for an old dog.

So how about you? What unresolved personal or professional issues are crying out in a whisper or a scream to you this year? Got your goals all nailed down tight? Or, like me, do you have some strings that need to be replaced or tuned up? Listen to those voices. Double down on your loose ends.

For me, it’s time to triple down on the writing thing. I’ve got to share some things I’ve learned, and continue to learn, along the way. I’ve come to know for example that wisdom cannot be communicated. But knowledge can. To that end, I am committed to writing even more than I did last year. My hope is that reading my stuff may help you as much as the writing helps me. And I hope you’ll write back. I’d love to hear from you.

I leave you today with an encouraging word from another writer named Steve with whom you may be more familiar.

“Be patient with yourself. Self-growth is tender; it’s holy ground. There’s no greater investment.” ~ Stephen R. Covey, writer and educator

Happy New Year!

By Steve Johnson

sdjohnson@riger.com