“Houston, Mission Accomplished.”
Those were the words from the crew of Atlantis after completing its final mission, marking the end of the 30-year Space Shuttle Program. Greeting those words were a mixture of cheers, tears, and questions about the next step in human spaceflight. All of these are natural, when one considers the lifecycle.
Everything has a lifecycle, whether it is teams, projects, organizations, companies, even ourselves. The natural flow of a lifecycle is in one direction, from birth, to rapid growth, maturity, dénouement, and ending. Because it is a cycle, it repeats itself – each ending leads to a rebirth, to new growth, and so on. “Wheels stop” ofAtlantis symbolically marks the fifth stage of the lifecycle of the Space Shuttle Program itself, that of ending. The ending stage captures communication of accomplishments and learning from the experience. Celebration, cleansing, and preparing for the renewal and rebirth to come occurs here in the fifth stage.
Each of us experiences the fifth stage differently. For some, it is a time of somber reflection. For others, its an eagerness to get on with the next grand challenge. I won’t be so trite as to say (unlike others) that there is only one way and one timetable to experience the ending stage. My own with the shuttle occurred in 1998, yet I certainly won’t begrudge those who are experiencing it now, or criticize you for “looking back” when we supposedly need to be “looking ahead” right this very minute. There is a time and place for everyone to experience the ending stage. For my colleagues who supported the Space Shuttle Program through the end, please take your time, savor the accomplishments you helped bring to reality, discover those nuggets of meaning from your experiences and contributions, and prepare yourself for the new challenges to come.
You’ve earned it.
Text © 2011 Joe Williams
Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls