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The UnGraceful Exit | How to Not Burn the Bridge when leaving a Job

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In my 30+ year span in the world of employment, I had a whopping 3 jobs. THREE! Two fifteen-year stints in the office products retail industry (for two different companies) and a summer job picking sweet corn.

I can honestly say I never acquired any experience in how to properly leave a job since I left so few. BUT, how I left the two longest employment stints is something I am NOT proud of at all and you’all can learn from my missteps.

The UnGraceful Exit | The First Time I Burned the Bridge

Back in the mid-1990’s I left my first job, my first real 9-5,  to go work for the competition. This is always a very sticky situation even if it is a positive move or not. My exit was less-than-graceful to say the least.

They always say that when you leave a job, you should do your best to “not burn the bridge,” but I can safely say I burned that bitch to.the.ground in the most unprofessional way possible.

Looking back, I’m mortified, but I still have few regrets…especially since the place unexpectedly closed its doors for good two month later.

The lesson I learned was to always try to leave a job on good terms and in a graceful and professional possible. Even if it damn near kills you. You want to do this so you can not only sleep at night, but to maintain your credibility, integrity and sanity. Making a graceful exit can be extremely difficul. Making an un-graceful one is unfortunately a little too easy (and damaging to all involved).

The UnGraceful Exit| Bridge Damage #2

Ultimately, another 15 years later I chose to leave the job I left the first one for to pursue my dream of working from home.  I don’t think I totally “burned” the bridge the second time, but it was definitely smoldering.

In my own defense I tried my best to make a graceful exit. I tried my best to fix a serious problems within the company and even my crappy attitude about the job I was doing… but there was no good solution.

Even though my intent was to leave the job with dignity, things went sideways pretty quickly. I am certain it was the pressure and frustration of years of unfairness and lack of leadership left me at a boiling point. Tempers flared (from all parties involved), attitudes (mainly mine) hit the skids and the end result was me leaving my former dream job a little ahead of schedule (code word for “I gave them two months notice and sent me packing in 5 days”).

There was some “employer behaving badly” things going on, but I own the fact I was no peach either.

Note to Everyone: Leave a job BEFORE you are pissed off as hell.

So after two Epic Fails in the Leaving a Job with Grace department, I am for sure no expert on how to do it right. I am however pretty well-versed on to do it wrong.

Here’s what you can avoid if you truly make a gracful and dignified exit from a job…and what you can potential lose if the poo hits the fans.

The UnGraceful Exit | Losing and Gaining

Lose | Your Status as a Key Employee: People can justify why they left a job until the cows come home, but its how they left that will tell the tale. It’s like the old performers adage that, you could play to a crowd of 1000 people who love you, but it’s the one unhappy one you tend to remember. The same applies to your work life. Obviously this is not true in every instance, but maintain credibility as a reliable (and hireable) person is super critical.

Gain |A Tattered Reputation That Can Follow You Like Toilet Paper Stuck to Your Heel: Keeping connections and contacts alive as leave your place of business is always a bonus. Not only will this help you as you grow your business and spread your brand, but also could (in a pinch) act as a lifeline if your business goes south and you need to make a return to the 9 to 5 world.

Lose | Confidence: Even though I left my last job the best that I could, and went to a role in my life where I am without a doubt the happiest I’ve ever been, it took me YEARS to get past the confidence hit I took when I left a place I formerly loved on a sour note.

Gain | A Trail of Ruined Friendships: Honestly, this might be the worst collateral damage of them all. I have people who were my besties for years who will not even so much as make eye contact with me when I run into them at the grocery store. My advice to you is, in your moment of heated anger or deep frustration at the company who employs you, don’t take it out on those you call “friend.”

The Take Away: If you absolutely, possibly can…leave your job the best possible way on the best possible terms even if it’s the craphole from hell. It may seem like the “easy way” to disappear or just stop showing up at your job thinking you will avoid the drama and discomfort. You couldn’t be more wrong. The hurt and baggage will linger with you far longer than the comfort of knowing you handled a difficult situation well.

You got this.

The Ungraceful Exit

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