Leaving Well

Having left more than a few places, and on a variety of terms, I have a few thoughts to share about what it looks like to leave well.

  • Fighting
    • Most of us find it easier to be angry than sad. When we’re hurt, we default to anger.
    • It’s easier to go out fighting than to just go out wounded. Therefore, you will be tempted to find things to fight about.
    • I have seen massive division and destruction come from succumbing to this temptation.
    • Part of what’s wrong with it is that when you’re finding things to fight about, you will rarely pick the real issues. You will pick the fight you think you can win — or at least the one where you can do the most damage to the other side. And there is no surer road to irreconcilable differences than fighting about things that are beside the point and ignoring the real issues.
  • Learning the wrong lessons
    • We often learn the wrong lessons. Be willing to reconsider the lessons later. It might feel right now, and there may be some truth to it — but the lesson may need to be modified later.
  • Throwing Spears
    • Read Tale of Three Kings. Don’t be a Saul or an Absalom.
    • Understand that your organization may actually value and reward Saul/Absalom behavior. Sometimes it’s accidental, but you’d be surprised how often they know exactly what they’re doing.
    • Determine ahead of time that you will not accept that from yourself, regardless. Membership in an organization is not worth your soul.
  • Severing Ties
    • You need not be hesitant about cutting ties to the parts of the thing that are no longer your business or aren’t productive. “Not my circus, not my monkeys” can be your mantra…internally.
    • Externally, there’s no need to be snarky about it. You can just say, “I’m not sure who’s responsible for that now – why don’t you ask around and find out?”
    • You aren’t required to sever all ties, even if they want you to. Personal relationships don’t just evaporate because the organizational relationship has changed or ended. Keep your friends.
    • You will be surprised at which friendships stay, and which ones evaporate.
    • When a friendship you were counting on evaporates unexpectedly, it’s okay to be hurt — that’s completely natural. But don’t force it, and don’t go to war with the person that hurt you. It’s a waste of effort, and it won’t get you what you want anyway.
  • Loose Ends
    • The more professional the organization, the less this is a factor — the contents of your desk are boxed up by security while HR is giving you the bad news, you’re escorted from the building, and that’s that.
    • In less formal situations, there will often be phone calls later — “Hey, where are the _____?” Or “How did you do _______?” When you get that phone call, don’t be a jerk.
    • That said, those calls can be painful. Try to set it up so you don’t have to deal with that later. Tie up the loose ends. Transfer responsibilities. Tell someone where to find the key to the paper towel dispenser. Then when people call you, refer them to that person: “You’ll need to check with ______. I don’t know what he’s done with it since I’ve been gone.”
  • Tell the Truth
    • You and the other actors involved did what you did. Own your part of it, and let the others own theirs. If they canned you, say so. If they had good reason, admit it. If you think their reasons are nonsense, say that. If they never gave a reason, you can say that too.
    • Hide nothing. Gossip thrives on secrecy and the appearance of secrecy. Defuse it with total openness.
    • Don’t hide your feelings either. If it’s painful, say so. If you’re kinda relieved, admit it. Don’t lie.
    • Care for the People…including the ones responsible for the separation. You don’t get to ignore the golden rule, even if they did.
    • Organizations are totally dispensable; they are vehicles that travel a certain distance in time and space, and then fall apart. Don’t feel at all bad about dropping or walking away from an organization.
    • People are another matter. People are eternal, and are of incalculable value. Don’t make the mistake of treating the people as gears in the organizational machine. Treat them as people, no matter how you were treated.
  • Changing Relationships
    • Some of the relationships you had were built entirely on you representing the organization. Those relationships will go away or transfer to someone else in the organization. If you were a barista, your customers won’t come to your house to get coffee from you instead of the shop. They won’t even follow you to your new shop — they had a relationship with the shop, and your personal identity was largely irrelevant.
    • Some of the relationships were more personal, and they will endure. You may be surprised which are which.
    • The relationships that endure will change, because the rhythms of the relationship have changed. The transition changes when you see each other, in what context, how often, and so on. That will change the relationship, often in unpredictable ways.
  • Unintended Consequences
    • Take a long look at what you’re being spared here. In what ways has the separation liberated you?
    • Don’t assume you know what the separation means for the future. Many things change.

I’m hoping to turn all this into a booklet one day. Let me know what you think — if I fleshed it out, is this something you would buy, read, give away?

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