Ingrained in my subconscious is the phrase “don’t ever burn that bridge”. This is advice that I have used every time I have left a job or an interpersonal relationship. In essence, I have never told anybody to fuck off, not even when I should have, and believe me, there have been plenty of times when I should have. I have left employers and relationships with both friends and lovers with a perverbial knife in my back. Yet, instead of telling the truth, I have smiled through these transitions, maintained my professional decorum and most of the time have even said thank you. Once I think I even said, “I’m sorry. Did my back damage your knife?”
Silence has been my weapon. I’m like a ninja, who vanishes without a word. In retrospect this has not served my best interest, however avoiding confrontation at all costs is a survival skill I honed around the age of 4, and in my defense, it is human nature to do what we know. This vow of silence or preserving of bridges if you will, has stolen many opportunities for me to gain closure and defend myself. It may even be why I have such a hard time of letting go of toxic people and situations. Sorry. T.M.I.
I’ve had a misguided concept that appearing vulnerable is a sign of weakness, but the truth is therein lies our strength. I have remained polite, even in the messiest situations, usually because I of thinking “I may need this person again” or “what will people say”. I think not burning bridges has also been a “legitimate” crutch I have used to stay in my comfort zone by avoiding confrontation, but I’ve changed my mind. It is true, once words are said, they can not be taken back, however, isn’t it also true that the truth will set you free? And if you don’t speak up for yourself, then who will?
Where did this fear of burning bridges come from anyway? In cartoons when the princess is being chased by a dragon, she runs across a bridge, gets to the other side and quickly burns it down. The dragon is left snarling on the other side and she breathes a sigh of relief because she is safe now. She never regrets it. She never thinks, maybe the dragon will be nice in a few years, I better not burn this down. No, only we do that. But why would you ever again need a person who mistreated you in some way, professionally or personally? In the future, if your paths do cross again, shouldn’t you remember not to cross the bridge? And what better way than to not have it available to begin with?
Besides, any bridge that leads to that awful employer, the friend who cheated you, or lover who betrayed you leads to a bad place you have been to before. There is no need to preserve the option of returning. We don’t do this with other things in life. For example, if you go to a restaurant and get food poisoning, you don’t go back and try it again later, right? No! You avoid it at all costs. But interpersonally we use a different set of rules and I’m just suggesting that a different set of rules is not necessary.
This all came up for me when it was time for an exit interview at a job I held for less than three months. During the short employment there, my job was ironically to rebuild bridges that the place had burned. I worked diligently and with pure intention, ignoring the hostile environment and the sinking feeling that I didn’t belong there. I was riding it out because it is a core belief of mine that every person and experience that comes into your life is there to teach you something. I believe I was placed in that job to find my voice.
When I gave notice to the arrogant douchebag in charge and was asked to come in for an
exit interview, something in me was different this time. I couldn’t play the role. I searched for unaffected gracious Dre, but she was nowhere to be found. Instead, a brand new voice showed up and wrote a letter. Here is an excerpt of the closing from the especially long email I sent him in lieu of an exit interview:
I have worked under managers whom I did not have a great personal relationship with, however, they were still able to clearly communicate feedback, goals and expectations in a mature professional environment. Your lack of communication in the form of ignoring, sneaking and undermining may be indicative of a fear of confronting or dealing with people. Perhaps it was your hope that I would leave on my own, and if so, it worked because I did resign, however, I want to remind you that as a manager, it is your job to manage employees, and employees are also people. Employees need regular communication, should feel respected, should receive regular recognition, should feel empowered, and should work with positive management. Notice I have not used the word leader in this email. That’s because there is a difference between leaders and managers and at best you are the latter. You have been given the huge task of turning around the culture at Company Name. I suggest you start aggressively developing your management skills. From my perspective, you have a long way to go.
Mostly I feel free and happy for honestly speaking my mind for a change, but the cautious critic that lives in my head is still whispering doubts about burning the bridge with the company. My only regret is that because I was typing really fast and I just hit “send” when I finished it so I wouldn’t lose my nerve, I sent it in with a number of typos. Hopefully I will never have to do that again, but if I do, I’ll take my time with it. I also wish I had recommended this book to him:
Don’t worry about me friends. Weeks before my resignation, after a particularly hard day at work, I called a friend who I admire professionally to tell her I missed her, and wished we worked together because my company really could use her leadership. It just so happened that her company had an opening and it was that easy. I was thrown a lifeline. I scored a job working for an amazing group of people. It is near my home and I even got raise. This synchronicity is how God shows up in my life.
There is a book I will recommend to you dear reader called The Four Agreements. It is written by an amazing Mexican spiritual leader named Don Miguel Ruiz. I had the book by my side as I typed out my feelings. If you are not familiar with this powerful little book, please check it out. It will help you stay honest. His four agreements are not easy but necessary. They are:
1) Be impeccable with your words. Speak with integrity and say only what you mean. We shouldn’t gossip or speak against ourselves. We should use our Word in the direction of truth and love.
2) Don’t take anything personal. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
3) Don’t make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
4) Always do your best. Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.
I send you luck, love and light in your professional and personal life always. xo Dre
For more on The Four Agreements, click here