A mentor I had years ago said to me, “Hardwick, leaving is the hard part, and you should do it better than how you arrived.”
Recently, a client of our firm had a valuable team player tender his resignation, and he did it well. He gave a month’s notice. Organized all his projects. Handed his HR partner resumes of prospective backfills. He wanted his soon-to-be-former employer to feel respected and appreciated, even though it was time to move on. As a result, he behaved in a way that was self-respecting. He honored what he learned, the importance of the work he loved, and the people with whom he formed deep connections.
Goodbyes often happen after a lot of real-life, grown-up, you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me experiences. Goodbyes might follow disappointments and tough conversations. Goodbyes may come after the rules of engagement change to accommodate the ebbs and flows in life and at work. New people joining the team, the work getting more demanding, or expectations being raised. In order to be healthy at work and in life, we need to learn to adjust, to be flexible. We also need to be willing to look within and recognize that sometimes it is necessary to leave in order to pursue what really matters to us. But doing so is complex; is leaving really necessary, or is there something about ourselves that should be addressed?
Yes, goodbyes are hard. The time leading up to them is often even harder, as we wrestle with what is working and what is not, and the temptation to get out of Dodge as quickly as possible weighs on us. In these moments, be patient. You can’t run away from what you bring to the party, even if you find ways to blame your boss, criticize colleagues, or act self-righteous. I have known people who are swiping left on dating apps while still in committed relationships, all because they are struggling with accepting what is, in fact, true (about themselves and their partner). As a result, they look for an excuse to leave. We all know where that crazy train leads.
Those who say goodbye well manage their stress as they plan for and say goodbye. They accept reality, including being accountable for their stuff. They have had empathetic, honest conversations. They balance self-care with commitments made. They learn from feedback, and instead of lashing out, leave with their head held high. They understand the world is a small place and karma is, well, karma.
It is okay when things no longer work at work or at home. People have the right to decide not to sign up for the office drudgery day in and day out. It is okay that Aunt Bertha is dying and you need to take care of her. It is to be celebrated that you are learning the importance of self-compassion and deeply honoring your needs. And yet, for the love of all that is sacred, know you will be remembered for how you leave and – this should be even more concerning – all will be discovered about the quality of your work and emotional wholeness when you are gone. The shadow we cast when we leave can be very dark. Or the light that lingers can still glow brightly.
Good goodbyes are just one way we show those around us what it is like to take care of ourselves: truly, deeply. To leave others with an abiding sense of our grace, strength, and self-respect. And as we take care of ourselves and are accountable, those around us feel respected and are more apt to mourn our departure as opposed to celebrating it. These are the elements that create a life worth living, a love worth honoring, and work worth our everything.
Karen Hardwick is a consultant with decades of expertise as a trusted advisor and coach to C-level and senior executives, their teams, and organizations. You can learn more about her work, and her unique Connected Leader model, on her website.
This article originally appeared in Karen Hardwick’s The Connected Leader newsletter.