When I was in high school, I had a job at a restaurant. At one point, being a mature 16-year old, I wanted to quit. I didn’t just want to quit. I wanted to tell the boss off and storm out of the place.
I was talking to my dad about it. He told me that I shouldn’t be burning bridges like that.
“Dad, I’m not going to set anything on fire.” I responded.
He had to explain to me that burning bridges was an expression for cutting ties without any chance of returning. He also said, “You never know when you may need to return back there. You don’t want to make unnecessary enemies.”
I ended up heeding my father’s good advice. I still remember it and follow it after all of these years. It ended up serving me well about a decade later.
When I avoided burning bridges
I was once part of a downsizing with the consulting firm that I worked for. I was told to turn in my laptop and badge. I was given a small severance and shown the door.
At a time like that, even the most level headed person tends to get emotional. After all of those long and hard hours, you’re just throwing me on the street? I have a family to feed. There may be desire to send an email to everyone you know at the company and trash the powers that be. That will show them.
I worked in the greater Chicago area. That’s a big city. What would the harm be in casting out against the company that no longer sees any value in me?
I did send an email. Not one like I just described though. I sent an email to anyone I had worked with or met with to thank them for helping me to grow over the past few years. I thanked them for their friendship and asked them to keep in touch.
The non-burning bridges – re-spanned
Not long after that, I ended up being offered a job at another consulting firm. After a period of orientation they had a possible assignment for me. They wanted me to be a project manager for a retail client they had just acquired. I just had to meet with one of the managers there to be approved.
You can imagine my surprise when the manager turned out to be a woman named Sue. She was one of the colleagues from my former firm that I had included on my farewell email. She ended up being the victim of another round of layoffs after mine. She was then hired by her former retail client – my new one.
Needless to say, she liked me. She approved me even before we met. I was very glad I hadn’t burned bridges at my former firm.
In the stress of dealing with clients and not so supporting managers within your firm, there may be a tendency to burn bridges and speak your mind before leaving. No matter how disgruntled you are when leaving a job, burning bridges are likely to come back and haunt you.
Have you ever regretted burning bridges in your career?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com