How to exit gracefully

This post was inspired by the less-than-graceful departure of a colleague at work. Although this person had reasons for leaving that way, it’s better in the long run to exit gracefully. By doing so, you can preserve your reputation and maintain relationships you may need later. Even if you have no desire to work with certain people again, you never know when you will run into them. (For example, a company I left under difficult circumstances a long time ago recently moved next door to my current employer.) If you exit well enough, you can leave behind a legacy that will have people thinking well of you long after you’ve gone.

Here are some ways that you can exit gracefully, even if you have to do so unwillingly.

Fulfill your responsibilities

Once you’ve made the decision to exit, it’s easy to fall into the “short timer’s disease.” Don’t. If you’ve built a reputation for hard work and quality, don’t let it slip as you count down the days to your departure. If you leave behind a mess, that is what people will remember — not the good work you did before then. Work as hard as you always do, and people will remember you as a dedicated worker. Building a positive reputation also leaves the door open for an employer to rehire you later.

Prepare a smooth transition for your successors

This not only cements your reputation as a dedicated worker, it is your opportunity to build a legacy. When you teach others how to do your job, it becomes the way people continue to do it long after you’re gone. Your ability to build a legacy becomes a strong asset that you can show to prospective employers. You can demonstrate that you can do more than just the nuts and bolts of your job. You can create improvements that will benefit a company for years.

Control your emotions

This can be hard if we find ourselves leaving under difficult circumstances. Let’s say you were forced out by a difficult boss, a situation I was in years ago. You may be gone, but the boss who gave you woe is still there — and can continue to define (and downgrade) your reputation. If you stay “the better person,” the boss will continue to put you down, but the people who know you will be able to make up their own minds. (And don’t feel you can let loose after you have left. Word does get back to your former employer and the people you know.)

Maintain relationships

Continue to build the relationships with friends and colleagues from your former employers. This will require work on your part when you no longer have a job in common. These relationships are important, not simply because you will need them in the future, but they enable you to gain something lasting and enriching from your time at a place.

Appreciate the good gained from the experience

After exiting, the natural response is to forget the past and move on. We can’t. Every place we work, every experience we have, every person we contact — they all change us and become a permanent part of who we are. Regardless of how we leave, we need to honor the experience and appreciate the good we gained from it.

I still have good feelings towards the places where I’ve worked. Give me a choice of fast food places, and I would choose Carl’s Jr. My experiences at Haba contributed to my decision to buy a MacBook Pro. I’ve even stopped bristling whenever I pass the former employer who moved next door.

In the end, you need to exit gracefully for yourself, your career, and your self-respect. By leaving behind a good legacy, you can build a strong bridge to your future.