Exit Plan: The Right Way to Walk Away

Recently, a colleague told me about a co-worker who abruptly quit. The office manager worked overtime to reshuffle workloads to make sure customer deadlines were met. Everyone was stressed. It is considered a courtesy to give employers a two-weeks notice before leaving a job. In the heat of the moment, professionalism was put on the back burner for various reasons. Still, at the end of all relationships, including professional ones, there is a right way to walk away. How? Let’s go on a journey….

The Hero's Journey

In a previous post, I shared my admiration for Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces. I believe the book not only exposes similarities in our tribal narratives, but it also explains humanity’s exploration to self-awareness. I truly believe we are heroes of our own stories. Our purpose is to live the best version of ourselves.

On the way to self-awareness, the hero must travel through the Road of Trials. At this stage, heroes are given a mirror to look deep inside themselves to uncover areas in need of growth. For an example, in The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy met a scarecrow who wanted a brain, a tin woodman who lacked a heart and a cowardly lion who didn't have courage. They already possessed these traits, but needed validation from someone else. If we are open, relationships can teach us about ourselves. One theory of synchronicity is everything is connected in some way. 

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy learned life lessons from the people she met on her journey:

Emotional Need
Life Lessons for Dorothy
Knowledge is important.
Tin Woodman
Have empathy for yourself and others.
Cowardly Lion
Do not be controlled by fear.

Emotional Triggers

Before the co-worker quit, the person had an unfriendly interchange with management. The conversation may have led to the abrupt decision to leave the job without planning. Emotional triggers cause us to react to present day events using behaviors we learned in the past. In her article, "5 Techniques to Heal Your Emotional Triggers", Dr. Judith Orloff defines emotional triggers as, “…super-reactive places inside you that become activated by someone else’s behaviors or comments...When triggered, you may either withdraw emotionally and simply feel hurt or angry or respond in an aggressive way that you will probably regret later...Emotional triggers are wounds that need to heal.” When we overreact emotionally to situations it is because we are reliving events from the past that are unresolved. It may take years of soul searching, tears, late night talks with family and friends and therapy before we can fully recover from past hurts. However, until we make peace with the past, our future will be a sequel to a movie that never ends. 

Here are suggestions on how to leave relationships gracefully:

1.     Develop an Exit Plan: If you are unhappy with a relationship, develop an exit plan and leave gracefully. In the business world, contracts are written with clauses on how to handle disputes. Prenuptial agreements determine how couples will divide property at the end of a marriage. You can use these tactics in your personal and professional relationships. If a job is not working out for the best, give yourself plenty of time to look for a new one. Be tactful and give your employer a minimum two-weeks notice. 

2.     Communication is Key: Before terminating a relationship, communicate your feelings with all parties involved. Misunderstandings happen when we think people can read our minds. The co-worker who quit could have gotten help from management by requesting a private meeting. Each situation is different. Do what is best for you. Some companies have policies and procedures to remedy employee discomfort. Try not to wait until things are about to explode before letting your feelings be known. In my post about Compassionate Disagreements, I talk about the importance of considering alternative points of view. If your efforts are ignored, then it is time to make a change.

3.     Build a Support System: Preferably, your support system are colleagues who are knowledgeable about your profession, business or community. They are trustworthy, honest and respect you. They do not have to be close friends. When we surround ourselves only with close friends, it is easy for confirmation bias and groupthink to ensue. Our friends might agree with us even when we make irrational decisions because they do not want to lose the friendship or do not know how to help us. We need people in our lives with courage and who are not afraid to tell us the truth. Discuss your plans to leave a circumstance with your support system. Carefully consider their insights.   

4.     Avoid Slander: Resist talking badly about your previous employer or friends with others even if you had an unfortunate experience. The new employer might think you will do the same thing to them. People may avoid confiding in you if you are known to gossip. The world is small, and you never know who knows who. An easy way to make enemies is to talk about people in a negative way. Consider the experience a lesson learned and move on. If you need to talk about it, confide in a therapist or a close confidant. Writing down your feelings in a journal can also provide an emotional outlet.

5.     Respond Carefully: In the days of social media, be cautious when responding publicly to stressful situations. Some people have lost their jobs after leaving angry messages on Facebook. Anyone can film your public angry outburst and put the video on YouTube. There’s a time and a place for everything; choose wisely.

6.    The Dangers of Making Decisions When Angry: When we are angry, our ‘fight or flight’ instinct takes over. We do not think rationally. Give yourself a cooling off period before ending a relationship. Make time to consider both the pros and cons of leaving or staying. Seek professional mediation if necessary. Even if you get an angry email, wait 24-hours before responding. Be careful when talking to family members when you are frustrated. Once we say or write something unpleasant, we can never turn back the clock. Apologizing after the fact is not always enough to replace hurtful words.

Master Your Emotions

In his book, The 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene says,

 “The most important of these skills, and the power’s crucial foundation, is the ability to master your emotions. An emotional response to a situation is the single greatest barrier to power, a mistake that will cost you a lot more than any temporary satisfaction you might gain from expressing your feelings.”  

In other words, the ability to master your emotions is just as important as any acquired college degree, business or skill. Your success in relationships depends on your ability to think clearly through conflicts and to not be controlled by emotional reactions. I am not advocating passive-aggressive behavior. When the time comes, defend yourself and speak up for what is right. Seek justice. There is a time and a place for everything. When it is time to fight, then fight. At the same time, pick your battles wisely. From the Art of War by Sun Tzu - Sometimes You have to crouch to conquer.

The famous poet Maya Angelou said, I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." I have seen people lose their jobs after an emotional outburst at work. They later regretted their behavior. Relationships are forever scarred after someone calls a family member a derogatory name in the heat of an argument. Anger can be used as energy to motivate change, but it can also destroy. Like the wise Yoda said from Star Wars, “Fear is a path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."

It takes courage to walk away from situations with the same hope and confidence we had in the beginning. A graceful exit shows emotional maturity and trust in new beginnings. A true test of character is shown by how we begin relationships, and by how we end them.

What do you think?  Please share your comments.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay retrieved from https://pixabay.com/photos/sand-footsteps-footprints-beach-768783/.