With a sharp click, the door closed behind me. It was my last day at EMPLOYERS, a job that had spanned 4.5 years and encompassed all of my major life events so far. I graduated with my MBA, adopted my favorite, furry companion, completed my first IRONMAN triathlon (and many more), married my best friend, turned some vaguely important age between 10 and 100, and purchased a home. That was a lot, and I highly doubt that I will soon be forgetting the 2013-2017 era in my life. This was the second time I decided to leave a job I loved, but this time it was more emotionally charged…
At work, I was the guy with the cool desk, not because there was anything radical on it, but because my personality was smattered all over it. Iron Man and Wolverine memorabilia from the comics and Marvel movies, University of Nevada swag, strange magnetic balls that were supposed to help you think more creatively, hilarious Dilbert clippings, not-so-subtle video game references, an endless pile of Pyrex dishes containing the bountiful calories for the day, Star Wars Micro Machines poised for battle, and my favorite, the “Mood of the Day” calendar, all prominently displayed for comment from passers by. We all spend a lot of time at work, and I would be remiss in thinking that I’m going to be there for hours and hours and not at least enjoy my work space… It was shocking how easy it was to fit everything I value into just a few cardboard boxes.
Good morning, Renooooooo! I am beginning my fourth week at a brand new job. A job I am learning to love, a job with new opportunities and challenges, and most importantly, a job with people who want to solve problems for their customers, no matter what. That’s an exciting place to be!
This was my fourth career move since graduating college, and I can’t help but think about everything that I’ve learned across the previous three jobs. I see the “kids” in college these days and realize that that was me… eight freaking years ago. Ugh!
For today, here’s a few tips for how to successfully leave a job that you love (hint: it’s far more art than it is science).
Be Forthcoming About Why You’re Leaving (And Don’t Feel Guilty) – I left amidst some chaos and turmoil, but it truly was not why I left. It’s amazing what people will say or ask you when you’re on your way out, but I made it clear my intentions were to pursue a new, challenging opportunity, and that I was also very blessed to have been able to work at EMPLOYERS for so long. It was a wonderful chapter in my career and so much happened there that I would not be the Russell that I am today without those experiences. I did have days where I was very heavy with guilt for “abandoning” my colleagues, and those feelings took me a very long time to deal with. Towards the end, I found confidence in my decision and was glad to be able to tell people I found a new place to work that was exciting. Bonus: I still got to stay in the Reno! It’s not always that easy, and I do feel very grateful to have found that.
Strengthen the Bridges – I have heard many horrible stories about people who have left like a ship in the night. No goodbyes, no reasons, just poof – a magical disappearance. This can leave a lot of bitterness, not just to the employee’s supervisor, but amongst colleagues as well. Again, we all spend a lot of time together, it’s hard to watch someone you enjoy working with just vanish. I have found that when I leave a job I love, it’s imperative to strengthen my relationships with those who have been a joy to work with. I carve out time to see them outside of work, to stay engaged in their lives, but to also let them know that they matter now because they mattered when we were peers. A bridge worth building is a bridge worth maintaining (please take note, Uncle Sam)!
Engage Genuinely and Personally – When I first left the University of Nevada in 2013, I was leaving a department of six, and gave them an eight month heads up. Leaving EMPLOYERS, our IT department alone was almost 75. I had plenty of friends in the business that I worked with, had built relationships with, and would genuinely miss. With just under two weeks of time, it required that I make a very concerted effort to leave with a genuine yet personal touch, because that’s what I would want someone to do with me if they cared about our working relationship as much as I did.
I spent a very un-fun (borderline painful and sad) three hours one night writing emails to make sure I let many colleagues know I was on my way out. I tried to include a fun story or memory of our work together, and to thank them for their involvement in my life as a mentor or coach, or just a colleague who made it enjoyable to suffer through problems together. Some of those emails were easier to write than others, and I saved the heartbreaking ones for last. You really learn a lot about yourself when you have to think back over years and years and boil it into a departure note.
Something else I did, and I’m so glad that I did, was to make sure I said goodbye to as many as possible in person. There’s just something special about a hug and a thank you for their impact on your life. For anyone to tolerate me for a year is impressive; almost five is just nigh unbelievable. People often assume that their jobs work for them and that they should expect something out of it – really, it’s the other way around. How did you affect the lives of others? Did you improve theirs as much as they improved yours? It’s with that fondness that you have to approach your departure from any company. Be yourself, and thank those around you who helped make you who you are. It is so, so very worth it…
Mourn (But Celebrate) – I handle stress like a champ. My modus operandi is to pile on as much stress as I can handle, in a healthy way, and to dive in head first. Triathlons, hikes, international travels, home projects – I bite off more than I can chew quite a bit. What many people don’t know is that on the other side of that adventurous, tough, go-getter attitude is a very sensitive side. I have a very strong and pointed sense of justice, and hate seeing it abused or misrepresented. I also try to be very in touch with my feelings as much as possible, (a blog about manly crying is on its way), and just happen to use my triathlon training as a good outlet for coming to terms with what’s going on inside my head.
This year was particularly tough… I was changing jobs just a few days before my fifth and final IRONMAN, something I trained seven months for. Ask my wife, she’ll tell you how much I wasn’t around. Towards the end of my tenure at EMPLOYERS, I carved out time to go and train on my favorite bike course around Lake Tahoe and Truckee. I call it the Tahoe Crazy 8 for a reason – it’s effing crazy! That route is my annual test for the “A” race that I’m getting ready for. It’s how I know I’m ready… and it certainly isn’t short. July 8th just wasn’t a date meant for fun. I learned that a friend lost two of their furry companions, I was a few weeks out from leaving my job but couldn’t tell anyone because the paperwork was delayed, and I could feel the vice tightening more and more, and just lost it before I had even gotten on my bike.
Was I making the right choice? What if I’m wrong? Maybe I should just bear the stress a few months longer… the grip was closing and I had a few breakdowns throughout the ride. (Plus, I did actually have three flat tires that day as icing on the cake – not nearly as cool as it sounds).
They day ended up being a celebration, as well as a time for mourning, because I finally came to terms with my decision. I found it in my heart to admit that I was scared as crap, but that I knew great things were coming. How often is an opportunity handed to you where you get interviews before applying for a job? Not very… the mental and emotional transformation took a lot longer than just a six hour bike ride, but it was during that training session that I really experienced the full gamut of my emotions. Holy cow, the ups and downs. Whew… I wasn’t mourning the unknown of the future so much as I was the loss of what I currently had. The camaraderie, work that was familiar, and people I trusted. It was all changing.
Thankfully, there is consistency to be had in cycling that can help bring an element of calm. The bike rolls when you pedal it, and is always ready to let loose on a warm, summer day when you need to unleash the beast. That’s reliability! Keep your eyes on the road, and celebrate what awaits around the corner.
Look Back, But Only Once – In racing, the two things I promise myself are A) to find a way to the finish line no matter what, and B) to never, ever look behind me for competitors who may be nipping at my heels. Surprisingly, the latter is almost more difficult. It takes a will and focus to not wonder what’s coming up on your six, but that’s what is beautiful about the race course – ahead of you is the open road, your patterned breathing, your arms and legs swinging, and the gorgeous, crisp sky beckoning you onward. Looking back only slows you down and distracts your focus.
As you depart somewhere that you loved, it’s easy to look back and wonder about the “what ifs” or to shy away from the future because it’s unknown and scary. Yeah, I mean, the future could totally suck, but could you forgive yourself for not seizing an opportunity? I know that I couldn’t.
I haven’t always been bold and daring, but when I am, only amazing things happen, and they aren’t always positive (at first) either. There are growing pains as you are stretched and molded in new and unrelenting ways, and a new organization with a new culture and new people means you’re out in the wild, forging through a newness you don’t understand, trying to rediscover yourself. Identity is a precious thing, and it can be a little nerve wracking putting pieces back together…
If you’re going to look back, and you should, use it as a tool as you’re already on the way out the door.
Look back for the sake of remembering, not for the sake of hiding where it’s safe. Look back for the promise of hope, because the future can only shine brighter and fuller when you make a leap of faith. Look back once, and press on with a warm fondness in your heart for past experiences.
As I walked down the last flight of stairs and out of the building, my bobblehead collection looked up at me encouragingly from inside my cardboard box of desk effects, wobbling away with googly, friendly eyes that were almost empathetic. I was heading for an unfamiliar, terrifying chapter, and everything I knew was ending today… or was it just beginning?
With a sharp click, the door closed behind me.