Whether it’s because I saw the movie 9 to 5 too many times in my youth, because I have a flair for the dramatic or even because of an early hunger for the freedom of entrepreneurship—I was prone to quitting fantasies in my early career. Just like the joys of starting a new relationship in which your partner seems infallible and the possibilities for a life together seem endless, the fresh start of a potential new job was intoxicating to me. A job where all bosses would be inspiring leaders, all colleagues would put out a helping hand to give you a career boost and all projects were apolitical—keeping the end-user in mind. These visions gave me some time to think about what a good resignation looks like and also conjure up your standard burning bridges scenarios. Having taken both approaches—there’s one I would call a "career lengthening" move, while the other simply brings Dolly, Jane and Lily to mind in some of the more cringe-worthy scenes.
When my clients are preparing for their big resignation moment, a moment that has run through their minds on a loop (often for months), we focus on hitting these points so they can live this experience in a way that feels true to them.
1. Address emotions ahead of time
Your meeting to announce your resignation with your direct boss is not the moment to begin processing ongoing grievances from your tenure at the company. Work with a friend, partner or professional to acknowledge your feelings of frustration, anger or disappointment so that you can walk into the meeting composed and confident.
2. Share only what feels comfortable to you
String together a narrative that feels positive and forward thinking so you can walk out the door on a high. Even if there have been tough moments in your role that have pushed you closer to your decision, it’s your choice whether you share them or not. Know that you are not hiding or shrinking if you choose to focus only on what you’re moving toward instead of what you’re leaving behind. You can set a boundary in your choice of narrative and there is always an opportunity to share more at a later date if you so choose.
3. Keep feedback constructive
If you feel compelled to share feedback on a colleague, manager or trend at the company, take time to craft your talking points so that they are actionable and helpful to moving the culture or productivity of the company in a positive direction. Provide your thoughts through a lens of being in service to the company and the people you care about who are still there. Complaining and dropping problems into the laps of already overworked employees in the name of being right is not helpful to anyone and will not make the impact you hoped to make. If your feedback involves incidents of harassment, review these steps in Lolly Daskal’s piece, 10 Tips For Dealing With Workplace Harassment and ideally consult an attorney prior to giving feedback.
4. Express gratitude where it feels authentic
Gratitude and appreciation go a long way in keeping career bridges intact. As you think through your narrative, identify clear and authentic ways you can acknowledge the person on the other end—or the company—for the opportunity, for the visibility or for the chance to learn. Whatever it is, it should feel real for both of you.
5. Be professional about notice and transition
Treat your transition with the respect you showed your role. Give at least two weeks, document your work and processes, meet with colleagues to hand off your work and help hire and/or train your replacement if it fits into your notice window. Do whatever may be meaningful to the people you are leaving behind so that they can feel the care you put into this change. All of that said, if the two week professional standard is all you can do to ensure you have a short break between roles, you can set a boundary there so you have some time to ready yourself for your new opportunity.
6. Leave the door wide open
I am proud to say that my biggest supporters in my business are former colleagues and direct managers who were on the receiving end of my resignation conversations. If there are people who you are leaving behind with whom you would love to work or collaborate again—by all means—let them know. Connect on LinkedIn, suggest you meet for coffee when you get settled, send them an article here and there to let them know they’re on your mind. Nurture those relationships at a distance, but with the same care and honesty you did when you were on the front lines together, spending more hours side by side than you did with your spouse or closest friends!
When your narrative is on point and you’re ready for your meeting, practice walking through it with a friend, colleague, coach or therapist. Note areas that may bring up emotion or where you take a detour into negative land. Hone those bits so you feel calm and clear in your delivery. Do something the morning of your meeting that will boost your energy and confidence like—exercising, listening to a power song ("Eye of the Tiger" anyone?) or saying a mantra like, "Onward!" or "Peace out people." or whatever works for you. Know that you’ve made your decision—which was the hard part—and now you get to live out your fantasy that’s been rolling around your mind for months, except this time it’s for real. In front of you stands the fresh start you’ve earned.