What goes around comes around and sometimes it is a quick trip.
That's what I was told by a wiser person early in my career. In other words, you meet the same people on the way up as you do on the way down. Burning bridges is plain stupid. The world is a small place and your reputation and network are precious. There is this fallacy that you can just plow ahead and push forward because you never go back that way again. And it doesn't matter because the people you've encountered in these developmental, experimental, or early stages of life will not be relevant to your world later. Kinda like your 2nd grade teacher, right?——wrong again.
There's just a very simple practical matter when you burn a bridge you don't have a reference, you have destroyed part of your history, and you have lost a part of your life.
Of course if you are in a toxic environment, work for a felonious employer or witness crimes against humanity, then you leave and you are not sensitive to the state and well-being of the relationship. You may leave in a manner that was not of your choosing or certainly in a way that does not reflect your best side. You have a solid rationale, righteousness, and an explainable reason for your unceremonious and possibly uncivil departure. Some bridges have to be burned.
Most burnt bridges don't involve dramatic fires and lawyers. Usually bridges get burned very slowly–slow enough to see and smell. Embers that smolder and eventually flame up and destroy whatever positive structures were there.
But when you have decided to leave of your own volition, get a better job, or just want out, you have to be professional. Some people don't get this. They think if they give their 2 weeks notice, never consult with their employer, and go on their merry way that the world remains intact and bridges are preserved. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bridges are not edifices on a one-way street that you take for granted and see in your rear view mirror. Bridges are often returned to for references and referrals. They are places and people that you visit to remind you of your progress and solidify your past. They are parts of the mosaic of your reputation and experience.
I was asked recently what you do when you have burned a bridge. The only thing you can do is to repair it, to go back to the scene of the fire and confront the same issues you faced originally. Its best to repair the potholes in your road before they cause accidents. But what do you do? What can you do? You have to make the call. You have to make the connection you have to go face to face, listen and learn. You have to eat a big hunk of humble pie and apologize for the way YOU handled it. Hopefully there will be some reciprocity here if it is warranted. But if you can repair the burnt bridge so that it is at least neutral, then you have taken the higher road and restored a part of your history, part of you.
I have learned that professionalism and dignity are always the right choices. Not well known that I have been hired and fired. I have been laid off and paid off. In every case it was evident that things were not working. I had a couple of choices. Get ahead of it or wait for the inevitable. I have found that anticipation is more virtuous than being right. Unless you are the boss/owner, then your perspective is secondary by definition. A lack of anticipation, attention and common sense can fossilize a bad relationship/job. Why not get off the burning bridge first. I once told my employer that I thought the relationship was not working and that we should plan my exit. He was stunned and grateful for the honesty. We made amicable plans and he is still a great reference for me! (Even tried to hire me back!)
I mentored this woman who works for a friend of mine. I generously gave her candid advice over years to focus her pursuit of higher responsibility and confidence. She ended up getting her Masters degree paid for by my friend's company. She progressed and she advanced and I took a tiny bit of pride in her growth. I never expected gratitude or anything. When she quit her job and did not give sufficient notice or even talk to my friend or me before she resigned, I was disappointed. I told her she burnt a bridge. She was shocked and also incredibly defensive. She said she had every right to move on and to advance her career. That was not the point. This was not about blind loyalty, this is about the process of engaging your supporters in your advancement. Your supporters are like micro investors who expect you to move up and out, but like to be informed. They don't want to be surprised. My friend was not only surprised but hurt. That bridge is a pile of ashes now. She still thinks its there, but later she may discover its gone when she needs it.
Bottom-line is if you have burnt bridges and regretted relationships you should reach out and fix them. They will never fade away and in fact they can haunt you. They hurt your brand. They might sabotage your future, but most important they diminish you. They reduce your sense of who you are.
The road you have travelled is a reflection of you and your relationships. Bridges and roads need to be maintained and repaired to remain strong and viable. It is never too late to go back to repair, but it it is simpler to avoid damaging any part of your path because you may tread there again.
Thanks for reading. John
3 thoughts on “Repairing and avoiding burned bridges”
This holds so true. It’s great that good guidance can be summarized here. I probably learned the hard way.
Yes, the lessons are hard ones. The sooner you learn them the better. Glad this helped frame your thoughts so you can share them! Cheers John
wow thats deep. i need the courage to stand up to my past to fix it. oh to feel weak.