7 Reasons to Burn Bridges in Your Career

Career Advice

“Careful, don’t burn your bridges.”

People have been saying that for ages. I have heard that the saying goes back to ancient Roman times. When an army crossed a river to invade their enemies, the commanders would order the bridges burned to guarantee that their troops could not retreat.

The theory was that without an escape route, they would be more eager to fight to save their lives. In contrast, when a country was under attack, they would use the same approach in reverse. As they retreated, they burned the bridges so their conquerors could not follow easily.

The adage is regularly used in business today, especially when a person starts a job search and they are thinking about leaving their current employer. They are warned not to burn their bridges. Meaning, try to leave on good terms.

It is the “never say never” theory. You never know when you might need to work with the organization or when you might need a reference in the future. Frankly, it is not always the best idea to shut the door prematurely to potential future opportunities.

Burning bridges can also give you a bad reputation. The way you conduct yourself and treat people will follow you everywhere you go. It is a smaller community than you realize and perception has a funny way of becoming reality.

As a general guideline, I agree. Ensuring a graceful exit is the best professional approach. Besides, who wants the weight of negativity and bad energy following you? That holds you down and chains you to your past. When you are chained, you cannot soar. Negativity eats away at you which only serves to give the company more power over your feelings. Too much wasted time is spent plotting how you can pay someone back for their bad deeds against you instead of focusing on the value you can bring to another organization.

The road to happiness is moving forward.

But, there is always a but…

Sometimes you need to burn the bridge.

Sometimes you must burn the bridge.

Sometimes you should blow the whole thing up.

If the company was that bad for you, you don’t want the craziness to follow you. You do not want them running after you or having quick access to you. When you metaphorically burn the bridge, you put distance between them and you.

It is also a form of cathartic symbolism. Imagine that you are on the other side of the bridge. You blow up your past and keep on moving forward. That is a vivid and powerful image.

Boom! You walk away indisputably victorious. It feels good.

Seven Reasons to Burn the Bridge

There are certain reasons that warrant blowing the bridge to smithereens. Think about it as redirecting your career instead of enacting retribution.  Those reasons include:

  • The boss or your coworkers are verbally abusive to you.
  • Your core values are severely compromised or you have been asked to do something immoral or unprincipled.
  • The environment is toxic and makes you feel anxiety-ridden or ill.
  • The corporate mentality is such that the company’s bottom line is more important than the well-being of the employees.
  • Unethical or illegal behavior was the norm with no consequences to that behavior.
  • There was questionable activity by leaders or with the company at large.
  • Finally, you might be tempted to cross the bridge to work there again.  If the environment was poisonous for you for any reason, you should think twice (or three times) before entering back into a situation like the one you left.

Let’s bottom line it. Not all work relationships are equal. What is the point in continuing a bad relationship once you are out the door? Is there any reason you need those behaviors or those people in your life? Would you ever trust them or that organization again? Who cares if they won’t hire you back, because you do not need to work under those circumstances.

Remember, if the time ever becomes right again, a bridge can be reconstructed. If the situation has changed or you are in an advantageous spot or position of strength, you can think about rebuilding.  Until then, time and distance are your best course of action.

Jan Johnston Osburn is a Certified Career Coach and Organizational Consultant. Her organizational specialties are Talent Acquisition, Training, and Leadership Development. She holds a Master’s degree from the University of Buckingham, UK, and has certifications in Executive Coaching and Advanced Social Media. Her website is www.JanJohnstonOsburn.Com.

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