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Making a Graceful Exit
by Susan Dunn


Know this scenario? You had another impossible day at work, you’ve just told a friend about it, you finish by saying, “What should I do?” and your friend shrugs and say, “Get your resume ready”.

Many of us have a hard time accepting the fact that it’s time to get the resume ready, but when that time comes, and you know it, give it a good finish.

When we start a new job or a new relationship, we put our best foot forward, we give it our best shot, we're full of enthusiasm and inspiration. But what about when we want out? It's just as important to end things well as it is to begin them well.

Let's say you have a job you can't stand but you need to stay there for a while, for whatever reason. How can you manage each day so you don't sabotage yourself by poor work performance and/or alienate people whose goodwill you'll need later for references? Your attitude is going to be crucial at such a time because you want to make what I call "a graceful exit." This means managing your emotions. What can you do?

  1. Understand your emotions and manage your reactions. It goes without saying that the whole thing can put you in a bad mood, but if you approach your day that way, it's going to make a bad situation worse. Spend your time collecting yourself in the morning, allowing extra time for this if necessary. Eliminate as many sources of stress as you can (get up earlier, shift a chore to your partner) and have yourself collected before you arrive at your desk. Don't dwell on what you hate. Focus on something positive, or, if you can't get there, on something neutral.

  2. Find a good listener. If you can ventilate about what's going on, it can help you manage your attitude when you're at work. Your partner or your mother may not be the best choice for this. They aren't objective. If they sympathize with you, they'll be emphasizing what's bad and that's not what you need. If they don't sympathize with you, and say things like, "Well, life is tough," or "Quit talking about it and DO something about it," this will escalate your sense of frustration. Coaches are a good resource at such a time because they're objective and trained in this area.

  3. Realize it's temporary. It's just a stop along the road, so make plans for the future, and conduct yourself in such a way you make your future possible. Keep doing your job well. Don't throw the towel in until you walk out the door, or it may not be your choice when and how you walk out that door. You want the control to remain in your own hands. Furthermore, doing your job will add to your self-esteem at this time, and you need that.

  4. Cushion the bad by adding more good. Your job isn't your whole life. There are other hours in the day. Add more to your outside life to make it up to yourself. Whatever adds pleasure to your life, and a lot of small things are as good as one big thing. If you can't take a cruise to the Bahamas, you can get a massage, visit friends, play with the dog, buy a new outfit, or take a brisk walk in the sunshine. Actually this is a great time to work on your "self." Many people use this time to shape up - losing weight, working out, focusing on something they can do something about. One client of mine temporarily in a dismal situation, managed to lose 40 lbs. You can bet she had something wonderful to look forward to every day as she watched the needle on the scale descend!

  5. Manage both your thinking and your feeling. Don't think too much, as in ruminate; and don't let your feelings run away with you. If you arrived at this point, chances are you've thought it through enough. There's no sense going around in circles. If there were a solution there, you would've found it. If it's something about the work itself, that's not going to change. If it's some personality conflict with a person, the person isn't going to go away, and you've already tried everything you now how to do. There's nothing new to add to the equation, no “answer,” so it's time to move on. Let your thoughts move on as well.

  6. Prepare. You will be leaving, so do a good job daily, but look ahead. Make a plan. Get your resume ready. Start discretely telling people on the outside who can help you that you're looking for another job, read the want ads, and take action. Register with an employment agency or headhunter.

  7. The balance. It's possible to handle this difficult juggling act well - of wanting to leave, but being determined to do it right. I have a client who has a difficult position in a corporation that's failing, who has endured a long line of changing management, who has nevertheless conducted himself in such a way, while looking for alternative employment, that he's been promoted twice while this was going on. This is a model to aim for. One of the things he does is maintain an active interest in his family, and in his own meaningful volunteer work.

  8. Hold your tongue. Other people may like it there. Others dislike it but need to stay for their own reasons. It's never a good idea to engage in negative talk and office gossip, and especially not now. Detach yourself from the complaints of others. After all, they're stuck there and you're going to be doing something about it, so limit your participation in these discussions. Say neutral or positive things, or send it back to the owner of the statement. For instance, if someone say, "This department's never going to get anywhere as long as XX is in charge," you could respond, "I know you're having a hard time with that right now."

  9. The future is related to the present and the past. You're going to need references. You're going to need the goodwill of these people. Therefore, don't burn any bridges. Keep your relationships civil with everyone. Limit what you say about them to people on the outside. It's a small world, and you know, from listening to others, that it's very hard not to hear a little "sour grapes" in anyone's discussion of problems at work.

  10. Outlast it. YOU are the constant in the equation of your life. You'll get through this just as you have difficult things in the past. You will move on to other things. Keep your face turned toward the sun, making the best of each day that you can and doing good work. This will make you feel better for now, and will benefit you in the future, and that's what's important, isn't it?

One last tip in reference to time. Spend as little time there as you possibly can. Be sure and get out for lunch every day.


The Author


Susan Dunn, MA, is the EQ Coach, . Susan provides coaching, Internet courses, and ebooks around emotional intelligence for your personal and professional success. E-mail for free ezine. Become a certified EQ coach. Email for info on this fast, affordable, comprehensive, no-residency program. Training coaches worldwide.

Many more articles in Emotional Intelligence in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2005 by Susan Dunn. All rights reserved.

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