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Ready to quit? Follow these two principles

According to a recent Microsoft study, the work trend index, a record 4 million people left their jobs during the first and second quarters of this year. Amid the Great Waves of Resignation, some find themselves applying, interviewing, and finally accepting offers from new companies. Deb Liu, in her article Quitting: Cutting the Cord That Holds You Back, remarked that every choice we make has a cost. “In particular, whenever you say ‘yes’ to something, you are implicitly saying ‘no’ to something else.” If you find yourself celebrating the joy of a new beginning, it’s equally important to craft a smooth exit. No matter how tempting it is to drop the mic and succumb to the inner voice of “I QUIT. I’M OUT!”, a thoughtful succession plan not only avoids burning any bridges but also allows for a peaceful closure much needed in a time of transition.

One of my favorite books, Design Your Work Life, dedicates a chapter specifically to this topic. Beyond two common types of quitting—the bridge burner and the two-week-lame-duck—the authors recommend a third approach of being generative. This approach frames quitting as an opportunity between finishing something done well and starting anew. “Choose quitting. Don’t let quitting choose you. Make quitting your positive, generative choice.” 

Throughout my job search this year, there were times when I felt stuck going through rounds of interviews, as if I didn’t have a choice in any of my decisions. Looking back, I realized that I had a choice all along. Now that I have found something more aligned with my values, I honor the choice with gratitude. Were it not for the role I had, I would not have been able to get a deeper understanding of myself.

When the time comes, there are two principles I’d like to hold myself accountable for:

1. Be clear on my intentions and respect others’ reactions:

No matter how frustrated I once was at a job, I want to leave goodness behind. To quote Dr. Maya Angelou, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” That doesn’t mean I was not afraid or defensive before having difficult conversations. 

I often worry about conflict and disappointment, and I usually write up a brief script to align my intention with a desired outcome. Thoughts like “I am grateful for the opportunity and trust (your boss or colleagues) offered me, and I wish you well” are quiet yet powerful grounding factors to set the right tone. However, getting clarity on your own intentions is just the first step. 

According to Farrah Mitra, a Radical Candor coach and founder of Green Reed, others react to unexpected information in different ways. The only thing we can control is our own intentions. As hard as it might be, expect and respect different reactions from others because it’s not just about what we want, it’s also about what others want.

No matter how frustrated I once was at a job, I want to leave goodness behind.

2. Transition without reservation

Nobody is irreplaceable. From the moment I quit to the day I complete the exit interview and turn in my badge, I noticed an initial overwhelming response from others to dwindling incoming emails and meeting invites. It’s tempting to clock in and out and slowly slip away into oblivion during the last few weeks of employment. But I think about the time when I was on the receiving end of the news, and I had to step in and pick up the work from someone leaving the team—how overwhelming I was. 

I wish nobody had to start from scratch or redoing the work that has already been done once. Transition documents are good references for my replacement or boss after I leave, and I include information like processes, access, and key point of contacts (RACI) for major projects.

How you resign is a very personal decision and illuminates your character. Just remember that YOU are in control with your exit narrative.

The thing is, even after you thoroughly document everything and thoughtfully craft an exit strategy, you might still get unwanted reactions from others or find yourself a scapegoat of something that didn’t work out. And that’s okay. I once had a situation coming into the office on my last day to say goodbyes to people and ended up being harassed by my former boss with some inappropriate jokes and remarks. Of course, those situations are rare, and as long as you have done the right thing, you have nothing to lose or to regret. 

How you resign is a very personal decision and illuminates your character. Just remember that YOU are in control with your exit narrative. When all is said and done, don’t forget to celebrate your next adventures. Congratulations!

About the Author

Evelyn Chou

Evelyn Chou

Evelyn is a senior product operations manager at Coursera. Prior to switching to the Product function, she worked at Fortune 500 companies that include Uber, Lockheed Martin, and Capital One. She values meaningful work, deep relationships, and lifelong learning. She enjoys coaching and mentoring. Find out more about her on Medium, and connect with her on LinkedIn.

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