Be Careful To Not Burn Your Bridges

My dad taught me: Don’t burn your bridges behind you.

When we decide to make a change in our lives we can inadvertently burn our bridges by succumbing to short-timer’s syndrome.

Short-timer’s syndrome tends to occur when we’ve decided to make a major change, for example, change jobs, move to a new neighborhood or city, or change schools.

As we look forward to the change we look around our current situation and focus on the negatives, most of which we didn’t notice earlier.

Our neighbors are too noisy. The house at the end of the street looks tacky. Our coworkers have more bad habits than we can count. Our current college or school lacks essential learning activities.

We can get caught in the following short-timer’s traps, feeling a need to:

  • Justify our decision to others and ourselves
  • Defend our decision
  • Complain about or criticize our current situation
  • Blame others for our need to change
  • Hide our decision

But guess what?

There is no need to justify, defend, criticize, blame or hide our decision.

Our decision is our decision. Period.

With grace, courtesy and respect for others we can be thankful for our current situation while anticipating the new situation.

We can simply say to neighbors: We’ve made a decision to buy a new house. We’ve enjoyed this neighborhood and we look forward to making friends in our new neighborhood.

To our coworkers: I’ve made a decision to move to a new company. I’ve enjoyed working here and I’m looking forward to the opportunities in my new position.

To our school community members: We’ve made a decision to move our children to another school. We’ve enjoyed our time here. Our situation has changed and we feel that now is the time to make a move. We will miss this community even as we look forward to our new circumstances.

To the question of “Why are you leaving?” simply restate, “I’ve made a decision to make a change.”

That’s all that needs to be said.

That way you don’t fall into the short-timer’s traps of justifying, defending, criticizing, blaming or hiding.

As a school leader if I had the option of offering a quick departure for the family or staff member I offered it in order to help our school community avoid the effects of short-timer’s syndrome. We might have a good-bye ceremony in a classroom for a student or staff member, depending on the desires of the family or individual.

If I didn’t have that option I tried to work out a transition plan about when their decision would be announced and offered some coaching on short-timer’s syndrome so they would have the words and understanding to keep their bridges from burning.

Also, I think an end-of-the-year celebration is a good tradition to have in a school community. The departing families have a chance to say their good-byes. New families that will begin in the fall can come and meet the community. We used to have a school picnic in mid-May, Spring Fling, to celebrate our year together and acknowledge the transitions of students, families and staff.

I think we can help our school community members learn to gracefully put into play their decisions to change without burning their bridges by helping them avoid short-timer’s syndrome.

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