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The Art of Leaving Well: Conscious Uncoupling from Work

Estimated reading time ~ 4 min
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“Three points of vulnerability exist in your work life: when you enter, while you exist, and as you leave.” - Jaiya John

Leaving well. It’s a two-word phrase that our family has used each and every time we have moved houses, and I can’t stress its importance enough. I first heard of the concept of leaving well from my friend, Jerry Jones. When we leave a city or town, we take a photo of our favorite locations and snap images to remind us of our time spent there. We honor and acknowledge the place we are leaving and, even though it may sound strange, we mentally say goodbye to each room in the house and let the memories flood in. Every time we shift to a new city, we choose keepsakes from the places we leave, stop into each of our favorite restaurants to eat our favorite meals, and say goodbye to our most treasured librarians.

Over the last few years, I’ve learned that leaving well is not only useful for my personal life, but the same concepts transfer to the workplace. Leaving is inevitable. Name one person you know who still has their very first job, right? So if it’s true for all of us, that we will one day leave our workplace, our jobs, our gigs, why do we avoid intentionally planning the way we leave?

Some of the reasons we avoid endings are because we hope that our situation is fixable, or because we are scared of the future. Sometimes it’s because the idea of conflict or drama is an undesirable addition to the current reality that is driving our desire to leave in the first place.

Another reason we avoid endings and leaving in a healthy way, is because we have never been taught how to navigate this leaving, well.

The Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory measures life events based on the amount of stress each event causes, offering that certain situations have higher stress factors. Nine out of the 43 events listed are linked to work or job-related stressors. With the majority of those nine coming from workplace interactions, it’s not hard to see how leaving a stressful job can be a good thing. Imagine if organizations normalized these work endings, instead of focusing on them as a negative! Imagine if we had individual resources and supports to prioritize #LeavingWell each and every time we needed a new opportunity.

In leaving well, you can protect your reputation, your mental health, and maintain your professional relationships. If you’re thinking about a transition, consider these action steps you can take prior to leaving your current position. Each of these steps exemplifies the concept of leaving well, with the end in mind as the priority.

How to Leave Well

The way in which you leave is all dependent on the time you have left in your current position.

Leaving in a Few Days

If you have a short amount of time between now and when you are leaving your work, make sure to follow some simple steps. First, export your email contacts, jot a short list of the important meetings and actions upcoming for next 2-3 weeks that may need to be transferred to another colleague. Next, set up an auto-response out-of-office message stating your departure that will be sent once you’ve transitioned. Because the act of leaving well is also very personal, you can leave a sticky note (with your personal contact information) at your desk or workspace, with a short note to the folks staying behind.

Leaving in Weeks

Perhaps you have a bit longer, up to two weeks before your departure date. In addition to the items above, also consider identifying the top contacts in your network and send an update note letting them know about your new contact information, and consider crafting your own internal departure notice. Save and download any work, projects, or documents you are most proud of and want to have as reference for your professional portfolio. Another helpful action is to write a list of favorite things from your time with this role, project, or organization (if anything matches or connects to a place / location, consider visiting those one last time before you leave).

Leaving in Months

For those who have a longer runway, take the time to create short and concise standard operating procedures (SOPs) or how-to guides for your work, to leave as a gift for your colleagues or successor. Something that has been invaluable to me as I’ve transitioned from job to job is creating a Worthy Work journal (the little things that may seem small or insignificant, yet connect to your values and intentions… when added up, constitute worthy work). One last suggestion here, intentionally schedule coffee or lunch with colleagues that you’re closest to or like to keep in touch with.

Thinking about Leaving

If you are just beginning to think about leaving, review your job description, original scope of work, or other guiding paperwork. What have you accomplished on that list, and what remains undone? Document those, both to update your own resume, and to leave notes for the items remaining undone. Consider hiring a career coach to review your resume - what needs bolstering, reorganizing, or underscored?

Leaving Well is the art and practice of moving on from a project, role, or job, with intention and purpose… and when possible, joy. - Naomi Hattaway

When we acknowledge that leaving is simply a moment of change, we can reframe those transitions as opportunities for purposeful legacy design in our career. Through intentional choices, we can positively impact those we leave behind through either the organization of our work product, or by wrapping up lingering projects. We can prioritize passing along skills or learnings for your successor, or planning your own farewell gathering to ensure you honor relationships amongst your colleagues.

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