A Lady Always Knows When to Leave
That title...it's one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies. And it means different things to different people for different reasons. But to me, it means knowing what needs to be done, even if it's difficult.
I was recently on one of my social media platforms...one of the platforms that shows you all of your "on this day" type of memories. One of the memories that popped up from years earlier was a post I made about having a blissful Saturday out enjoying time with my husband, and getting a disaster response call from work during that blissfulness - our office headquarters had suffered a catastrophic flood caused by a broken pipe. Without even blinking, I dropped my husband off at home and headed to the office, as I knew it would be an all-hands on deck scenario. And that was the type of employee I was...dedicated, loyal, available when disaster strikes.
Since I reported directly to the CEO and he lived in another state, I felt compelled to - at minimum - document the situation for him, but being true to who I am, I knew I'd be rolling up my sleeves, slopping water, saving or trying to dry out tech gear, and providing some structure to a situation that would otherwise be chaotic. I also knew that not everyone would respond to the disaster call. And I was right - of about 200 employees for our headquarters location, about 20 showed up ready to work. It actually turned out to be quite an amazing day. Funny how tragedy and disasters bring people together and create a sense of community. We were all very proud of the work we did. We saved tons of equipment, had a very quick turnaround, and did what no one thought we'd be able to do. When I arrived to the office that Saturday, there was literally a lake of flood water that I had to wade through. By Sunday afternoon, we were ready to return to (mostly) normal business, save for the very large fans that we had to keep on for a few days to air out the walls and baseboards. All because a handful of people showed up when they didn't have to - and did a job that the majority refused to do.
The day that this memory popped up, I was no longer employed by that same company. Months earlier, I had made the incredibly tough decision to leave. The memory documented above is one of many instances that I felt I had given 150% of my time and effort through the years to that company, and ultimately that extra give wasn't moving me in the right direction internally. I had made the difficult decision to share with my boss that I felt like my time was winding down and that I would be looking to transition out months down the road - after all, I wanted to do right by the company and didn't want to leave so quickly as to cause any more chaos than normal with a transition such as this. As I shared that with boss, all of the memories of the last several years came to mind - the countless hours, the weekend emergencies I'd responded to, the things I did behind the scenes that no one every really knew about, the team that I had built, the structure I had put in place. It should all mean something, right? That would be my legacy, and it would be a great legacy to leave behind as I move forward to continue my career somewhere else, right?
Even now as I type that, I recognize what a foolish mistake I made - and it's a mistake that so many others find themselves making as well. I knew it was time to leave - that was not a mistake. My error was thinking that my contribution to the company would mean something and would be respected enough to be recognized through some farewell or through some kind of recognition - and that's coming from me, someone who doesn't really require much recognition. But for some reason, I really believed that my work had been important, and that I was important to the company - at least important enough to say goodbye to.
Not only was there no goodbye, it was as if I never existed there. I was cut off at the knees, treated like I was never a team player, spoken to as a dissenter, and pushed into no man's land.
Where was the mistake? Well, simply put - I expected something that most corporate environments are not equipped to provide. Corporate environments are required to make decisions for the business first and foremost - which means taking appropriate risks and avoiding unnecessary risks. I was seen as an unnecessary risk for reasons that I still don't understand - but then again I really don't need to understand. For a company who had spoken ad nauseum about the treatment of it's employees and being about the people first, I had expected that to carry through to the end of my employment. But once I acknowledged my intentions to my boss, I was no longer seen as a loyal and dedicated employee. I should have expected what came next - but I foolishly believed otherwise.
In hindsight, I still did the right thing. It wasn't my actions that I regret and I certainly stand by my communications and behaviors - I was honest, candid, completely transparent, and attempted to do the right thing for myself and the company. What I regret is the expectation I had. I knew it was time to leave. I regret that I expected others to understand and to honor my time at the company. I regret that I forgot that most companies see employees as a number attached to a headcount spreadsheet. When 1 headcount leaves, you fill it immediately. And you move on. This is how businesses continue to execute without skipping a beat. It's a survival mechanism.
A lady always knows when to leave. I knew it was my time. I wasn't prepared for the aftermath and had unrealistic expectations, but I acted on what I knew was right. And for that, I'm proud of myself.
On this side of it, I can see how right my decision really was. The corporate culture was no longer one that fulfilled me, but actually was making me sick. This particular culture was wreaking havoc on my personal life. I was the type of employee they love - I give 150% all the time. I was also the type of employee that recognized they could get the biggest bang for their buck. And therein lies the offense - they wouldn't be able to find someone who was willing to blur boundaries, be available at the drop of a hat, and be ready to show up for the team at a moments notice at any hour...not for a significant increase in pay. I was a big bang for their buck, meaning I created more value than expense. I saved them money. That was going to be the hard loss for the company. Not me as a person. But me as a dollar sign.
There are so many lessons in this story. Setting appropriate expectations. Valuing yourself as an employee. Fighting for your value to show up in ways that benefit you, not just the company. Setting professional boundaries. Putting your family first. I could go on and on. But the lesson that I think all of us should carry away is this: know when to leave, and be prepared to leave. No expectations. No regrets. No looking back.
This was actually one of the hardest, yet one of the best decisions I've ever made, by the way. After a detox from what I now know was a toxic culture, I began to realize the huge blessing in the goodbye...and there's almost always a blessing in a goodbye. But that's a story for another time.