You want out. Out of your job, your marriage, your apartment lease, your cable contract. And no doubt, you keep on hearing your mother’s voice, “don’t burn a bridge.” What exactly does that mean? According to Wictionary, burning a bridge means: “to destroy one’s path, connections, reputation, opportunities, etc., particularly intentionally.” We’re told that instead of burning a bridge, we should take the high road because we just don’t know if our words might someday come back to haunt us.
Years ago, I managed a civil litigation law firm and some of the younger associate attorneys had great fun contributing to an ongoing list of things they were going to do and say in court on the last day they ever were to practice law. The list was both hilarious and in bad taste, so I’m not going to quote anything here. Picture an attorney standing in front of a judge sounding like Jeff Spicoli in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” and you’ll get the general idea. Textbook example of burning a bridge.
I certainly believe there are exceptions to the “never burn a bridge” axiom. Let’s take my friend “Alexandra,” who worked at an escrow company. When her supervisor asked her to notarize the signature of a fictional person, Alexandra did so because she felt her job security might be jeopardized if she refused. But it made her extremely uncomfortable, so she quit soon thereafter, and subsequently bad-mouthed the company to her new employer. So, it might be okay to burn a bridge because your personal ethics were compromised.
I have another friend, “Robert,” who burned a bridge with his ex-girlfriend. He just got tired of being repeatedly taken advantage of, publicly insulted, and generally disrespected, so he finally pulled the plug. His parting words were to call her an ugly, stupid loser. Not exactly the high road, but in light of the circumstances, pretty justifiable.
If your supervisor asks you to cover for her multiple times so that she can cheat on her husband and it’s creating stress and anxiety, you might consider burning that bridge by telling her exactly why you’re quitting your job.
Even if you don’t have concrete proof that something just isn’t right, burning a bridge because you’re trusting your own instincts is not only reasonable, it may even be critical. So often we bury our instincts or put them on the back burner, only to realize that those instincts were actually spot on. Think of all the time wasted in denial or procrastination!
I still feel strongly that we can never go wrong to take the high road instead of burning a bridge in most circumstances. However, please take a moment to think about these three exceptions:
- Your personal ethics are being compromised;
- Your integrity and good intentions are being taken for granted; and/or
- The situation has become increasingly stressful and filled with anxiety.
If any or all of these exceptions apply to you, I strongly urge you to speak your truth, and then quietly close the door.