Leaving Gracefully

If you’ve been an avid reader of this little series, the last time you have heard of me was at a pivotal moment in time. A time during which I was sensing my way through a feeling that said “It is time to move on Vero.” It took a while, but eventually the choice was made. It was time to leave my corporate job.

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

In today’s entry, I want to talk about the things that guided me through this leaving process. First and foremost, what was important to me was my integrity, my value system and leaving in a way that respected them. I wanted it to feel right, this writing of the last paragraphs in a powerful, transformative and long (25 years in the same company, I mean… come on) chapter of my life. To me, that meant being transparent. Being clear. Leaving clean margins. Even if the ride gets bumpy, which it can during a separation from an employer, acting in line with our values is the best protection and compass we can give ourselves.

It is always a challenge, this leaving. And as I came to discover, leaving the corporate world after so many years meant leaving more than just a job. It involved a series of break-ups. Each with its own challenges. Each with its own opportunity to do it on my terms.

Break-up 1 – My Boss

The most important conversation for me was the very first one: the one I had to navigate with my boss at the time. This is the person from whose mouth your decision will be carried to other people higher up in the food chain, as well as HR. We were both busy, of course. But I wanted quality time with them, a quiet moment. To share my reasons for leaving, and make them truly hear it.

The decision to leave was not a snap one. I had thought long and hard about it, giving myself not only time to pick the right moment with my boss amidst busy schedules, but also to come up with a plan. You see, I took the ramifications of my departure for those around me very seriously. It was important to me to approach this conversation with an operational framework in mind, one I would propose and own until the day I left.

Leaving gracefully for me meant managing the impact of my departure.

Break-up 2 – My Scope

The 1.5 months that followed this conversation were business as usual. Until a succession plan was established, the cat was not to be let out of the bag, save for those directly involved with planning business continuity. It is an odd position to be in. You know the moment of departure is approaching (and to be honest, a part of you departs once the choice to leave is made) and yet you remain in that place that has become so very familiar over the years. Surrounded by people you trust, who trust you, whom you would want to tell of everything going on, especially the team you have developed and nurtured. But without a clear plan, without answers to the questions they will undoubtedly have, composure and quiet is the kindest thing to do.

At the 1.5 month mark, my successors were chosen, my previous role to be split in two. This was a time for gradual handovers. For a structured passing on of my scope, business plans, files and objectives. We all have our own ways of working, written notes that make a whole lot of sense to us, but probably not to other beholders. Going that extra mile to make it easy for others to pick up where I leave off was something I dedicated a lot of time to.

Leaving gracefully for me meant leaving with clarity.

This was also the time that I could finally tell my team what was coming. And do what I could to get them ready for it.

Break-up 3 – My People

Being able to finally talk to my team was an immense relief. About the changes ahead of them, for sure. But also about my vision for my future, the reasons for my departure. If you do things on your terms, this is not a sad story to tell, it is a celebration in anticipation of something new. A celebration I wanted to share.

The conversations with my team happened both collectively and individually. Being a people leader and developing their unique talents was always something I prided myself on. I was invested into their careers and their wellbeing. In fact, “was” might be the wrong tense. For some of them, I remain invested still. My departure was not to penalize their careers or keep them stuck in departments or positions for longer than they served them. The important thing is this: making a plan with just your team is not enough. I understood it as my responsibility to formally document these development plans, have them signed off by my boss, my successors and HR. We have to ensure that they have binding power even after we leave.

Leaving gracefully for me meant leaving my people set up for a bright future.

How it all felt

It is a tricky beast. You are wrapped in nostalgia while still in the place that you are nostalgic about. Yet simultaneously, you can’t wait to step out of the revolving doors of that office for the final time and into your next adventure.

Did I know what exactly that next adventure would look like? No. What I did know however was that I didn’t want to go back to corporate. I also knew that I wanted some time off. To heal mentally and physically, for in the thick of the action we can easily overlook how depleted we were until we step out. To fully enjoy this whole “not-working” and spending the energy I now had available on all the things it didn’t always suffice for. I had planned festivals to attend, books to read, places to travel to, experiencing things that brought with them a sense of novelty to accompany this new chapter in my life. I did this planning before I left and I think that was important.

We all know that what goes around comes around. The last impression you make is often the one people remember you by. Leaving gracefully not only made me feel good. It also left a certain image of me with the people I used to spend my days with. An image that eventually helped my own consulting business take off, with its first clients being the very people I had said goodbye to not long ago.

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