Leaving Well

We will all – literally of us – face significant transitions.   Leaving home when we grow up; leaving school when we come to the end of a program.   But I am thinking here of the organizations or institutions of which we are a part.   And the following point cannot be overstated:   whether we leave when we had hoped to leave or are in a situation where someone else has forced the matter – perhaps even fired us, or forced us into a retirement, perhaps – we need to learn the grace and art of leaving well.  Few things will so shape the long-term capacity to thrive within organizations as how we leave an organization when it comes time to leave.

And few things will so shape the quality and character of our retirement years as how we managed to graciously conclude our tenure with the organization of which we are a part.

This is much on my mind these days because it is that time of year when we tend to be saying our farewells to those who are either concluding their time with the university or are moving on to new and different assignment and new challenges.   For some, it is retirement:   they have come to an age when they have concluded that they no longer want to carry and manage a full-time employment  . . . and they do not need to; they can draw on their pension   For others, it is a matter of recognizing that they do not “fit” – for lack of a better word.  They have come to see that the institutional alignment is not there [see blog entry for last week].  And so they have decided to move on to a new position.   But, main point:  this is that time of year when I am in conversation with those who are in transitions and now moving on.    We are a relatively small university, but still – there are at least 10-12 folks, in quite diverse roles within the university, who have decided to retire or resign . . . or, most difficult of all, have been advised that their contract will not be renewed.

In most cases, they are moving on from a very positive experience; they have valued working in the organization and they have made a substantive contribution to the institution or church or agency.   If there is sadness, it is because they will miss their colleagues and the chance to do what they have loved doing and have done very well.  But their sadness is tempered a bit by the prospects of what they are moving to – the new opportunity on the horizon.

For others, it will be a departure that is tinged with disappointment.   They came . . . but now, a few years later, they are recognizing that “this did not work.”   There is a feeling of failure, perhaps; there is the feeling of “wasted time”.

And for others? – it will be very hard:  they may actually be facing a forced termination of a contract, perhaps even a transition that did not see coming.  They are feeling blind-sided by the decisions made by those in authority in the organization.   They might have even walked out to the parking lot!

It all makes no difference, in the end.   Leave well.   Leave with the very best possible relationships – “as far as it depends on you, leave at peace with all” [adapted from Romans 12:18].   Do all you can to avoid burning bridges; who knows, you might actually end up coming back to this organization at a later date [as it happened with me . . . I came back 14 years later, having left in what were not happy circumstances].

You may not be able to get to this posture right away.   If there is anger, this will not be dissipated overnight or merely by a good conversation in a favourite coffee shop.   If there is mourning, it may well be weeks before joy returns.   If there is deep wrong, it may be difficult to be in the presence of those who made decisions that you feel were deeply wrong and hurtful.   And if you depart hoping to leave a significant legacy, you know that as you walk away, you lose control on that legacy, and there is a fear, perhaps some anxiety that your good work will be dismissed somehow.  And, in some cases, there will be anxiety about the future – a feeling that is common to all such transitions,

But, we can name the emotion that is shaping our lives and robbing us of sleep; we can sustain grace-filled conversations with colleagues and friends.  And we can let go – and, to use ancient language, actually leave a blessing.   This is no time for vengeance, if you have been wronged.   It is, in the end, an opportunity to grow in faith, hope and love:  new learning, new faith, and – to use language that I first read or heard from Parker Palmer, to see that when the way before you is closed, there is always grace when we are able to turn and see the new door or window that is opening for us.    And, to the point:  only in leaving well will we be able to fully and graciously embrace the new reality.

Institutional Intelligence is the capacity to work effectively within organizations.