Burning Out, Bowing Out, and How Bridges Sometimes Burn

Groucho Marx popularized the saying, “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” I, however, am quite the opposite. For years, I have been honored to join so very many clubs that invited me to be a member, and, furthermore, when I felt a new club needed to be created, I was ever at the ready to start/co-found it. From feminist book clubs to food cooperatives, I have been an eager member or initiator for all manner of activity groups. Over the years, this “hyperinvolvement” has enabled me to become:

  • a good participant
  • a skilled facilitator
  • a strong but self-aware leader
  • a system creator/corrector
  • a pretty accurate judge of character, and 
  • a person with a pretty good ability to think high-level. 

As you can imagine, a person who is good at being in groups is often approached to join and start more groups, and so it is that I am fairly regularly being approached to lend a hand in This, That, or The Other initiative. As I am sure you can ALSO imagine, as a wife, mother, and human being with a full-time job at a certain point I run out of steam and have to bow out — usually gracefully but sometimes not so much. I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I am definitely in a reluctant bow out/quitting cycle (in order to make time for work, family, marriage, and socializing/sanity restoring self-care) and so I wanted to share some thoughts about it that might be useful to you.

Some Reasons to Bow Out

  1. Lack of time
  2. Lack of commitment to the cause
  3. Lack of health/well-being
  4. Lack of money
  5. The group has gone in a direction you don’t like. 
  6. Loss of momentum/motivation
  7. The group might be better off without you and/or has been overly dependent on you
  8. Conflict with an individual or faction of the group that was unable to be resolved. 

Some Ways to Bow Out

  1. Discussion with the group leader
  2. Friendly note or email to the group
  3. Strongly worded note or email to the group. 
  4. A knockdown drag out physical or verbal battle with the individuals with whom you have conflict or the entire group (NOT ADVISED.)

Some Reactions You Should Prepare Yourself For As You Bow Out (and Suggested Responses)

  1. Some people who like you might try to bargain with you to stay on. You’ve already made your decision and you are not likely to change it. Feel free to thank them for their sentiment. You don’t owe them any explanation but can provide one if you wish. 
  2. Some individuals may be angry that you are leaving. Again, you don’t owe them anything more than the time you gave to the organization. If they express their anger towards you, you can calmly tell them you are sorry that they feel that way. In some cases, these people may cut you off. It sucks, but it happens and there’s rarely anything you can do about this. I find that trying to pre-empt this or any blowback/blow to your reputation to this usually just makes things worse and, as such, is not advisable.
  3. Some people will be happy that you are leaving. Good for them. 
  4. Some people don’t care that you are leaving. Good for them, too.

Some Practical Things to Remember to Do As You Are Bowing Out

  1. Pass along any keys/passwords/accounts for the group, as well as access to any group accounts that you may have in your name.
  2. Have the organization’s administrator remove you from any relevant insurance policies (board members are usually covered by D&O insurance) as well as an corporate documents. 
  3. Make sure you have received reimbursements for any outstanding expenses.
  4. Unsubscribe from the group mailing list (or asked to be unsubscribed). 
  5. Clean out any physical or email inbox you might have that will be cut off to you once you are no longer part of the group.
  6. Document or pass along documentation of any systems or materials you put together during your time with the group. 
  7. Supply group members with your personal contact information if you were using a group contact email (or phone or whatever) to be contacted before. They may realize you still have something they need or they might need you to walk them through one or two more little things after you are gone. (I advise you to not let this go on too long).
  8. Do your best to help the group find a successor if they want you to. (This is another one to not let drag on for very long. It is their group now and while you don’t want to leave them high and dry, you can’t be handcuffed to the group indefinitely.)

 Some Things to Do As You Walk Out The Door

  1. Reaffirm your decision. It was well thought-out and you are doing what you feel you need to do right now. 
  2.  Remind yourself that you are super capable and experienced and there are always going to be groups that want you to join and people that want to start groups with you. You will join/start something else when you feel the time is right. It’s in your nature.
  3. Hold your head high. You did the best you could during your time with this group.

Some Things Not to Do As You Walk Out The Door

  1. Don’t let the haters get you down or make you feel like you need to do anything rash that you will be ashamed of later on. If a bridge burns maybe it was constructed of the wrong stuff to begin with. When you need to, you can likely cross to the other side by more reliable means.
  2. Don’t beat yourself about your failures or what “could have been”.
  3.  Don’t backpeddle and allow them to rope you in to do “one more thing”. You may be available for a quick call here and there just to help them finish the transition but you are OUT. They will sink or swim without you.
  4. Don’t go rushing out to find something else to join or start. Those opportunities will be there. The decision to join something should be as considered (if not more!) than the decision to bow out. Remember that the organization you found today will be the org you have to bow out of tomorrow (or well, ya know many tomorrows from then) so CHOOSE WISELY. 

OK, so what about you? How do you decide to bow out? How do you carry it out?

2 thoughts on “Burning Out, Bowing Out, and How Bridges Sometimes Burn

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