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Exit Strategies

Tips on how to ditch a job, break up, make up, and face reality.

Ditch the Job, Keep the Contacts

Perhaps you've dreamed of the day you could tell your boss to shove it, or perhaps you're pulling up stakes with great reluctance. Either way, your final task is to part with your employer on the best of terms. Because there are so many emotions involved in the act, from hurt for past treatment to guilt at moving on, many people flub their workplace departures, and pay the price in terms of poorer references and missed connections for years to come. The world is small, and you're virtually guaranteed to cross paths with your colleagues down the road. Randall Hansen, a professor at Stetson University and founder of the Florida-based group Quintessential Careers, offers six simple rules of conduct that will leave everyone missing you:

  • Give plenty of notice so that your employer can carry on with minimum disruption. The standard timeline is two to four weeks, but you may consider giving more.
  • Help your employer find someone to follow in your footsteps. Help train that person.
  • Stay involved. You may think of yourself as a lame duck, but you are still a member of the staff. Do your best job until the day and hour that you depart.
  • Leave complete, written records of your work, your contacts, your protocols, or anything else the office needs to know.
  • Stay accessible. Make sure that your colleagues can reach you in case they have any questions—and if they do, be sure to help them out.
  • Don't let your colleagues drop from your life. Whether or not you have made dear friends on the job, remember that networking is one of the best ways to get ahead. In the end, it may well be someone from the old job who passes your name along for opportunities to come. —Pamela Weintraub

Six Steps to Kissing And Making Up

Psychologist John Gottman offers ways to fight fair.

  • Cool off. People have an emotional refractory period during which it's hard for them to think clearly. It's important to take a break for at least a half hour and settle down—while thinking about something else. Start again when you're both calm.
  • De-escalate the conflict. Affection, interested questions, and humor will make you seem less critical and confrontational.
  • Probe and validate the other person's feelings. Respond in an understanding, compassionate way, and apologize if appropriate. Ask questions like, "What do you need here?"
  • Talk about your own feelings and needs. If you're acknowledging the other person's feelings at the same time, this won't sound defensive. Tell the other person what you need from them.
  • Work toward a solution. If your partner says, "We're not going on dates like we usually do because you're working so hard," you might suggest dates you are available.
  • Follow up. People don't always say everything they want to say the first time around, so take another pass. Often, the initial argument covers only the leading-edge feeling. If you don't go back and ask if there's anything else, you'll wind up revisiting the issue in another fight down the line. —Jay Dixit

Breaking Off A Romance: The Case for Kindness

Your needs are urgent and they are not being met—or your lover has disappointed you in some profound, seemingly irreparable way. In the heat of anger and hurt, cutting it off seems the only logical act. If you break up a serious romantic relationship over the issue at hand, the pain will subside and the specific cause of the breakup eventually will recede in importance, but you'll find an empty spot in your life. In its place, expanding in your psyche, you'll find the cozy fact that a person you loved and who loved you, however imperfectly, is gone. Not only will that person come to hold an honored spot in your personal pantheon, but the relationship may, from time to time, invite your curiosity—if only, what if?

In other words, even as you move on, the ending will live forever inside your head. For that reason it requires deployment of your best self. If you don't have one, this is the time to summon it. You will replay this scene in your head many times, and while you may not be able to restore love, you can certainly salvage dignity. Resist the temptation to place all the blame on your lover, even though the combustible mix of disappointment and anger will fuel an almost irresistible urge to spew expletives—or to just cut and run.

Post Mortem

You owe yourself and your romantic partner a debriefing; think of it as a parting gift for you both. You're breaking up because there's something fundamental one of you didn't get from the other—respect, honesty, trust, attention, understanding, help. That's what you should laser in on and explain to your partner. "I needed X and you didn't give that to me. It makes me feel that you don't care enough about me." When you frame the relationship this way, you get insight into your own needs. You also deliver important information to your ex, who may take the message, however painful, to heart, and actually change.

Fast break

If the romantic relationship has been brief—only a few dates or lasting just a couple of weeks— you don't need to belabor the breakup, of course. You don't owe deep explanations to someone you hardly know. To end a new, light, or casual romance, you can simply say, "This doesn't feel right to me," or "It's not a good time for me now." You must still be kind, still be civil, but you don't need to bare your soul.

Remember, life is full of surprises. Be kind to those you are letting go. In the long run, it's being kind to yourself. —Hara Estroff Marano

Babbler on Line 1

You're on the phone, and your friend won't stop talking about her office drama. "Oh my god, I cannot believe Cindy took my stapler again! And she's having an affair." Mayday! How to escape?

"Simple and direct is best," Anna Post of the Emily Post Institute says. "Just break in, say, 'Listen, I'm really sorry, I gotta go—let me call you back. Is that OK?' " You don't need to give details, and if your friend asks for an explanation, feel free to be vague and simply say it's not a good time. Whatever you do, don't lie, Post insists, because if you get caught with no scars to show for that surprise wolverine attack, "it's going to be 10 times worse than if you just said, 'Gotta go, bye,' and hung up the phone."

No one wants to feel like a jerk, but remember that manipulating someone's time is rude, too. "This sounds silly but you might actually practice," by leaving yourself voice messages to see how you sound, Post says. "But honestly, the best way to psych yourself up is to take a deep breath and bite the bullet."

As a last resort, try the old standby: fake static sounds with your mouth. —Matthew Hutson

How to Complete a Work of Art

Picasso had no problem starting or finishing a canvas—his battle cry was "Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone." But in this, as in most things, Picasso was the exception. For many creative types, signing off on an endeavor is as tough as getting started (or getting funded). People hang on to their work in part because they think their best self will be on permanent display in every latticework gate and three-page story. Multiply that a hundredfold and you've got an artist whose entire ego is invested in a piece.

"People think what they've created reflects their absolute worth right then and there," Barry Lubetkin points out.

"It really does take courage to say, 'OK, this track is done, it's ready to have its own life," says an award-winning composer who requested anonymity. "Early in my career I was asked by two prominent percussionists to write a piece for them. I was incredibly flattered and accepted but ended up not completing the piece, as I was scared they wouldn't like it. I should obviously just have gone ahead!"

The keys to artistic output are passion and dispassionate objectivity; with experience, people learn when they've entered the domain of diminishing creative returns—tweaking a work simply to make it more commercial, or because they're avoiding a new, blank canvas.

Kill the Great American Novel fantasy. Figure out whether you're placing unrealistic demands on yourself and catastrophizing about other people's reactions. Not every piece can be a pièce de résistance.

Demand Feedback. This helps short-circuit the perfectionist trap.

Work to a Deadline. If that's not realistic, break the work into small projects and give yourself mini-deadlines.

Be Kind to Yourself. Getting frustrated by failure to complete a project will only exacerbate the anxiety and self-deprecation surrounding the task.

Get out of Your Own Head. Resist the urge to withdraw into your work; people who take breaks for socializing and hobbies are forced to conform to an outside schedule, which keeps procrastination in check and underscores the fact that there's more to life than your project. —Kaja Perina

Leaving a Marriage

Breaking up—often with houses, bank accounts, children, and pets long-enmeshed—can be a legal as well as emotional nightmare. The ideal, of course, is to operate completely in the open and to cooperate with each other in full. The reality is that divorce often erupts amid a firestorm of anger or years of pent-up hostility, preventing needed months of gentle, compassionate exchange. Other times, economic stakes are so high that adversarial proceedings are virtually guaranteed. In such instances, divorce lawyers suggest you operate with your strategic, not your emotional, brain. Those anticipating conflict should get ducks in a row before their partner knows they may be out the door, divorce lawyers say. Here are a few tips from legal eagles:

  • Photocopy all financial documents
  • Learn all you can about the family bank accounts, and be sure to document your partner's income, including benefits on-the-job.
  • Homemakers, spend a year saving money so you can move out easily.
  • For those earning the bacon, do make sure you have cultivated your children's teachers and bothered to learn their shoe size (not to mention their favorite stories) before asking for custody in court.

    Remember, you must ultimately give your partner time to catch up before throttling forward in court. And be sure to tell your mate why you're leaving—shutting down communication so thoroughly that he or she never learns what went wrong is downright cruel. —Pamela Weintraub