Throughout your career, you’ll have the opportunity to make choices, big and small, easy and hard. At some points you’ll have to decide if you should follow the rules. While I’d typically err on the side of saying you won’t regret it if you do, I’ll also say that even if you do pay your dues and check all the boxes, you could still end up in a place you don’t want to be.
Take my story, for example. Many years ago, I managed a small, family-owned restaurant in Brooklyn. It was just after I returned from a year of backpacking around South America, in desperate need of a job—any job—to replenish my dwindling bank account. In the back of my mind, I knew that someday I hoped to return to the publishing/writing/editing industry, but at that point in time, I really wasn’t thinking about my career path, and the restaurant gig served me well.
I had a great relationship with my boss, one of the owners, and I lived 10 minutes away. I enjoyed free food and drinks, a steady paycheck plus benefits, and built-in friends (anyone who’s ever spent any time working in the hospitality industry knows exactly what I’m talking about).
But after almost two years, I got restless and decided to seek out a bigger opportunity. And so I started interviewing for management jobs across the bridge in Manhattan. It wasn’t long before I accepted an offer and prepared to let my boss know that I was moving on.
Although I’d expected him to be disappointed, I assumed he’d also be supportive and encouraging because, you know, I was checking off all those boxes—telling him in person, following up with a letter of resignation, offering to help wherever needed before my departure. But I quickly realized that playing by the rules wasn’t enough to save me from his hostility upon hearing the news.
I thought I’d feel relieved after telling him. But instead, I felt confused. Both he (and his wife) unfriended me on Facebook immediately. That was followed by two full weeks of his looking past me, either giving me one-word responses or barking orders at me, and, finally, in response to my generous and kind parting email, a rant telling me that my quitting was very, very personal and also selfish—and no, he wasn’t overreacting.
I didn’t scream, “I quit!” and run out the door, so why did he react like this? It was a slap in the face because I’d done everything right, much the same way I imagine it’d feel to be this close to getting a job and having it go to an internal team member. Or working your tail off for months, only to have the promotion you’d been coveting go to a colleague who didn’t work half as hard.
Being a professional—in my case, giving the standard two weeks’ notice and promising to help train my replacement—failed to protect me.
It was a rough two weeks of digesting the fact that things weren’t going as I’d hoped or even anticipated. And although a part of me wanted to not honor my remaining time as a take-that-you-big-jerk move, I knew I couldn’t let the staff down.
And actually, I think I hoped that he’d come around, recognize the mistake he was making in burning this bridge, and patch things up with me before it was too late.
We exchanged a couple of emails before my departure in which I tried to get him to soften his stance and treat me with a modicum of respect—or at least talk to me about it more, but he wouldn’t budge.
This just goes to show that you can plan things out perfectly, you can even play out a bunch of different scenarios based on varying reactions from the other party, but there will always be factors out of your control. Simply put, you can’t orchestrate how someone else—your manager, the CEO, the recruiter—is going to respond.
I won’t pretend that it doesn’t suck when things go off track in a way that’s upsetting or disappointing to you, yet simply being aware of this fact may make it easier to accept the unfair things that fall on your path.
You can waste energy being offended and hurt, or you can do as I did and learn from the lessons. If you do that, you can take them with you as you move onward and upward.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Muse and is reprinted with permission.