How do I handle resigning from a company I love?
September 18, 2007 3:27 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for personal anecdotes and advice from the hive mind to deal with quitting a job at a company I helped build, with friends who I hope to remain close to. (Slightly long post inside)

I work for a small company in Tennessee, and have been here for almost 4 years. I am one of the 4 core people (myself, my boss/owner, a friend of 9 years and another) who have helped build the business to what it is now.

I am in charge of the art department, and have my stamp on many of the internal procedures and policies we use today. Without trying to sound arrogant, I've made huge contributions to this company, and I care about it as if it was my own.

That said, I'm leaving in two weeks to work at another much larger company. For the past year and a half, I've been commuting a total of 3hrs a day to work here... and it's been killing me. I had to make some kind of change to get some more free time in my life.

It was a really really hard decision, but I feel like ultimately I will enjoy my personal life more having more free time and more access to activities outside of work. I'm also a little exciting about doing new things and enjoying new challenges.

At the same time, I feel like I'm abandoning the people and this place that I helped build. I hope to keep doing freelance art work, but obviously it's not the same.

I think my co-workers (friends) feel like I'm not going to see them again once I leave (or talk to them... or do freelance for them)

And even though I'm here for another 2 weeks, I'm starting to feel a sense of exclusion; from meetings, from future plans, from decisions. I understand that's perfectly natural ... but it's still rough. It's hard to disengage. I can't just stop caring about the future of the company.

My ideal situation would be to continue doing freelance work and be something like an outside expert in my newly acquired extra free time. But again, it's a hard transition to make.

How do I handle not working with my friends anymore? How do I disengage from the success and failures of this business I helped build? Do I have to? How do I convince my friends that I want to continue to work with them on a freelance basis and talk to them, and come visit?
posted by finitejest to Work & Money (4 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Change is hard, and you are going to have doubts and misgivings and--I hope this doesn't sound funny or overwrought to you--you will maybe even have to grieve a little over it.

Here's the main thing to keep in mind: You aren't betraying anyone. I know it feels like you are, but you aren't. You're doing what you need to do.

Most of the stuff you're asking about now -- how to disengage, how to convince your friends that you still want to be friends -- is extremely likely to sort itself out naturally over time, but is going to be painful in the short-term.

(On the business angle, if you truly want to keep doing freelance work for this business, your actions will speak louder than any words you can say... let them know you are interested in helping out if they need you, and wait for them to reach out to you. Try not to take it personally if they don't.)

Cut yourself a break, or a series of largish breaks, in fact... and remind yourself that this too shall pass, in time.
posted by enrevanche at 3:47 PM on September 18, 2007

We just had someone like that leave our small company. Not to be harsh, but good companies bounce back pretty quickly, as do good employees. As long as you're leaving on good terms, you should be fine. They'll appreciate the contributions you made and wish you well.
posted by sweetkid at 3:57 PM on September 18, 2007

I was in the same situation. It wasn't really a problem. Whenever I was back in town, I'd drop by and visit (and often use their computers to do some websurfing :)
If it had been a while, maybe we'd get take-out and take over the meeting room for the purposes of just socialising for a while. By the time I left, the company had people able to step into most of the gap I was leaving, so the hurt was minimal and everything was on good terms.

I did feel able to drop by unannounced out of the blue, and feel welcomed when I did so.

I did lose touch with some of the people who worked with me. Strangely enough though, some of the people that I never worked with - people who joined the company after I left - made their way into my social circles via the old timers.

I partly disengaged from the success of the company - it was still of great interest to me, but not direct importance any more, because at a practical level it had limited effect on my life.

I'm not sure how much applies to you, but for a remarkably identical situation, it wasn't the terrible thing you fear.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:47 AM on September 19, 2007

Best answer: I've been in this situation three times, and it's difficult because it's a confusing mix of different emotions. It's normal to get so attached to the people you spend every day with.

Enrevanche is right that it's similar to a grieving process. The first thing is to break your identification with the team. This company is something you built, not something you are. Try to tell yourself a complete story about the last four years of your life. How would you explain it to someone a few years down the road? You'll find that the story will change over time, as you get into your new job and can see the old one with more perspective.

You may also find that your friendships aren't what you thought they were. Building a company from scratch is an intense, shared experience. That creates a bond that feels close, but when you're not sharing that daily intensity anymore, sometimes the friendship evaporates.

I had lunch last year with an ex-partner and friend of mine. We had been through all kinds of adventures together, but hadn't spoken in a few years. Apart from reminiscing and getting updated on what we were doing, there wasn't much to say. We have different lives right now. It felt a lot like having lunch with an old girlfriend that I no longer feel anything for. That doesn't mean that there was never anything there, just that people change and life changes.

You might be familiar with the process if you look at how things went with the friends you had when you were in school. Some of them may stay friends, but it's a different kind of friendship. Most of them fade away, since the basis for the friendship didn't go beyond the shared experience.

I'd strongly recommend not coming back or having much contact until you're settled into your new job. That might take a few weeks or a few months. Go and read all the AskMe relationship threads where people say that you can only be friends with an ex after a period of no contact, to give each person time to build their own, independent lives. If you're hoping for an amical separation, you don't come back around a week later to see if the other person still needs you and maybe wants to spend the night together.

When you do go back, you may find that they're doing great, and your ego will suffer to see that they get along fine without you. You may find that they're struggling, and your ego will suffer to see that you left them with a ton of problems that you couldn't magically fix in your last two weeks. Either way, they're not your responsibility anymore. You'll have to face the fact that this is the end of one chapter in your life and the beginning of another.

Concentrate now on leaving them with a situation that's clean and closed, so no matter what happens, you can hold you head up high. If they're already moving on without you, take that as a sign that you've done a good job in handing things over.

Don't even think about mentioning the idea of freelancing for now. Come back in a while, and talk about it when you have a clear idea of what your new life is like and what you can do for them.

I wound up freelancing for one of my old companies after a few months of no contact. It was hard for me to get used to my new role of helping out without being responsible for any of it. And some of the people who were still there, and had gained responsibility when I left, felt threatened by my return. At another company, I left with all kinds of ideas of how I would help out, but after two months in a new job, I didn't want to have anything to do with the old one anymore. You're going through a life change, so don't make any commitments now about how you're going to feel down the road.

Good luck, you've had a great adventure and now you're starting a new one. Move forward with courage and don't look back.
posted by fuzz at 4:11 AM on September 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

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