Posted by Darrell Lerner
"Never burn bridges." It's one of those familiar pieces of advice from Mom that still rings in my ear. "Yup, sure Mom...sounds good," I'd tell her as I politely brushed her off. I'm tempted not to say this given that I know she reads my blog, but it turns out that Mom is absolutely right (in this case, anyway!). And it never felt more true than it did in one particular case recently when I watched someone badly burn a bridge and thought about all the ways it could potentially come back to haunt him.
Life is short. You hear that all the time. Its serves as a reminder to live for today because you never know what can happen in the future. Living for today certainly is a great way to live your life - for the most part. But not always. That's because, as much as life is short, its converse is often true too: life can be very long as well. Especially your professional life. That's why it's so important to preserve and protect your professional reputation. Because it will follow you around for life and one stupid decision now can adversely affect you years later in ways you never could imagine.
We all experience situations over the course of our professional life where we want to tell off a boss, get revenge on a person or company that wronged you, or just finally unload and tell someone how you really feel about them. Don't do it. As tempting as it is, that small moment of sweet satisfaction is far outweighed by the damage you can do to yourself and your career. Here's why: in this world of social media, meetups and LinkedIn, the world has never been so small and information has never traveled so fast. That means that details of any such incident, no matter how justified or otherwise out of character it might be for you, can easily find its way into the hands of the people you'd least want to look bad in front of.
So what are the potential ramifications? Well lets say, for example, you finally had enough and told off your horrible boss who had been mistreating you, belittling you and unjustly criticizing you for years. For that fleeting moment of satisfaction you have suddenly lost the ability to use both your boss as well as that employer for a reference. How's that going to look when you're applying for a new job? What if you need to go back to them down the road for help with something like COBRA or employment verification? Think they will be feeling in a particularly helpful mood that day? Unlikely! And with people changing jobs far more frequently these days, you're also much more apt to cross paths with that person again somewhere down the line in another capacity such as when interviewing for a new job or trying to close an important business deal in your next position. Plus, in a time where LinkedIn lays out exactly how people are connected to each other making it really easy to track down people and information and connect with someone who knows someone, it's virtually impossible to "bury" an ugly incident if someone's trying to learn more about you.
As I watched that particular person burn a bridge recently, it was eye-opening to really think about just how far-reaching the damage could potentially be and how much they may have cost themselves in the future. At the end of the day, there's simply no good that can come from burning bridges - certainly not in this day and age where we're more connected with each other than ever before. Quoting Rush will likely be a common theme in this blog and a few lines from "The Garden" seem especially appropriate here.
of a life is a measure of love and respect,
So hard to earn so easily burned
In the fullness of time,
A garden to nurture and protect
This is as true for your professional life as it is for your personal life. So when it comes to your professional reputation, don't burn what you've worked so hard to earn. Be smart and protect it always.