This post is by Marly McMillen of NamelyMarly.
I’m in an online group forum that reminds me of a mismatched pink sock. It’s one of those forums that delivers hundreds of mindless emails to my account. Usually I delete them with hardly a glance, all the while wondering why I just don’t unsubscribe. It’s like that darn pink sock. I should just get rid of it.
But one day, someone made a comment on that forum that caught my attention. It was something to this effect, “No matter what happens, you should never burn a bridge.”
A simple comment, but it played the pinball circuit in my brain the rest of the afternoon. And through the remainder of the week. We should never burn bridges. What an interesting thing to say so absolutely.
Aren’t there times when burning a bridge could be a good thing? As Don Henley once said, “Sometimes you get the best light from a burning bridge.”
What does it mean exactly to burn a bridge? The Urban Dictionary defines burning a bridge as “cutting off all ties in a relationship; to burn a bridge means to be completely done with something.”
I don’t know why but the burning bridge theme made me think of Sherron Watkins, the famous whistleblower at Enron. What would have happened to her or countless others had she not spoken up about the infamous indiscretions of her employer?
Before you answer that question, be aware of this little tidbit, whistleblowers are without a doubt burning bridges. In fact, statistics show that most people who choose to blow the whistle at their place of employment face a trifecta of bad outcomes: they’re either demoted, fired, or they resign (from the internal pressure) within a year.
Translation? That bridge is burned.
But whistleblowers also serve a greater good. According to the US’s National Whistleblower’s Center, whistleblowers are the “single most important corporate resource for detecting and preventing fraud.” They’re basically heroes. And most of them don’t end up on the cover of Time magazine like Ms. Watkins. No, most whistleblowers are unsung heroes who suffer persecution.
Redirection, not retribution
I can think of 99 reasons of out a 100 why most of the time we should find ways to cross a bridge rather than burn it. In fact, most relationships—be they work or personal—have something in them that’s worth salvaging. If not for today, then they have the potential for some greater good at a future point in time.
The trick is knowing when it’s time to salvage or move on. Here are a few examples of both.
The annoying boss
Your boss may cause steam to spout from your ears (think: Bugs Bunny) but that’s not necessarily a reason to burn a bridge. It is, however, a sign that it might be time to dust off that suit and start looking for another job. You may be grateful to be able to use that boss as a reference after you’ve moved on.
The boundless friend
If you have a friend who doesn’t understand boundaries, it’s time to redirect. Be very clear with your friend what your boundaries are—don’t call after 10pm, or no more late-night parties. Whatever the expectation is, as long as you’re being reasonable, then your friend should be respectful of those boundaries. If after several reminders they still don’t get it, it might be time to move on.
The constant critic
You have an internal critic that lives in your head. Maybe it’s the voice of your second-grade teacher telling you how incompetent you are or your older brother who reminds you at every turn that you’re stupid. This is one time where you should burn that bridge with abandon. Like Madonna says, “strike a match, there’s nothing to it.” Tell your inner critic goodbye and replace his or her voice with some positive mantras of peace and love!
The politically incorrect friend
In today’s increasingly acerbic climate, you might have a friend or family member of the opposite political persuasion who constantly tries to engage you in a word war. Remind him or her that you care about them, and you don’t want the conversation to deteriorate into a shouting match. Do your best to salvage by avoiding any land mines thrown your way, but be prepared. If you reach the point where there are more missiles than missives, you may have to negotiate a peace treaty. Agree on the subjects you will and will not talk about in the future.
The bad habit
You should definitely consider burning the bridge on a bad habit that’s been hanging around for years. Smoking? Overeating? Gambling? You know what it is that has a grip on your life. The idea of burning a bridge is really about moving on to new territory and there’s evidence to suggest that replacing an old vice with a new passion is a great way to finally break free.
So you see, there are times when you can cross over and build a better and stronger bridge in the process. But there are also other times, when a new direction without the possibility of return is the only way to go.
Just think. All of this from one comment out of a thousand from an online forum. That forum is just like my mismatched pink sock. I don’t know why I keep it, but there’s a one in a thousand chance that I’ll be glad it’s there some day.
Marly McMillen has a passion for life, family, vegan food, and names. She writes about all of these and more on her site at NamelyMarly. Marly’s podcast, NamelyMarly, can be found on iTunes, where she interviews people about their names. The people she interviews include famous authors, models, and even the people she meets at the park. Marly is also passionate about healthy food and shares vegan recipes as well.