Saying goodbye—to people, places and life chapters—is hard. Saying goodbye to work is no different.
You've found the big What's Next and you're psyched to run out the door and never look back. It's easy to blow off what's behind you when what lies ahead is glittery and new. But take a deep breath, and take the time to make a professional and classy exit.
Even if you are changing careers drastically or moving halfway around the globe, leaving on a positive note is crucial. Who knows who you'll run into in Indonesia or Dubai, or whose glowing praise could help land you the next big thing. Even if paths never cross, a graceful goodbye shows integrity, cements a good legacy and sets you up to flourish in your next endeavor.
Give a lot of notice
Giving as much notice as possible helps your past employers make arrangements. It's good etiquette, and it gives proof of your upstanding character. Your future company should respect this—they'll expect the same from you down the road, when you're off for a bigger and better opportunity.
Even if you are showing up for two more weeks, or two more months, it's tempting to mentally check out. Keep your head in the game as long as possible. Keep handling your responsibilities with as much pre-resignation flair as you can muster.
Goodbyes can be painfully awkward, but push through the pain. People will feel more valued if you bid them a proper adieu. Plus, it's rude not to.
You needn't deliver a dramatic speech to each person you do business with or occasionally pass in the hallway, wishing them luck and success and a long, healthy life. A simple, "It's been wonderful working with you, and I hope to see you soon," will suffice. A handshake is nice, too. Or if you work somewhere more casual, a hug.
For me, goodbyes are easier when they're not permanent. In other words, I prefer to say goodbye for now rather than goodbye forever. This lightens the mood and leaves the door ajar.
Keep it simple
Your boss doesn't need to know that her nasal voice is triggering headaches and her lunch smells like dog food. Your coworkers don't need the lowdown on the new place's more openminded, creative attitude. The specifics can and should remain private. Writing out a resignation letter is a good move. State only the basics: "Thank you for a wonderful two years. I'm making a change and moving on for another opportunity."
Remember to tell your boss first. Word will spread fast, so it's easy to escape the position of having to repeatedly break the news.
Write everything down
You want the business to blossom without you. Do everything you can to set it up in your absence for continued success. A business that keeps thriving without you is testament to your hard work, brilliant ideas and the great systems you put in place.
When you part ways, it becomes clear that your head isn't the best place to keep vital information. Your cooks need recipes! Your staff needs instruction! Write everything down, from the smallest detail to the grandest ambitions of your company. Even if these details get changed and the goals grow (or shrink), having something in writing to start with is hugely helpful for the folks that are staying behind.
If a written record is lacking, start taking notes on what you do each day, and what your business does to keep the wheels turning. Things you take for granted or habit might be a small revelation to someone new with the reigns. Your diligence could save someone a lot of sanity.
Give your successor your blessing (and the dirt)
Not too much dirt. Refrain from gossip. But it's a nice move to warn your replacement what they are getting into. Again, since you want the business to boom, help them be prepared to do the best job they can. Think of how much easier your life would have been if you were forewarned that the payroll lady can't stand waiting five minutes for your numbers, that the printer freezes up if you press the big green button or that your most generous regular likes to be served bread promptly upon seating.
Keep in touch
Make sure you fill your address book before you head out. Who knows who you'll want to give a phone call or shoot an e-mail to in the future.
Then every once in a while, follow up with your former colleagues. We all know the value of networking. Perhaps people from your past life will play a role in your future. Reach out and see how that crazy regular is. It will make you smile, and keep you part of the loop.
The last step: muster your confidence, your verve, your brilliance and kick butt at that new job. Good luck!