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Five Times You SHOULD Burn Professional Bridges

Updated: Mar 26



I used to be a nice person - way too nice.


A favorite phrase I used was, “Never, ever burn a bridge.” But burning bridges ended up saving my career – and my life.


You see, we spend countless hours and exhaustive effort building professional bridges, whether it’s with a company, boss, coworker, or industry connection. And for good reason: It’s essential to success. True success shouldn’t come at the expense of YOU.


We’re taught to keep the peace, assume positive intent, and “be nice” in our professional spaces. But here’s the problem: This courtesy is not always reciprocated.


I found this out the hard way multiple times. When others took out their torch, I became paralyzed with fear and shame, too fearful to confront the toxic dynamic.


Thirty years into my career, I was exhausted and wrecked from fear. Time and again, I’d shrink back from a blazing bridge in front of me, blaming myself every time. After an exceptional year of professional success and workplace stress (Ugh, 2020!), I fell into a life-threatening bout of depression. I realized I was existing in a toxic stew, and I finally walked away. I was wrecked. But I finally found the courage to say, “No more”.


The truth is, there are times when you can courageously let that bridge burn. You can light it up, dance in the glow of the flames, pull out your s’mores kit, and thank the professional gods for the blazing destruction.


  • 🔥 If a colleague blacklists you for calling out their bad behavior, let that bridge burn. Upholding a safe space for everyone—yourself included—matters more than protecting toxic people. Save yourself . . . and those around you. Call bullies out unapologetically, and never look back.


  • 🔥 If you’re overworked, underpaid, and scolded for pointing this out, wave some flames around. If you meet resistance, ignite change and walk away. Don’t waste your time on those who don’t fairly compensate you and don’t protect that behavior, either. Place people over profit, including yourself.


  • 🔥 If you find yourself professionally undermined by your organization, colleagues, “work friend,” reports, anyone - light ‘er up. Your hard work is your biggest asset, so don’t allow anyone to dismantle it. Believe in yourself by walking away. Know your value.


  • 🔥 If you find yourself exhausted, burnt out, and struggling mentally, physically, emotionally—or even spiritually—because of your work conditions, don’t hesitate. Pull out the flame thrower. Expect change from others – and yourself. Sound extreme? So is facing your breaking point. You have only one “you”. Protect her with everything you have.


  • 🔥 If you are discriminated against for who you are: your age, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion or national origin, don’t hesitate to pull out the lighter, gas can, and kindling. Decimate that dynamic! These classes are legally protected for a reason: they’re basic elements of our humanity. Leave immediately and call your lawyer.


Remember that bridges are about access: Others’ access to you, and your access to them. When trust is broken, deny access, and remain vigilant about the times when your access to others perpetuates further damage to yourself.


When I had to make the painful decisions to walk away from friends, jobs, and organizations that became toxic and unproductive, I cried hot tears warmed by the flames others built – or I had to build myself.


We all wish for a world where bridges are only built. It’s a mesmerizing concept, but unfortunately, it’s not reality. The professional world can be rough and tumble sometimes, so surround yourself with people who cultivate you.


Remember, there is a wide world of possibilities out there - opportunities that need healthy, happy, vibrant people like you to bring them to life. Undoubtedly, you will see bridges built and destroyed along the way. So, take care of yourself and those around you, along the way.


So, pack up your graham crackers, marshmallows, chocolates, and be ready for the occasional bonfire. When there is heat, there can also be some sweet results: a more courageous you.



 


About the Author


Adele Mulford

Creative leader, brand cultivator & inspired strategist | Committed to bringing out the best in all of us | Public Speaker | Professor | Storyteller | Entrepreneur | Foodie | Mental Health Advocate

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2 Comments


I have experienced every one of those bullet points. Often stayed too long out of a sense of loyalty to my teams. This rings so true. Thank you.

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Susan Guthrie
Susan Guthrie
Oct 28, 2022

“This courtesy is not always reciprocated.” OMG this speaks to me on so many levels. Lack of courtesy, lack of apology for said lack of courtesy, blaming me for their lack of courtesy, and lack of having my back by my upline was the last straw. I left a job I’d had for 8 years. Hope that lack of respect was worth it.

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