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  • Writer's pictureT. Kearny Vertner, III

Don't Sneak Out of Going Away

Retirement ceremonies, going-away celebrations, hails-and-farewells aren't about you!

No matter what organization you've been a part of, somebody has left it. They're relocating, going to another organization, retiring, or maybe just transferring to a different work center at the same location. Now it's your turn and it's time to rehash the same tired script that plays out between a person leaving and their peer or supervisor almost every time:

Peer/Supervisor: "We want to do a going-away celebration for you. When is a good day and time?"

You: "I'd prefer not to have a fuss made over me."

"Well, it's important! Do you have a particular place you'd prefer?"

"I was actually just planning on kind of slipping out. It's really not a big deal."

Days and weeks later, this script repeats until someone gives up the fight. Does this dance sound familiar? I'd be willing to bet you've even been one (or both) of those people; I know I have. No matter what your reason is for making this transition, it matters. If such a celebration is even an option, you're transitioning on good terms, which means that some kind of celebration is explicitly necessary. It's necessary for three reasons: team-building, inspiration, and gratitude. If some of those sound a little strange, you need to know the secret of these kinds of celebrations: it's not about you!

The first reason for these kinds of a events, team-building, seems counter-intuitive. You're leaving, so how is honoring you helping to build the team? The answer is that it's not explicitly helping at all. Implicitly, however, it's providing your old team an opportunity for informal and personal discussions. In many cases, it will take place outside of your work environment, providing the team a valuable offsite experience and a break from the normal routine. Even more formal events, like retirement ceremonies, offer countless opportunities for those you're leaving behind to bond over amusing faux-pas and touching moments. Plus, like any major gathering, there are always great opportunities for quick chats with teammates you might not see as often.

It's not about you.

The second reason is inspiration. You're leaving on good terms to do something else. Maybe it's an interesting new location or a new job with a nice raise and a better office. Maybe you're retiring and preparing for that life of leisure we all dream of. Maybe your hard work yielded a promotion as part of this transition. Hell, maybe you decided that you were just done with that job and decided to go chase your dream of being a writer, musician, academic, or professional surfer. In any case, you are now a direct inspiration for your teammates. Many of them are following a similar path to you and it's incredibly motivating to see a future filled with opportunity and success. If someone is dissatisfied with their current job or location, maybe seeing you move on will help keep them motivated to follow in your footsteps.

Don't forget: it's not about you.

The final reason for these events is gratitude. You might think it's just a great chance for your supervisor to gush over how indispensable you were and how they're all going to miss you. Your old teammates showing you gratitude for a job well done is only a small part of it; this is your opportunity to show gratitude to your team. Depending on the type of event, this is a particularly great chance to thank the people who helped you get to this transition, including peers, supervisors, mentors, and - especially - your family. Don't limit this gratitude to just your teary-eyed speech, either. Make it a point to mingle among the attendees and thank them - even if it's just for coming.

In case it's not yet clear: it's not about you!

Now that I have convinced you that these events aren't about you, let's talk about a couple of reasons why you still benefit. First, this can provide closure. Like it or not, our profession takes a significant chunk of our time and (hopefully) provides a sense of meaning and accomplishment. Taking some time to honor your transition can help you move to the next chapter with a sense of peace and pride. Additionally, having and expressing gratitude has been repeatedly scientifically linked to improved mental health and a more positive outlook on life. Team-building and inspiration are great for helping out your old teammates, but offering your gratitude helps everybody.

I know a lot of folks like to pretend that they're quiet professionals who don't care for public recognition and would prefer that others don't aggrandize them. I used to tell myself the same thing, yet the times where the script above played out once - and my supervisor stopped asking - always left me making the transition feeling a bit hollow. Looking back, I see a string of missed opportunities to help strengthen my former teammates, inspire them to build towards the future, and thank all of the amazing people that richly deserved it. Looking forward, I've had to force myself to start asking for the going-away lunch if it doesn't come up; I challenge you to do the same.

As an amusing additional consequence, it can also help prevent faux pas like this (courtesy of U.S. Army WTF Moments):

One thing that is about me: this post marks my 50th published article since I rebooted my blog in April! Woo! Thanks for reading!

- Kearny


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