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Knowing when to leave: the fine art of hitting the road

Knowing when to leave: the fine art of hitting the road

June 29th will be my last day at the Edward Lowe Foundation. This marks the end of a three-year succession plan. I’m grateful for 13 years with an incredible organization, and for what has been a joyful and healthy transition.

Throughout this year, I’ve been thinking about how we perceive leaving, knowing when it’s time to leave, and the importance of letting go.

Sometimes leaving, which is just a kinder, gentler term for quitting, gets a negative rap. But if it wasn’t for the art of leaving, none of us would be where we are today. Intentionally closing one door so another can open is what gives us new beginnings, new companies, new innovations and new careers.

Here’s what I’ve learned in my process of leaving:

No one can make this decision but you — When I left my last job, I became crippled by advice.  One person would say, “This is a great time to leave because you just raised so much money.” The next day, another well-meaning colleague would advise, “This is a horrible time to leave because you just raised so much money.” I thought my head would explode. Outside input is helpful, but understand it is given through the lens of others. Capture the salient points and move on.

Leave when you’re on top — In his book, “The Dip,” Seth Godin says it’s human nature to want to quit when it hurts, but that the key is leaving before that happens or before you get too comfortable. This is a tricky balancing act since it’s also human nature to want to stay put when things are going well.

Get ready — A succession plan makes everything easier. Yes, I know it’s hard to think about someone else in your office but get comfortable with that vision. A plan is particularly helpful if your organization is struggling with your intention to leave.

Prepare your community — If you’re running an entrepreneur support organization, you have an entire community to prepare. Start getting them comfortable with seeing faces other than yours. Once you get used to it, it’s great fun to see others at the podium while you sit in the audience and eat bonbons.

Let go — Yes, it was your project, your innovation, your partnership, but you need to let go of control. Help others get familiar with EVERYTHING you do. And if they choose to set aside your favorite program after you leave, get over it. It’s not your gig anymore. When you feel like holding on, burst into a chorus of “Let It Go” and you’ll feel better. If Elsa can do it, so can you.

Leave like you may want to come back — Because you might. Be positive and don’t keep any keys to the kingdom. Treat your successors like champions. Keep the door open. Always.

So there you have it. This is what I’ve learned about quitting. If you find yourself toying with the idea, I hope this helps.

I’m looking forward to a new chapter. This blog is a labor of love, so I’ll continue it. And I started a company, Change at the Edges (penny@changingedges.com), in case I take on a project or two. For now, I’m looking forward to being one with my bike and paddleboard. My goal is acquiring enough upper body strength to get a kayak on the car. It’s good to have a goal.

I am blessed. The Edward Lowe Foundation fed my passion for building an entrepreneurial culture and gave me an opportunity to champion the movement around entrepreneurship-led economic development. I hope I helped some people along the way and that I left with grace.