Making ‘an elegant exit’
For those who don’t follow Mad Men, it will not matter one way or another that, despite the fact that Don Draper had advised him to do so, Lane Pryce did not make a particularly ‘elegant exit’ from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Not unless you call hanging yourself in your office an ‘elegant exit.’ More ‘no exit,’ I’d say.
I, for one, will miss Lane, a not altogether likeable but a completely and utterly human, and fundamentally decent, character. (Okay, he shouldn’t have forged Don’s signature on the check, and taken that money, but I really do believe he meant to pay it back…)
Of course, I won’t miss Lane as much as I’ll miss barrier-breaking career gal Peggy, if her taking a job for big bucks – a cool $19K – at another firm means that she’s out of the picture. Say that isn’t so. Come to think of it, Peggy wasn’t able to make a particularly ‘elegant exit’, either. She gave her two week notice, but Don made her leave right away.
Most of the exits we make from jobs are nowhere near as dramatic as that of Lane. They tend to be much lower-key.When it’s a voluntary quit, most of us get a couple of weeks to hang around wrapping things up, trying not to gloat about the next best thing, and wondering who’ll give the toast at your farewell lunch. And most of us, like Peggy, leave quietly with the carton full of junk we’ve accumulated over the years.
The most dramatic work departure I was ever involved in was the night my roommate and I quit our waitress jobs at Durgin-Park in the wake of Joyce having thrown a half-eaten strawberry shortcake at the owner. (I assure you he deserved it.) This incident involved a Keystone Kops scene in which the obese, insane, and half-in-the-bag owner chased Joyce around the restaurant, followed by me and a posse of other waitresses there to protect Joyce if The Boss caught her. It also involved my having the presence of mind to go our tables and collect our tips on the way out the door. When we came in the next week to pick up our meager pay checks – I think we were making $1.15 an hour, the going wage for those who made tips – The Boss had his wife take down the names of everyone who spoke to us.
During my professional career, departures – whether voluntary or not - tended to be more muted, if not exactly serene.
One time, a techie who had worked for my company for no more than two days, decided to up and leave. On his way out the door, he sent out an e-mail blast attacking his new boss, the company, and our products. I have to say that, for someone who’d been on the job for such a short time, he had a pretty darned clear grasp on the realities. Still, we were shocked that he was so willing to dynamite this particular bridge.
A couple of times I was involved – once directly, once peripherally – in firings that I feared could turn into something not just unpleasant but perhaps dangerous.
In the direct one, a nitwit who reported to me had done something colossally nitwitted: during the go-go dot.com era – when warm bodies were in such demand – she was apprehended by someone in HR faxing a contact list of company employees to a recruiter. By the time that word got to my manager and me the next day, Ms. Nitwit had decided to call in sick. So I had to call her at home and fire her. We had her come in the next day – a Saturday – to pick up her stuff, and I had to be there with a security guard to watch her. She actually went more calmly than I had anticipated. Perhaps because she had already accepted the we’ll-hire-any-warm-body but far higher paying job that I had advised her against taking. (She didn’t last there 6 months. Crazily, for a couple of years, whenever she got into some work trouble, which she did regularly, she would call me for guidance.)
The peripheral case involved a young woman with extreme mental health issues. I actually feared that she would do something violent (think fire-arms violent) to her manager. I relayed my fears to HR, our company president, and the woman’s manager, who all seemed to share them. (The woman had had some verbally violent outbursts; not to mention that, one time when her manager asked her how things were going, she grit her teeth and said fine, while clawing her fingernails the length of his office door, from lintel to threshold.) Fortunately, she went quietly. I don’t think her manager got much sleep that first night, however. She knew where he lived…
When I worked at Wang, one fellow – I knew him on sight – had a heart attack and died the day he was being laid off. Not as dramatic as hanging yourself, but right up there.
So here’s to the ‘elegant exit.’ May we all have one in us when we need it.