Burn, Baby Burn: When to Burn Bridges

We’re often taught as young professionals (YPs) to never burn bridges, to always keep opportunities open and relationships strong, because we never know where the future will lead us. Sure, this is sound if not cliché advice, but should it be an eternal rule of thumb? Are there not instances, even in these formative YP years, when burning bridges is called for, even screamed for? We think so, and here are four notable examples:

1. When you’ve grown up and out of the relationship: If you have buds who are only interested in hanging with the young and crazy you, the single you, or any aspect of your past self that you’re trying to move on from, you may have to burn a bridge in order to grow. We all have those relationships that bring out certain sides of us, good and bad, and if you have friends who aren’t concerned with your evolution into the adult you want to be, then let them stay back in the past where they want to be. 

2. When you genuinely have no intention of fulfilling their request: There’s that friendly coworker who keeps sort-of-asking you out, and who you keep jokingly putting off. Or that nice but nosey neighbour who’s always asking you to come over and see their vintage whiskey collection. And of course the overly enthusiastic gym acquaintance who always wants to go for coffee after your workout. If you know you are never ever going to do it, stop sparing their feelings and just say so – even at the risk of burning a bridge.

3. When it’s a relationship only in theory: Whether it’s a childhood pal who still deems you “best friends forever” or an ex who still wants to be “cool” with you, indulging in past relationships just for their sake, or because it’s easier than letting them down, is fake, futile and fatiguing. If the whole relationship has whittled down to nothing more than obligatory email updates and random awkward drink dates, it may be time to gracefully burn that bridge and allow the both of you to move on. 

4. When they’ve wronged you on a fundamental level: Regardless if it’s a superior at work or an acquaintance you’ve just met, if someone hurts you or screws you over (or someone else) in a way that goes against your core morals and values, then it’s wise to burn that bridge and burn it real good. There are just certain characters we can be sure will never, ever serve a positive purpose in our lives and burning bridges is a helpful way of ensuring they can never make their way back to us.

Burning bridges is so often thought of as negative and something that can be detrimental to our future. But we think that being dishonest and disingenuous to others and to ourselves can be even more damaging. When it comes to certain relationships, big or small, being real and ending things, even at the risk of never being able to return again, can be very liberating, motivating, and beneficial in our development as young professionals. As Nobel Peace Prize winner Fridtiof Nansen once said, “I demolish my bridges behind me – then there is no choice but forward.”

#LYNL | (Live Your Notable Life)

Cover image from: MintTees

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