What do 20-something interns, 30-something associates and 40-something CEOs have in common? They’ve all made a few enemies and burned a professional bridge or two along the way while climbing the corporate ladder.
That’s right; despite what your conscience tells you, you’re not the only one with a professional rival. It’s something that’s not usually broadcast in the office newsletter or press release. After all, relationship fall-outs of any kind are messy.
It doesn’t feel the best knowing someone you shared ideas and pots of coffee with is out there praying on your downfall, especially since the corporate world is strides past the pettiness of high school.
We’re supposed to have grown out of that, and focused solely on attempting to make our dreams come true while making some money in the process.
But, in business, they say you’re nobody until somebody hates you. And they say it for a reason.
If you’ve never burned a bridge, then you probably haven’t done anything at all. Look at Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, billionaires with biopics highlighting their success and peers’ contempt simultaneously.
Even Oprah probably stepped on a toe or two while building her empire. That’s not to say that these moguls, or anyone at any step of the corporate latter should seek to ruin their relationships. But when lost, they shouldn’t be beating themselves up for them, either.
The simple fact is, no matter how much integrity you work with, not everyone is going to like you. And that’s just life.
Burning bridges, entertaining competitive rivalries and falling out with people who were once our peers is a normal part of growth in our professional lives. Despite what secrets others might hide in their cubicles and Mac files, we’ve all been there.
Here are five types of professional bridges we all burn along our careers that we shouldn’t feel so guilty over:
The bridge to nowhere
Throughout our careers, we’re all forced to work with people we may not necessarily click with, like the gossip girl of the office or the brown-nosing intern coming for your job.
These aren’t people we see as long-term partners or whom we invite out after work, but they’re most certainly people we force smiles at on Monday mornings and talk respectfully with over email. You’re polite, without being overly friendly.
But your job isn’t to be friends. As harsh as that may sound, it’s important to understand that some business relationships aren’t going past the boardroom. So, it’s better to be known as the boring shrew who only associates over work-related conversations than to get bogged down by the tediousness of synthetic relationships.
These people aren’t going to help your career.
The bridge outgrown
Have you ever overstayed your welcome professionally? Kept a job that you absolutely hated or maintained an internship far past your “work for free” quota?
If you have, then you’ve probably realized that it never ends well. Despite our best attempts, staying at a place of work after you have outgrown it, or maintaining business partnerships after they’ve begun to expire, breeds bitterness.
Said bitterness tends to soil relationships, no matter how many years of loyalty you’ve given a company.
Never be scared to move on from a professional situation because you’re worried you might hurt someone’s feelings. That won’t get you very far at all, and the unconscious resentment you’ll have for the company/partner will probably ruin the relationship you are attempting to protect in the first place. Embrace growth.
The rocky bridge
“Never mix business with personal” is a corporate commandment most of us are guilty of breaking at least once in our lives. We’ve gotten our friends part-time jobs at Mickey D's in high school, or end up taking on a family member as a client in our later years.
And usually, we learn the hard way that the commandment is there for a reason. The lines between business relationships and personal relationships are often times blurred when money is involved.
But just because you know your coworker or client outside of office hours doesn’t mean you should be treated unprofessionally inside of those hours.
If your family owes you money for a service, don’t be scared to ask to be paid. If a friend is competing for the same job, don’t be frightened to do what it takes to be the stand out employee. Don’t apologize for refusing to buckle professionally for those you know personally.
The golden gate bridge
It seems that once we’ve stepped out of the internship part of our careers, our egos seem to grow with our wallets. We get a check and a little success and, all of a sudden, people are treating us differently.
Sometimes it’s positive, and your friends and associates are celebrating your wins, but sometimes, success causes riffs that can be detrimental to relationships. They say money changes people, but it might not necessarily always change the person with it.
Sometimes, money changes the people around the person with it. Losing friends and connections over your self-promotion and newfound success may be a good opportunity to double-check your ego, and make sure you aren’t the root of squandered friendships.
But also, just because others may not seem to be proud of you, doesn’t mean you should apologize for your success. Jealousy can work wonders on even the strongest of connections because haters gonna hate.
The creative pathway
“You’ve changed” are two words nobody wants to hear or say in any type of relationship. But there comes a time when many professional partnerships will part ways because of creative differences.
Just because you share a vision with someone at the beginning of a creative endeavor, doesn’t mean that five years down the line, those visions still add up. Humans grow, learn and evolve and sometimes people have a hard time adjusting to that.
Embarking on a journey on your own does not make you a traitor, it makes you independent. And there’s nothing wrong with turning your group into a solo act.
“May the bridges I burn light the way,” said Dylan McKay in the greatest quote to ever come from "Beverly Hills: 90210." And that’s how we should move forward when we find ourselves in front of the blaze.
Photo Courtesy: Columbia Pictures/The Social Network