Bridge burning – to destroy one’s path, connections, reputation, opportunities, particularly intentionally – is generally undervalued.
More than that, we are actively discouraged from bridge burning. If we are dismissed from our jobs, we are cautioned to avoid being ungraceful on our departures, since ‘you never know what can happen in future’. We avoid clear endings in romantic situations too, generally preferring to ‘keep our options open’.
But what if you have a pretty good idea of what can happen in future, and it is precisely that which you want to avoid? In such cases, bridge burning is the desired option.
Plus, there are some real consequences to being weak about this.
The biggest problem is we cannot keep a door open in life, without leaving a door open in our minds. And that weakens any resolve we may develop regarding what kind of lives we want, with whom, and with which types of experiences.
This post is about how to embrace endings.
How burning bridges looks across 3 life areas
Let’s look at what it means to burn bridges.
1. In relationships. In dating scenarios, long term relationships, and friendships, burning bridges might mean communicating honestly your dissatisfaction, dislike, disinterest or desire to terminate the relationship when the situation calls for it. Respectfully, of course.
It is not being mean. Rather, it is leaving no uncertainty in the other person’s mind about your feelings or opinions on a situation.
2. At work. In your career or in business, it might mean saying no to opportunities that don’t build your vision. There is an excellent example of bridge burning in a career context in the book Essentialism, the Disciplined Pursuit of Less, which features in this list of 35 Self-Development books to read ASAP:
Herb Kelleher, who led Southwest airlines for years, made very deliberate trade-offs; decisions he was lambasted for. Rather than fly to every destination like rival flight companies, he kept flights point-to-point. So that they didn’t have to jack up prices, SW never served meals, or allowed customers to choose seats. Herb was able to do that because he had clarity of purpose. In other words, he was clear about the end result he was trying to achieve.
3. In our general life path. In life, burning bridges might look like decisive action about how to invest money, or which area of the country, or world, to live in. For example, by choosing to invest all of your savings in a house, you are burning your bridges on the possibility of investing that money in a business idea.
Why burning bridges brings up a lot of fear
Why is bridge burning hard for a lot of us? We:
- care too much about being liked.
- lack clarity of vision.
- haven’t learned to trust ourselves.
Flipping those around then, successfully burning bridges requires that we:
Are willing not be liked. With relationships, bridge burning involves being direct with people when the situation calls for it, and risking not being liked, misunderstood, or even criticized and blamed. This is a deep fear for most people. And it is definitely a trade off. But it is one that we all must be willing to make if we want to experience the psychological benefits that come with feeling fully responsible in life.
Have a clear vision of what you want. If we lack a clear vision of how we want life to look across life areas, then we will struggle a lot with bridge burning. We will be too full of doubt, and too uncertain, about whether we will want to pursue a situation or a person. So it is essential to build our self awareness to a point where we can easily identify our values.
Trust in our own intuition and decision making. Many of us don’t trust our own judgment for whatever reason. We can cultivate greater trust in ourselves and our intuition over time.
Resolve and commitment
Burning bridges is a real ally when we are resolved and committed to something. And resolve and commitment are how we make the things we want in life manifest.
“Resolve means it’s done,” said coach Tony Robbins. “It’s done inside [your heart], therefore it’s done [in the real world.]” When you are resolved, there is no question whatsoever. Our decision has been made. It is sometimes negatively referred to as ‘bloody mindedness’
Very few people make this level of decision. We are generally unwilling to leave ourselves without an escape route. But this keeps us procrastinating and frustrated.
When we don’t make definite decisions about what we’re going to do, we are bobbing about by the tide. Also, we’ll be swayed by external conditions and overpowered by other people’s resolve.
Sometimes we burn our bridges and regret it. That’s bound to happen sometimes.
Why might you want to rebuild bridges?
Because you realized you ended a relationship with a person who made your life better. Or because the work you thought you wanted to do, isn’t what you want to do really.
Rebuilding bridges is its own set of skills. It takes courage and speaking from a position of sincerity and authenticity. You might get rejected, but dealing with rejection is another necessity in the life playground.
Burning bridges isn’t something we should avoid doing.
We can train ourselves to welcome it and even enjoy it.