Imagine that you are at a party. You are sitting on the sofa with a guy playing a game of chess. All of a sudden he gets up and stomps off to the kitchen, knocking game pieces to the floor and not pausing to pick them up. On his way out, he slams the door behind himself. Then, he opens the door and sticks his head through and says, “Hey, how’s it going in there? Do you have pizza? Because I have pizza in here and it is awesome! Man, I am so glad I’m not in the living room anymore; you are sort of a sucker for still just sitting there. Hey, sofa – thanks for nothing! I’m a fridge man now!” Then he slams the door again and this time it locks behind him. You hear rustling in the kitchen and then a bit later he tries the door, only to find it locked. You can hear his muffled voice through the door: “Hey, buddy. Buddy? Can I get a hand? The pizza is cold and the microwave isn’t working and I really want to sit down. You there? Pal?”
Now pretend that you are in the kitchen at the party and this guy walks in and slams the door behind him. You haven’t met him before but immediately he starts ranting about the schmucks in the living room. He says, “Oh you have pizza! I really wanted some pizza!” and he descends like a horde of vultures on the pie. After glutting himself he says, “Man, I’m not sure if that was such a good idea. I’d better go sit down” and tries to go back to the living room, but it the door is locked. You are pretty irritated because he devastated your pizza and didn’t even offer to clean up, which is an unspoken agreement in the kitchen. You would just as soon he went back to the living room, even though you are pretty sure your ears will be burning once he leaves.
What is your impression of this person? Are you likely to be inclined to help him? How would you feel about working with him? While this may seem like a silly analogy, people behave like this during professional transitions all of the time – leaving abruptly with a trail of problems in their wake, storming into their new position like a bull in a china shop. The moral of the story is, when you go through a door, open and close it gently, with due consideration to the people on either side. When you are leaving a position – even if it is one that you had come to detest, with colleagues who you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy – leave gracefully. Make sure you make things easy on the people who are going to pick up the slack generated by your absence. Aside from it being good karma, these are people who may end up being a critical node in your network when you are looking for your next job.
Likewise, walk into a new job like you are a walking into a room filled with strangers. Be polite and observant. Don’t dish dirt on people in the other room and don’t act like you own the place when you’ve just arrived. There are lot of recommendations I could offer for how to transition successfully into a new role and really hit the ground running, but the to-do list is driven by a certain frame of mind: be like a traveler in a strange land. Be open, friendly, and courteous. Assume you have much to learn and be diligent in your efforts to do so. A successful career path is not just function of talent, experience, and expertise. Character and conscientiousness are critical, because they shape the assistance you are likely to receive along the way. The most successful people aren’t those who know everything, but those who know when to get help and who to go to for it. The most valued people aren’t lone rangers, but those who know when to reach back and help others in turn.