We talk about how to start - how to make an idea big, beautiful, and important. How to ideate and prototype and iterate. We talk about business model canvas, cash flows, and communication plans. We talk about gaining confidence and now failure - how to do it, embrace it, and run with the lessons. We talk about new, more, and growth.
I never once thought about the exit strategy - about letting go. Thinking it was negative, I never thought about how I would walk away from an idea. How do you have that conversation with yourself that your heart isn't in it any more and that by sticking around - you are no longer breathing life into your work? If anything, you are taking it away. No one really talks about this bit amidst their inspiring ideation sessions.
I said goodbye to TEDxPortobello and CycleHack at the end of last year. Anyone that knows me knows that these two wonderful spaces were built into my professional and personal narrative. They gave me countless special moments and people and led me to where I am today. The decision to move on lived in my belly for months and I refused to acknowledge it was there for a long time. I refused to think that I might be a 'quitter' or that by not having enough on my plate meant I wasn't working hard enough. This was a big thing - to me, if I wasn't 'busy' it reflected badly on me.
It made me think about letting go and how much we don't talk about it.
As a kid, we talked a lot about the graceful exit as a way to manage transitions and values.
I've tried to be true to this mindset in a lot of my life but it wasn't until the past year that I felt the true meaning of the graceful exit in terms of my work. Not other people's work - but my own 'roll up your sleeves and create something new and great' work.
From this both painful and exhilarating process - I learned a lot about myself and how we need to talk about walking away. We need to talk about how letting go is okay.
Just because you are leaving doesn't mean it wasn't great.
Just because you are leaving doesn't mean that your contributions and takeaways are any less important. I will always have the wonderful memories of CycleHack and TEDx. Making the Kickstarter film for our very green idea to the masterclasses where speakers shared their talks in progress - these moments will always be true. My involvement in their growth will be true as well.
You aren't quitting.
This was a hard one for me. I was raised in a family with superhuman work ethic and trained as resilient athlete - I don't quit things. I finally came to understand this isn't about joining or quitting - this about transitions. Your business, project, or idea is ready to grow in a new way and it doesn't include you (which is hard at first, but I promise it gets easier). For CycleHack - Matt and Sarah have used the opportunity to grow the business is a more meaningful way. For TEDx - the new team is dynamic and creative. Their ideas are flat out better than mine and that will make the community stronger. Maybe your project will stop. This isn't failure - this is a transition that means something great (which you might not know about yet) will come of it. Sometimes the project will go on, sometimes it won't - but it's a transition for the better nonetheless.
Gratitude is central to the graceful exit
There is a great deal of peace in gratitude. As letting go of something brings up all kinds of feelings - a fear of regret, guilt, uncertainty - navigating these emotions becomes an art in itself. You just gotta go through these bits. But the grace of a goodbye is finding the gratitude for all that is happened (good, bad and the ugly) and carrying that with you like precious cargo.
Approach a new venture with intention.
When you start something new - take time to think about what's important to you (not just your business), what you value, what gives you energy. Share this with your team. Think about this often and check in - make sure you are being true to yourself. No one likes to think about an ending at a beginning but it's a crucial part of any start. This isn't negative or pessimistic - it's being true to your idea and will make it big and strong if it needs to be.
Your work is only as strong as your heart.
I guess this doesn't always have to be the case - you can do your work without heart. You can do your work without your full attention and care. This isn't how I want to commit my time. If you are tired and lacking the love - your work will suffer greatly. Cultivate the passion and energy for your business outside of to-do lists and if you approach your work with intention, it's easier to feel the shift and transition.
A friend of mine gave me some great advice one day and I think about it often. Think about your idea, business, and work as a partner - as a pal, boyfriend or girlfriend. If your work /idea/business was a person - would you want to meet it for a beer? Does it give you a sense of worth and challenge you to be a better version of yourself? Does it inspire you and give you energy? If you explained to your best friend how it made you feel - what would you say? If for the most part it doesn't do these things often (and let's be real - it won't always will all the time) - ask yourself the tough questions.
Be honest with your partners and colleagues but more than anything - be honest with yourself. Every exit is truly an entry.