How to leave your PT job or start a side hustle without burning bridges
Whether you're starting a new job or side hustle, career transitions can be so exciting!
But they can also bring a mixture of unexpected emotions---amIright?
When you got into your job, you probably remember feeling so inspired . and ready to take on this new adventure.
You may have even sought support for how to best interview and prepare.
But I'm guessing nobody sat you down and told you how to leave the job or add on a side gig once it was time to do so.
On the one hand, you may feel super jazzed about the new job offer you just accepted. Maybe it will bring you more time with clients. Or maybe you’re finally starting your own practice.
Freedom is on the horizon and you can taste it!
But on the other hand, starting a new gig inevitably means you may also have to leave your old one partially or completely--and go through the steps it takes to do that.
Even if you’re pumped about your new digs, you may still feel anxious -- or if we're being honest-- freaking petrified -- about having that dreaded conversation with your boss and/or colleagues.
Any number of these questions may be coming to mind:
Should I help out by finding a replacement for myself?
How much notice should I give, and how do I make this a seamless transition so it’s easy on my boss & colleagues?
Do I owe back any money that was paid for benefits like disability or continuing ed?
What will happen to my patients/clients?
Will I still be able to be mentored by my colleagues?
How will this affect my reputation?
Is a side hustle a conflict of interest?
Is it too soon to leave a job when I’m so early in my career?
How do I talk to my boss?
When is the “best” time to have the conversation?
I get these questions from PTs and other health pros all the time.
They’re important questions to consider for sure. And don't worry, I will definitely answer them in this article.
But perhaps the most important question I hear from every single person who seeks guidance from me is this one:
How do I leave my job without burning any bridges?
Ooooooooooof. My friend. I totally get it.
Just like it once did for me, this old adage (and perhaps myth) of “don’t burn any bridges” has no doubt infiltrated your heart and mind.
And let me guess...that one pesky question is making you take pause.
At times, that question may cause you to consider just staying put for a little bit longer.
You have probably heard stories of people putting in their notice or bringing up a side gig and getting fired on the spot.
And you may be thinking “I can’t afford for that to happen! How would I make any money?”
So--you may start attempting to micromanage every piece of the puzzle to hopefully “prevent” this from happening.
And that may lead you to think or do things like this:
Maybe if I just take on one more project, then my boss will see how valuable I am. I can put in my notice before the project is done and there is NO way she’ll fire me!
Maybe I’ll agree to take on a student. You don’t really want to, but then again it would be really hard for your boss to fire you because nobody else has time for a student. Plus it would look badly on your company if you got fired while a student is there.
These are actual scenarios that my clients encounter all the time.
Your scenario may look slightly different of course. But the truth is, the hidden intention behind these sneaky, micromanagey (is that a word?) actions is the same and we just need to call the elephant in the room:
You’re terrified, and you don’t know what to do.
And that is completely ok.
I want you to know you're not wrong for feeling nervous or trying to micromanage the situation. And that you are completely not alone.
These are great signs that you are on the verge of doing something amazing for yourself and your career.
But just because you feel this way doesn't mean you need to micromanage the situation, hem and haw, sugarcoat your actions, suck up, or stay stuck.
You can do way more by doing way less.
You can feel confident and clear.
You can do it all without creating a fuss.
But the truth is...no matter how or when you deliver your big news, you have no control over how your boss, business partner, team, or clients are going to respond.
Stay in your own lane.
You can only control what you do, say, think, and feel. And at the end of the day, taking full responsibility for YOUR experience--not theirs-- is all that matters.
So how do you do that?
Below are 4 steps that can help guide you through this process so that you stay centered on your own heart and can remain confident and grounded.
1. Take responsibility for only your own experience and laser in on your new vision. When you’re super clear on where you want to go and it’s rooted in your heart values, then nothing--not even fear or someone else's reaction--can stand in your way.
This is the part that most people gloss right over.
A lot of times, we can get so focused on what’s going wrong in our old or current jobs that we often lose sight on what could potentially go right in the new one.
This leads to lots of unnecessary dramatic storytelling in your head, taking and making things too personal (see #3), and development of more fear and anxiety than is necessary.
When we constantly and consistently tell dramatic stories and focus on what we’re fleeing from -- this is the birthplace of getting stuck. We are constantly on the run without a destination.
It usually is the birthplace of two sneaky hidden intentions too: victimhood (someone else is always to blame, therefore I am not responsible) and martyrdom (my situation is SO terrible, therefore I deserve to be rewarded/honored for how tough I’ve been).
Let’s be honest--we all find ourselves playing the role of victim or martyr at some point in our careers, especially when our jobs aren’t what we want them to be.
We get stuck in these patterns, which is ultimately what keeps us paralyzed.
And even though it may seem like you deserve to feel this way or someone else (like your boss or company management) deserves to be punished, the truth is, you are only punishing yourself.
And when left unchecked, these two tactics can erode the willingness to focus on a new, beautiful vision. It can make it hard to believe that the next step or next job will be any better.
On the converse...playing victim and martyr can also mean you unknowingly step into “Damsel in Distress” Syndrome--meaning you actually attach too much weight in your next vision to “save your life.”
The key here is to envision what could be possible in your new vision. Turn off that little “way too rational” voice that says “that’s impossible” and really let yourself play pretend here.
And most importantly...start by forming this vision around what you want for your ideal life. Don’t just focus on your job or business.
Here are some questions you can start with:
Do you want to spend more time with your loved ones/friends? How could you do that? Could you only work only 3-4 days? Only 6 hour days? Great! How could you actually afford to make that happen? Why would this be of value to you?
Do you want to actually take vacations that aren’t attached to a course or conference? Great! What kind of job might allow that? Why would you want this?
Do you want to set your own schedule so you can pick up your kids from school or be able to actually walk the dog (and yourself!) twice per day? Why would this be of value to you?
Do you want to have free weekends that are not full of note writing and projects? Why would this be helpful?
Good news! You CAN have all of this!
If you’re feeling stuck on this one, be sure to download my FREE Be the Boss of Your Career Blueprint, a 7-step guide to designing the career and/or business you love that pays what you deserve so you can live more and work less.
Once you’ve honed in on your vision--allow yourself to get excited--but remember, don’t be the damsel and attach your survival to it.
Remember that nobody forced you to take the job you’re in, and nobody is forcing you to stay there. You can leave any time you want.
And when you start micromanaging or second guessing--pull out this vision and refocus on WHY it’s most important to you.
2. Get your legal ducks in a row.
Before you leave your job or start a side hustle, you may need to consider if there are any legal ramifications or steps you need to follow.
Please know this section is written to inform you, not to scare you.
Before I proceed any further--please remember that I am not an attorney. Nothing I write from here moving forward constitutes legal advice. So please don’t say “Well JULIE said...” or assume I’m telling you what you can and cannot do. You are hereby advised to seek your own legal counsel if you’re tempted to do either of those things.
First of all, legal stuff is just legal stuff, and it doesn’t have to be super emotional or dramatic. Getting your legal ducks in a row is one of the highest acts of self care.
But because legal stuff gets a scary and bad rap thanks to Hollywood's attempt to make it scary, this is also a part that many professionals either overlook, half ass, or even spend way too much time worrying over to the point that they freeze themselves from taking action.
This is also a part that many professionals often overlook when starting a “side hustle" and regret later.
If you work for a large corporation, there are likely several procedures written out within the company’s human resources department for what you can and cannot do. And for any size company, it’s also possible you signed a contract or employment agreement when you first took your current job.
Those policies and procedures and/or contracts may stipulate the terms of resignation or side "gigging", including:
How much notice you are expected to give
Whether you have to return any benefits paid to you
Whether you can or cannot have a side hustle and what that can or cannot entail in terms of type of work and what you are expected to do to avoid conflicts of interest
Who you can and cannot talk to about your new job or side gig (i.e. can you tell patients, colleagues, etc)
Whether you can recruit current patients to your new job/gig, and how long you have to wait to be able to do that
How far (what distance radius) your new job/gig must be from your old job
Whether you can or cannot take or use any written or electronic materials you’ve produced for the business / under the business name (example: workshops, blogs, courses, etc). This last one is definitely something to check with an intellectual property attorney if there is a discrepancy or something you believe is truly "yours".
Various jurisdictions have different legal procedures for how these types of situations would be handled in a court of law. It is your responsibility to be clear on them and understand any risk you may be taking on.
Take responsibility, get your ducks in a row, and remember, it is not a bad or scary thing to consult an attorney. It's smart and professional, and a sign that you are taking care of yourself.
3. Let go: Don’t take or make anything personal
This one is really easy to do if you have taken care of #1 and #2, and if you remember that you can only control you and not anyone else.
Before you even consider resigning from your job, remember that this is not personal.
This is business.
Sure--you may have developed friendships, meaningful mentorships, and much more with your boss, colleagues, and maybe even your clients. And it may feel heartbreaking, sad, or maybe even like you’ll be lost without those daily contacts.
This is a sign that you have a big, loving heart.
And--loving people and working alongside them (potentially in an environment that no longer serves you) are not mutually exclusive things.
You can work somewhere else and still be friends or in a mentor/mentee relationship with someone.
And if you have allowed yourself to get a little too attached or you have become too much of a pleaser--it’s probably a sign that you’re not taking responsibility for your experience of life.
That may sound harsh--but the truth is--you are more than your job. You don’t need this job (or any job, or colleagues, or clients) to “make you happy.”
Happiness is an inside job. That one’s on you, sister.
And hanging on too long, walking on eggshells, trying to mind-control others, or micromanaging the situation in your job means that you’re actually making it about yourself, not about others.
It means that you are attaching your worth and your image of success to what they think.
And you don’t have to do that.
You are worthy and loved by birthright. People can say mean things and your boss or colleagues may not “take the news well”--but that doesn’t change this beautiful, irrefutable truth about you.
And if someone pitches a fit, becomes passive aggressive or even fires you on the spot--just know that it’s not about you. It’s about them and whatever is going on in their own heads and hearts.
So please. Don’t take it personally.
As a business owner and business coach--I can attest that most of the time, your boss and/or manager will completely support your growth and success whether that means you work for them or not.
And it also may mean that they will start to look to hire someone else to replace you before you leave. This is not personal. It is a normal part of any business. They need to have a continuation of revenue so they can pay their own bills, just like you do.
And lastly--it is not your responsibility to try and make amends and to lessen the transition burden.
And it is definitely not your responsibility to replace yourself. That is, unless you are the business owner yourself and you are selling the business.
Those last 3 points may seem like nice things to do and perhaps may be helpful and appropriate in some rare cases, but I urge you to pause and ensure you are not doing this because you “just feel bad” and are trying to “make it up to them.”
Again, doing that means you’re practicing being a people pleaser and making it about yourself.
You can still care about someone without stepping out of your lane and not minding your own business.
And if someone does give you grief or expect you to make it up to them, that's out of your control, you don't have to do it, and it is just a sign that you likely don't need to be in that job anyway.
Stay in YOUR lane. Stay zeroed in on your heart and your vision.
And then--Love yourself enough to let go, my dear.
Realllllly let go.
And know this may trigger feelings of grief, loneliness, or hurt.
That’s ok and totally normal. And you can handle having feelings. There is nothing wrong with you.
You may need to plan to cut ties completely for a few weeks to give yourself space and time to heal.
Take responsibility for yourself, stay laser focused on your new job and vision, and get out there and make it happen!
4. Be honest! And don’t tell everything and everyone you know
Last but not least...the “how” part.
As in, “how” to actually have the conversation.
Put simply: Just be honest.
If you’re laser focused on your new vision, you have your legal ducks in a row, and you are sure you aren’t taking or making it personal, then being honest is just a matter of showing up, telling the truth from your heart, and feeling so firmly grounded in your own two shoes that nothing anyone says or does can uproot you.
Yes, of course there is a BUT.
Don’t tell everything and everyone you know.
When having a resignation meeting, be discreet in setting it up.
Don’t tell everyone but your boss that it’s coming.
And be sure to give your boss some form of a heads up about the nature of the meeting. Keep it simple: “I’d love to meet with you to chat about my goals and vision for this job.”
Give a specific time you’d like to meet. Be firm but patient, and follow up as necessary until it is scheduled.
And keep the meeting short and sweet:
Speak from your heart, but keep it professional (remember? Don’t make it too personal). Be unapologetically yourself.
Show your gratitude for your current job without overdoing it. Give 2-3 specific things you’ve learned.
Say the words “I am resigning.” Be sure to provide a written notice and save a copy for yourself as well.
Do not apologize. Say thank you instead.
Make it about your life and your life vision. You have nothing to apologize for (remember--take responsibility for you and don’t make it personal!)
And lastly, you do not have to tell anyone where you are going or what you are doing next, even if they ask.
The icky stuff nobody wants to talk about
Unfortunately, these 4 steps are not foolproof, and sometimes (rarely!) unprofessional stuff does happen.
Sometimes leave your job because it is a truly terrible situation for you. If you are truly worried about the meeting or the notice/resignation period going negatively, I highly recommend ensuring there is a witness present for the meeting and you are in touch with human resources or legal counsel during the time between when you resign and actually leave. Larger practices and corporations usually have Human Resources professionals and policies and procedures in place for this. In smaller practices, especially those where you feel one or both of you may be too “attached” and things may get too emotional, or issues about your contract may come up, this is another place where having an attorney present may be appropriate.
There have also been stories of former employers or colleagues attempting to “ruin your reputation.” Remember, these situations are the exception, not the rule. But sometimes this happens out of your control no matter how well you “handle” the situation. This would be another great time to ensure you have support from the company’s HR department and/or your own legal counsel.
Let’s do this!
Ok friends! If you’ve made it this far in this article, it means you’re truly a trailblazer and ready to take the plunge.
Leaving your job for another opportunity is never a sign of failure or doing something wrong. It may not always look and feel this way--but it is always a sign that you are growing into a better and stronger version of yourself.
And trust me--this type of thing does get better with practice.
Still feeling stuck and need support?
I’d be happy to chat with you about it! I love to help physical therapists and health professionals feeling stuck and directionless in their jobs to gain clarity and confidence for a more heart-centered career and life.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out and we’ll find a time to jump on a quick phone call.
And if you want to go ahead and dive in deeper, make sure to download my free Be the Boss of Your Career Blueprint. You’ll get instant access to more tips and tricks on creating a career path that you truly love that pays what you deserve so you can live more and work less.
Best of luck to you in your next step.
I’m proud of you for taking care of YOU and doing what is best!
In love and health,