I’ve broken my own three rules about leaving a company

 

“When I cleared out my desk last week, I felt fine. I simply scooped up 32 years of workplace detritus and dumped it in the bin.” Photograph: Getty

“When I cleared out my desk last week, I felt fine. I simply scooped up 32 years of workplace detritus and dumped it in the bin.” Photograph: Getty

 

What is the most decorous way to leave a company where you have worked happily for decades?

I had always thought there were three things well-behaved people never did. They did not poach colleagues. They did not hang around afterwards, but made a clean break. And they did not get embarrassingly emotional.

Each of these rules makes sense. But now I am finally leaving the Financial Times after 32 years, I find myself in flagrant breach of all three.

I have spent much of the past year coaxing older colleagues (and ageing professionals of all sorts) to quit, and join me as teachers in inner London schools. As for a clean break, when the Financial Times suggested I go on writing a dozen articles a year, I grabbed it. The extra cash will come in handy and I want to write about teaching.

But the third rule I am breaking unexpectedly and unwillingly. As I sit down to write this last column, I feel so wobbly I can hardly put one word in front of another.

This has taken me quite by surprise. I announced I was leaving so long ago, I have had ages to get used to the idea. And it is not as if I am regretting it.

Dusty awards

When I cleared out my desk last week, I felt fine. I simply scooped up 32 years of workplace detritus and dumped it in the bin. I barely glanced at the letters I had been preserving in desk drawers for decades. I Marie Kondo-ed the lot into paper recycling. I paused briefly over the dusty trophies awarded by organisations that are now defunct. My dilemma was whether to put them into the mixed recycling bin or the general rubbish.

With the desk clear, I went downstairs to get a Diet Coke from the vending machine and bumped into a man who works in the library and has been at the Financial Times for almost as long as I have. “I’ll miss you,” he said. “We go way back.”

Out of nowhere I was hit by the momentousness of it. The paper has been a constant for virtually my entire adult life. It has been part of my existence for longer than any of my children, who are all grown up.

I have just told an old friend that I am beset with an odd sort of grief and she pointed out (in a slightly backhanded way) that my relationship with the Financial Times has been one of the longest and most successful of my life. And I am ending it.

If she is right to see it as a relationship, the question is who or what that relationship has been with. It is more than with a group of colleagues, as they have come and gone. Of all the people I joined with in 1985, only the editor is still at it.

It is more than a relationship with a building, although a particular commute, my view over a flat roof, my often-repeated jokes with the doorman have been the scaffolding of my working days.

Instead I feel I have a relationship with an idea of the Financial Times. That idea stands for judgment and knowledge and decency. Though it is soppy to say so, it is an idea I cling to, one that fills me with pride.

Readers are an enigma

Most of all the relationship is the – slightly lopsided – one I have with readers. You know me (or the side I choose to write about) but I do not know you. Even after all these years of writing this column, I still cannot work you out. Sometimes I write things that greatly amuse me – like how Jeff Bezos keeps his vitamin pills in his socks – which you judged stupid. But then I write something I think a bit lame, like how it is good to say no, and you like it a lot.

It does not matter if readers can be an enigma. You read the stuff. You write to me intelligently about it. You have, one way and another, paid my salary, for which I am eternally grateful. I am not frightened of losing the status of Financial Times club membership. It is the thought of being without the safety blanket of your response – both approval and disapproval – that is unnerving me.

Yet even this does not scare me as much as the thought of teaching ratios to bottom set Year Nine. That truly terrifies me – which is precisely the point.

– Copyright The Financial Times Ltd

 

Previously published in The Irish Times.

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