The Bridges You’ve Burned

So many people find themselves playing dodge ball with mistakes of the past. They’ve burned bridges with people and end up in a never ending game of having to find alternative routes to their destination. So often this isn’t necessary. Just as we fix the broken bridges in our lives we use for driving and walking, the bridges we have with other individuals can usually be repaired with a sincere apology and evidence of change.

In a recent conversation with a job seeker, we’ll call him Joe, Joe mentioned an employer he was leaving off of his resume that would be helpful to him to have featured. Joe was fired from this company, you see, and he doesn’t want others to know about it since the owner of that company is well connected. There was a time when Joe was considered a great employee and had even been promoted. In an immature moment, he became frustrated with another employee and threw an object at the wall. The company terminated him immediately. All of his past accomplishments and contributions couldn’t save him from the chopping block. It was a stupid thing for him to do. Joe was a young guy and made a mistake. In the years since that moment, Joe hasn’t thrown more than a baseball. The fact he was fired for lashing out likely set him on a better path professionally. It was definitely a learning experience. The Joe of today has grown a great deal from that young man with an overactive right arm. The time has come to right the wrongs of his past so he can move on without fear of that mistake resurfacing. He needs to repair the bridge he damaged and show his former supervisor he has grown as a person and regrets his past actions.

Joe is ready to face the music and do what it takes to repair a damaged bridge. The recruiter in me wishes more job seekers would take the same leap. No one is perfect. Mistakes are a part of the human condition. Success in life doesn’t come from how well we hide from those mistakes, but how well we address them. So many people hide. Those who are able to look another in the eye and admit they came up short are rare. When someone has expressed genuine regret to me, I’ve always appreciated the acknowledgment. When I’ve expressed genuine regret to others, I’ve always felt more connected to them than before. Oddly enough, the personal and professional relationships I have that have weathered some sort of storm are the ones with the deepest loyalty at the end of the day.


  • Mary Ablao says:

    Love, love, love this site! Practical tips can be used for business and personal life too.. Great free lessons. Thank you LISA!
    2 seconds ago

  • Brian says:

    Hey Lisa! Great post! You'll have to keep us posted, 'cuz I'm dying to know…does he repair the relationship well enough to feel comfortable putting it back on his resume?

  • Anonymous says:

    Lisa, this is a fantastic topic. I bet many people will benefit from you addressing this scenario. Just curious, what is Joe's ultimate goal? Is it to rebuild the relationship so that he may expose this job on his resume? Additionally, what should Joe's next course of action be if his attempts to reach out are either ignored or not taken seriously?

  • Lisa says:

    Great questions, Anonymous. First, Joe's goal should be to convey the genuine regret he feels to his former employer. Joe is truly bothered by the fact he knows that experience is not indicative of the man he is today. It's compromising his self-confidence and his ability to effectively sell himself to other employers. It's a monkey on his back. If extending a well deserved apology is his priority, there is a better chance of it being received as sincere.

    That said, since he also has the motive of being able to include that employer on his resume without fear of it biting him in the tail, it's wise to acknowledge that. Insulting the intelligence of his former employer by pretending that isn't the case is a mistake. All of us have the ability to connect the dots when someone's apology might also be part of a process to achieve a goal. That doesn't mean the person is bad. In my book, it makes them pretty smart to clean up life's messes that are holding them back.

    If Joe reaching out isn't well received, he has the knowledge of knowing he tried. He can even share that with prospective employers. As a recruiter, I always appreciated people who could speak honestly about mistakes they made and the lengths they went to to set things right. So often you feel like you are getting a snow job. If a person really has changed, if the mistakes of the past aren't indicative of today, there is no better way to demonstrate that then to show ease in sharing lessons learned.

    I suspect, however, the apology will be well received. Over the years many job seekers have blown it with me. They've done things to shatter my professional reputation with corporate clients without regret. Only a few have ever taken the time to apologize and attempt to make up for their poor choices. I say "a few", but I can honestly only think of one. I'm guessing Joe's former employer is going to be pleasantly surprised. He may even feel some closure himself as I'm sure he hated having to fire an employee who had showed so much promise prior to the day he lashed out. I know I still think about the people I've had to fire through the years. It's not a good feeling. There are times when people leave you no choice. Many employers aren't numb to the act of firing someone. If it was an employee the supervisor invested a lot of time in, there can even be resentment that the person put him in a position to have to fire him.

  • Liz says:

    Great advice. Taking the high road and apologizing for mistakes is usually the best way to go.

    Liz Handlin

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