Workplace Wellness: Repairing Burned Bridges

Workplace Wellness: Repairing Burned Bridges (Getty Images)

Growing up, my dad always lectured me about the importance of one’s reputation. 

I can still hear his burly voice: “All you have is your word and your rep.” Sadly, I didn’t quite understand the weight of that wisdom until I went against it. 

There were times in the early part of my professional career — as I married, struggled with finances and prepared for parenthood —  when I didn’t handle situations as well as I could have. That’s especially the case as it pertains to staying in touch with publications that I freelanced for. There were times when I didn’t give proper notice about my availability to complete freelance assignments. There were also times when I didn’t give any notice at all. That not only burned professional bridges but harmed great relationships with interesting people. It’s one of my greatest professional regrets. 

However, I believe I’ve come out of that timeframe with a clearer head and a greater appreciation for my father’s advice. These are some key things I learned as a result of it, and lessons I hope to impart to young freelancers.

Communicate, communicate, communicate 

Unexpected things happen in life. Loved ones die, babies are born, move to different states, get sick, get lucky and get into car accidents. These are the kinds of events that can put freelance activities on the backburner and rightly so. However, no matter what might keep you from your typical assignment output, it’s best to communicate that to the places you work for. Maybe something can be arranged that will allow you to work for them again — or maybe not. Either way, it’s best that you handle the situation by communicating, so that if you must permanently stop your freelancing duties, you’ll be leaving with your integrity and a strong reputation. 

Maintain the relationship 

Even if you must put a pause on your freelancing activities, that doesn’t mean you need to relinquish the relationships you’ve formed. Every once in a while, check in with your former workmates to see how they are doing. Keep tabs on their work and ask them questions about it. Meet for coffee or a walk downtown. Let the people you worked with know that you genuinely valued the time you spent together. 

Do better next time

If you do go on to make the mistake I made, don’t beat yourself up over it for too long. Acknowledge the harm you did, take steps to apologize and move on. Everyone deserves a second chance and most people have done regrettable things. Be proud to be one of the few who can admit and pay those learnings forward to future generations. 

Noah Johnson is a Chicago-based journalist.

Edited by NaTyshca Pickett

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