By Brett Cafferty

When invading hostile territory, Roman Empire generals often burned the bridges after they were crossed, eliminating the possibility of a retreat. The only option was to push forward and fight to survive. Two thousand years later, the term is typically used in the context of not doing something you may regret later, especially in situations of job or career changes.

Our son was recently navigating a job change. He was considering leaving his first professional role after college, where he thrived and enjoyed the work and the people. I offered my perspective and reiterated the importance of doing what is right for the good of his employer in helping through this transition and not “burning a bridge.” Thankfully there was no animosity, and all parties are on good terms. It doesn’t always work out this way.

Having lived and worked in the Knoxville business community for more than 25 years, the relationships of people within an industry and related businesses, in addition to church and civic groups, all overlap and create interconnected “circles” that enable us to be aware of what’s going on in our corner of the market or town. In many ways, Knoxville is still a small town, and word gets around about those who do well on behalf of others and those who could do better in terms of character, attitude, and doing what is right.

While the current tight labor market tends to favor the employee with opportunities where the grass may be greener, at some point the tide will change. If I have learned one thing in my business career, it is that we have no idea what lies ahead, what our circumstances in two, five, or 10 years may look like, nor the people we might be involved with. It can be an exciting journey, but we don’t get to have a map!

The benefit of hindsight also reinforces the reality that how you approach and handle your affairs today, this week, and this year can have a significant impact (positive or negative) on situations and opportunities years in the future in ways you cannot foresee.

These are just a few observations from someone who has burned a bridge or two along the way, thankfully experienced grace in many situations, and sought to talk others “down” when emotions run high under pressure. If you find yourself in tough spot morally, ethically, or even legally, seek counsel from those you know to be wise, caring, and have your best interests at heart – before you burn that bridge.