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Writing a Goodbye Note: Sometimes, it can take a lifetime to learn how to do it right

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I’VE WRITTEN MANY goodbye notes over the course of my career.

That happens when you have worked a long time. But what I’ve found is that  writing a goodbye note can be challenging and difficult to get just right.

I have had a lot of practice writing them, and much of what I believe about writing a goodbye note flows from a single goodbye phone call — one where I never even said goodbye.

My paternal grandfather was George Hollon, and my last talk with him was on the day he died.

I didn’t know that when I answered his phone call on that Sunday morning, but talking to him one last time has not only comforted me through the years but has also had a huge impact on my life ever since.

Here’s the odd thing: For some reason, my grandfather tried to call everybody in the family that day. We don’t know why and only found out after he was gone.

I was the only one he was able to reach. It was on Sunday morning, March 29, 1987. He was 81-years-old and in fair health. There were no warning signs in our discussion that the end was near, but he had a heart attack later that day.

What a phone call taught me about saying goodbye

Two things I remember from the call:

  • He was excited he had another great-grandchild coming — and that would be my younger son Christopher, who was born three months later on July 1, 1987. My grandfather lived for his grandkids and great grandkids, and he was very, very happy that another one was arriving soon.
  • He wanted to talk about why I was looking for a new job. I was the News Editor at The Orange County Register and I had just returned from a job interview at The Denver Post. Grandpa had struggled to keep working during The Great Depression, and it made him painfully aware of how important a good job was. He gently and lovingly talked about why I should appreciate what I had. He was very passionate about this, and I ended up turning down the job offer. My grandfather played a big role in that.

I CAN’T REMEMBER much else. We briefly talked about getting together for Easter brunch three weeks later, and he was happy about that too. But that was it.

To this day I wonder — how would the call had gone if I had any hint it might be our last?

That’s something I have never been able to answer, but one thing is clear: the call with my Grandpa was comforting — even if it wasn’t a real goodbye.

The formula for crafting a meaningful goodbye

That’s why I put so much stock in making a proper farewell to people who mean a lot to you. It’s what I did at the end of May when my job at the HR technology firm Fuel50 came to an end.

I was the Managing Editor on the Marketing team — a first for me, because I had never worked in Marketing before — and although I never personally met most of my New Zealand teammates, we connected throughout the pandemic and lockdown via Zoom multiple times per week.

It was a tight, close-knit team, and it was great until it wasn’t. Business conditions caused staff cutbacks, and as a part-timer half a world away, I got the axe.

After nearly four years at Fuel50, it was time to say goodbye

HERE’S WHAT I HAVE LEARNED about writing a goodbye note, and I have never gone wrong following these steps:

  • Share yourself — both the good and the bad — and let your feelings flow.
  • Add a little history about how you got there, what you did, and how you felt about it.
  • Tell your colleagues what they meant to you, and how your life has been impacted as a result.
  • Say your goodbyes and feel free to close with some heartfelt emotion.
  • You never want to have regrets or feel there are things left unsaid. Write it as if you will never, ever get a chance to address them again.

Need an example? Here’s what I wrote to my Marketing colleagues at Fuel50 when I departed in May. See what you think, and don’t hesitate to make a comment or offer feedback:

So long, farewell, goodbye

Dear Marketing Team —

I know it is Friday today in New Zealand, so I wanted to send all of you one last note before I’m history.

Most of you know this and have experienced it up close and personal, but in life, you can’t always get what you want. The Rolling Stones put that in a song a long time ago, and it’s true. But the Stones added something else.

Yes, “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find, you get what you need.” Mick Jagger and the guys were right about that, too.

Marketing work at Fuel50 was not what I really wanted back in September 2019, because I was focused on finding a job as a full-time supervising editor somewhere. But I had been helping Rhonda Taylor with the editing of her hockey book, and she called me one day and said she had been talking to Fuel50 about a job but they needed a Marketing writer. She said she had suggested me to (Fuel50 CEO) Anne Fulton.

I knew Anne from when I published a half-dozen of her articles at TLNT.com back when I was Editor there. I actually met her, and (Fuel50 COO) Jo Mills, at the lobby bar in the Hyatt Regency Chicago when HR Tech was still held there. Anne was also kind enough to take me out to lunch here in Huntington Beach when I left TLNT in the Spring of 2016, and we had a nice meal chatting about what I might do next.

I bounced around doing contract work after that, including a brief stint walking the streets and talking to people for the U.S. Census Bureau in the summer of 2019. A gig at Fuel50 as a part-time contract writer in the Marketing Department seemed a lot better than that, especially because it let me reconnect with Anne again.

It may have not been what I wanted, but it turned out to be exactly what I needed.

That’s what I have been doing for the last four years. I came to terms with things and really embraced working in Marketing for Fuel50. The fact that it was on a great team with wonderful people made it fulfilling and fun. I hoped it would go on for another year or two, and that I could continue on and glide into retirement at some point. But again, you can’t always get what you want.

I’m sorry this is so long in the setup, but I really just want to say goodbye to all you incredible people. I’ve worked on a lot of teams, and led many more, but it is very rare to find one that is as cohesive and fun as this one is. It has been one of the very best experiences I’ve had in my long career.

The Marketing Department has only grown since I started back in late September of 2019, so having Marketeers leave Fuel50 seems odd. When Rhonda and I started, the only people in Marketing were Asher, Emily and Paganne. A lot has happened since then, including getting to know all the rest of you and welcoming beautiful babies for Paganne and Amy.

I’m happy for those of you I was able to meet in person, but I also treasure the connection I had with those I only knew from Zoom and Slack. Working with this group has been a marvelous experience, and if this job turns out to be my last, I will look back and smile when I think of how lucky I was to get to work with each and every one of you.

Asher has left open the possibility of me coming back on a one-off arrangement should something pop up, and I told him that I was open to that. In fact, I would love to help out again, but only God knows what the future holds.

Please stay well, work hard, and do whatever you can to keep Fuel50 going. I will greatly miss being here and doing that with you. In fact, I will miss all of you very, very much.

And as always, there’s one more thing … we all want to be able to close the chapters in our lives on our own terms. That is a natural part of the human condition. We want to control things, but the reality is that we don’t always get to do that. Sometimes, we don’t even get to control our feelings and emotions around those closing chapters, and that’s something I have been reminded of again this week.

If you can, please keep me in your thoughts and prayers. Drop a note if you get the chance … and call if you ever get out my way. I would love to connect with you again. In my heart, you are graduating from treasured colleagues to trusted friends.

It has been a great ride and I will be ever thankful for that.

As I told (CMO) Asher (Trotter), Vaya con dios. That’s Spanish for “Go with God” or “May God be with you.” I pray that he will take care of you in all your life journeys that are still ahead.

Until we meet again …

John

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