The recent resignation of Alberto Gonzales as the Attorney General started my brain a-whirling about resignations in general. If you’ve been working for any length of time, odds are good you’ve probably resigned at least once. Every time I’ve given notice, I’ve written a resignation letter that gave me a rush of satisfaction. For me, the resignation letter was a sign of progress, proof I was moving ahead with my life. However, we’re all keenly aware that not every resignation letter is written with such pleasure.
Richard Nixon, one of history’s more well-known resignees, kept his letter short. He used only eleven words, not counting the salutation or closing:
I hereby resign the Office of President of the United States. (link)
You’ll notice none of those words included the reason behind his resignation. Resignations are intriguing because we so rarely hear the real reason behind them. Common, catch-all explanations include the infamous “spending more time with family” or the equally common “moving on to new opportunities.” Gonzales used “this is the right time for my family and I to begin a new chapter in our lives,” a nice combination of the two. (link) Again, no mention of the obvious factors that might be driving his decision.
Why are we so disinclined to write the real reason? In most cases, we already know the reason. What prompts us to use the “polite” explanation for our exit? I’m guilty of relying on the “new opportunities” explanation. I didn’t think it politic to list my reason as, “I can no longer force myself to get out of bed to come to work for you.”
The Web is filled with resignation letters, some real some fake, but definitely entertaining. I’m uncertain about the validity of this particular letter, but part of me hopes it’s real:
From: [REDACTED] Sent: Thursday, May 27, 2004 1:11 PM Subject: FW: Goodbye…
As many of you are aware, today is my last day at the firm. It is time for me to move on and I want you to know that I have accepted a position as “Trophy Husband”. This decision was quite easy and took little consideration. However, I am confident this new role represents a welcome change in my life and a step up from my current situation. While I have a high degree of personal respect for PHJW as a law firm, and I have made wonderful friendships during my time here, I am no longer comfortable working for a group largely populated by gossips, backstabbers and Napoleonic personalities. In fact, I dare say that I would rather be dressed up like a pinata and beaten than remain with this group any longer. I wish you continued success in your goals to turn vibrant, productive, dedicated associates into an aimless, shambling group of dry, lifeless husks.
May the smoke from any bridges I burn today be seen far and wide.
ps. Achilles absent, was Achilles still. (Homer)
Not every resignation is for negative reasons. Sometimes, you’re truly moving on to new and better things. There’s also the reality that the people/reasons your leaving won’t be affected by a beat down. As in many situations, the company as a whole, upper management, or something else my direct superior had no control over caused me to say “enough.” Why take out my unhappiness on people I still felt affection and respect for?
That still leaves the other reason behind resignations—public pressure. Again, the majority of people know the reasons. They’re analyzed by pundits and dissected in blogs. We all know what drove Gonzales’ resignation, perhaps not the final catalyst, but the general rationale for him to say “enough.” Why not say, “I quit. I’m tired of seeing story after story highlighting my missteps as Attorney General. I’m sick of seeing editorials demanding my resignation. I’ve had enough of public life.” Imagine how much fun the pundits and bloggers could have with that resignation.