Leaving The Project

For some reason, I never have one of those jobs where you can give just two weeks’ notice, put your stuff in a box and not think twice about the work you leave behind.

The worst instance was when I decided to leave  my 18-year teaching career.  The conversation with the potential new employer began during the summer, but the job didn’t materialize until February.  Although my new employer wanted me to start “yesterday,” I couldn’t desert my Advanced Placement U.S. History class less than three months before the AP Exam, nor could I leave my Principal in the lurch.  So I started moonlighting at the new job while I finished up the school year.  After that slog, I swore I’d never give five months notice again.  At least though, everything was on the table:  everyone at school knew I was leaving in June.

This time, I gave my employer seven weeks notice, plus the promise that I’d plan the transition and consult later as needed.  I’m directing The Project, and it’s about 80% complete.  On one hand I feel a commitment to make sure that The Project gets finished cleanly and well.  On the other hand, many aspects of The Project have been hellish, and I’m perfectly fine with leaving it behind, quickly.  In general, I’m already looking ahead and would prefer to focus on selling the house, packing, planning the move, enjoying my last weeks in New York, thinking about the new job.  Oh, and it would be nice to take some time off.   And see lots of people before I go.

But I’m a compulsively responsible type, so I gave almost two months’ notice and am working on The Project until December 30.  The program I’m overseeing is being developed for a client, which in this case we’ll call the Government Agency.   The client doesn’t know I’m leaving yet.  When I told the folks I report to, we agreed that it was best to wait until after Thanksgiving, when we would have all the ducks in a row.   

By the week after Thanksgiving, the ducks were lining up nicely, and I was hoping that all could be revealed by the week of December 7.  Then I was summoned to attend four days of meetings in Washington next week, with another day’s meeting scheduled for the following Monday.  I’m part of a veritable army of contractors assembled to brief the agency’s advisory group on one day, a cabinet secretary on the next, and members of the House and Senate on yet another (my role is to be on hand in case questions are asked about my tiny piece of the vast operation).  This is important stuff for the Government Agency, and my news is not.  So, we’ve decided that the transition conversation can wait until I’m back in New York, which brings us to December 15.  I guess I will be giving two weeks’ notice after all.

There’s really no professional problem in this scenario.  The  transition plan is written; my team is capable, seasoned, and prepared; the hand-off should be seamless.  The final 20% of the project will get done without me as well as if I were there. 

The real problem is personal.  I have to spend four — no five — days avoiding what is the single-most important preoccupation of my life right now.  Can’t talk  about Alabama, about selling my house, about packing, about my blog, or about the new job.  Have to hope that I really did remember to block all the people on FB who might be connected to The Project or to the client, and that there are enough degrees of separation in the world to keep my “secret” secure.   

Worst, though, I have to practice low-level deceit.  It’s essentially benign, but it’s not my way.  I’ll be making plans for events, meetings and deadlines in January, February and March.  Will my face or voice somehow betray that I won’t be there?  Will I be mindful and avoid committing my soon-to-be-former employer to tasks I won’t be able to carry out?   

Most of all, will I be able to mask how happy and excited I’m feeling about what lies ahead?  “Happy and excited” aren’t words usually associated with The Project, so unexplained joy could raise a red flag. 

Some of those folks might sniff out that deliverance is near.