We’ve all been told at some point in our lives, “Don’t Burn Your Bridges!” Who am I kidding? I’m sure you’ve heard this more than once, especially as an actor in the Entertainment Industry! While I’m going to address it from an actor’s POV in regards to having a career, this topic doesn’t just apply to actors or work, but to anyone anywhere that has relationships with other people – so basically everyone and in any situation.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, it seems that the meaning of the phrase “Don’t Burn Your Bridges,” has become a bit misconstrued. So many of us were given this advice by loving parents who wanted the best for us and so we really took the phrase to heart. The problem is that our parents didn’t realize just how “to heart” it was being taken. Today “Don’t Burn Your Bridges” appears to have morphed into a false sense of reality that implies that we should all get along with everyone we meet, that we should want everyone to like us, and that no matter what transpires during a work relationship, we should strive to keep it going for fear of some sort of retaliation or major negative consequence. Well, this is just a bunch of bullshit! The real reality is that we don't have to get along with everyone we meet, not everyone is going to like us, not every relationship is good for us, and while every choice has consequences (good and bad) sometimes accepting those consequences is better for us than accepting the status quo. It can be really hard to fight against this preconceived notion and to accept the idea that we don’t have to keep every work relationship we’ve ever made. But, if you really start paying close attention to the people whom you consider to be very successful, you'll start to realize that they have indeed burnt bridges along the way, and are in fact none the worse for wear.
Before I go any further, I want to discuss another misconception that we seem to have when it comes to burning bridges; it’s part of the reason why this is such a controversial topic. When we think of the classic case of burning bridges, we automatically assume that there has been some kind of big blow-up that leads to the end of a relationship. While this does happen and will more than likely happen at least once to each of us, I’m not condoning this method of bridge burning. Just like with anything in life, there is more than one way to skin a cat, or in this case, to burn a bridge. I believe the true meaning of the phrase “Don’t Burn Your Bridges” was meant to imply that you shouldn’t attack (professionally, mentally, physically, etc.) another person as a means to ending the relationship you have with them. It was meant to prevent you from acting like an ass, but not meant to prevent you from ending relationships.
So now that we have a better definition, just when is it ok or even recommended to burn a bridge? There are many times when burning a professional bridge is the best thing you can do for yourself. Maybe someone is wasting your valuable time, maybe they bring too much drama with them, maybe they have a bad reputation that reflects poorly on you, or maybe they are just someone who discourages you instead of supporting you.
You will find these people at every stage in your career – some of them will be very successful – though I still have yet to figure out how that happens. Just because they are successful, does not mean being connected to them will help you to succeed. It’s usually quite the opposite, they are often the ones who will bring you down. So give yourself permission to burn these bridges out of your life and your career – they are toxic and you don’t need them! Just remember that you can go ahead and burn these bridges, but don’t let anyone see the smoke! That way, if things change, you may just be able to easily rebuild that bridge in the future.
Next Week: How Do I Get an Agent?