I used to rule the world, Seas would rise when I gave the word.  Now in the morning, I sleep alone, Sweep the streets I used to own. (Viva La Vida, Coldplay)

On the tenth anniversary of Depression 2.0, I was thinking about how executives should gracefully exit a job.  Over the last 12 months I have seen it done incorrectly a hundred times, with the requisite poor results. Whether you are terminated, laid off or quitting, here are a few recommendations.

You are a Consulting Company of ONE – This is a mindset. View yourself as a company of ONE, a consultant that just happens to be on someone’s payroll.  The days of 30 years at IBM and the gold watch are over. By loyal to your employer; but me more loyal to yourself, your family and your career. When the company is done with you…they are done with you. Never, ever forget that.  They don’t give a fat rat’s ass about your mortgage or kid’s education. When Depression 2.0 hit in 2008, millions of executives were laid off without notice. Watch out for #1.

You are Family…Until you are Not – You are family until the day you are not, then they terminate you and enforce your non-compete. Senior level executives that think they are “immortal” are shocked back to reality when they are terminated without warning. I can name a dozen CEOs and GMs that got too big for their britches and were unceremoniously run off. Always treat people with courtesy, dignity and respect no matter how impressive your title.  Those same people you passed on the way up…are the same people you will pass on the way down. Cultivate your professional network. Make friends with an Executive Recruiter or two. The wrong time to call a Recruiter is when you are unemployed. You are not immortal.

If You Can’t Pay Cash, You Can’t Have One – That was my Dad’s advice. Translation: Have zero debt and six months of salary in a savings account. Unfortunately, most people spend every nickel they get on “stuff”, so when they lose their job it’s a full-on financial crisis. Did you know 70% of Americans can’t afford to retire? In general, a $100,000 job search takes one to three months. At $300,000 it might be six to twelve months. Hope for the best; plan for the worst.

It’s a Small, Small World: Exit Gracefully – Walt Disney was right. Relationships trump talent. If you remember nothing else, remember this: DON’T BURN BRIDGES. It may feed your ego, however it can come back to haunt you in a big way. When I placed GMs for Ameristar Casinos, the CEO would send the resume to his 10 existing GMs. If anyone had an issue with the candidate, they were disqualified. Las Vegas is a town of 2,000,000 run by 200. And they all know each other. You make a mistake in Las Vegas and you get run out of town. Shake hands and part friends when you exit. There is no upside to burning bridges.

The Walk Away Package – Once the company fires a shot across the bow, and you know they are unhappy with you, make the best of the situation. Go to your boss and say, “If you don’t want me here, I don’t want to be here. Let’s work something out.” Don’t stay until the bitter end. You are NOT going to make a comeback.  I have seen executives get 12 to 18 month’s severance pay. Heck, I can name a couple CEOs that got millions of dollars to walk away. Get a great severance package and move on.

Why Nobody Returns Your Calls – They say you are blessed to have five true friends during your lifetime. When you get terminated, you find out who they are. Why?  Because you are just one more unemployed person. You can’t buy from the vendors. You can’t get people jobs. And when you can’t DO for people, they forget your name. Not being cynical, just realistic. Most people are acquaintances. Don’t take it personally. Focus on the people that want to be on your bus.

Everything Happens for a Reason – Coulda, woulda, shoulda. Don’t obsess about it. Your company and Boss are not obsessing about YOU.  Take responsibility for your actions and move on. Bitterness and unhappiness come through during an interview; let it go. Take some time off, decompress and get your head back in the game. Besides, if God is for us, who can be against us?  Everything happens for a reason.