by Bill, Think About It...

The Third Day… Knowing When It’s Time to Leave

1 Comment 19 May 2011

My father and grandfather were both fond of using the expression, “House guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” They didn’t just mouth the words, though. Each paced his visits to make sure that he didn’t darken anyone’s doorstep longer than three days. Similarly, invitations to visit were issued with the three-day rule in mind. It’s one thing, though to time a visit with friends or family, but quite another to figure out when to make a career move, or to end your working career entirely.

I thought about that a good bit last week as legendary basketball coach, Phil Jackson all but confirmed what he had suggested at the beginning of the season, that this year would be his last on the Lakers’ bench. Having advanced to the 2nd round of the NBA playoffs, Jackson’s team played nowhere near its capability, and was crushed 4-0 in the best of 7 series by the Dallas Mavericks.

Worse, some of the Lakers players embarrassed themselves and disrespected their teammates, fans, opponents, and most certainly Coach Jackson by their behavior. I cannot imagine any of Jackson’s previous teams or players producing or behaving as the 2011 version did. I feel certain that when Coach Jackson faced the post-game cameras for what may have been the last time, what he had just witnessed on the court confirmed in his mind that the time had indeed come for him to move on. I applaud his having the courage to do it.

In recent years, we have seen more than a few people who have been less adroit in exiting stage left. The names Brett Favre and U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd come to mind. What about you? How do you know when it’s time to take your act elsewhere?

One thing that can make a tremendous difference in weighing significant career decisions is having a good friend (as opposed to a Facebook or LinkedIn friend) or coach who cares enough about you to tell you the unvarnished truth. Their only agenda is your best interest, period. If you have such a friend, cherish them, and do all you can to nourish and be worthy of the relationship. If you don’t, seek to develop such a relationship. Either way, make it a point to be a friend.

You might also consider using the following questions as a part of your decision template:

  1. Would you put this job on your bucket list today? If the answer is no, is this job an indispensable step to achieving something that is on your bucket list?
  2. If your job were open today, would you hire you to do it?
  3. Are you happy, really happy in your job? How do you know? How many days per month do you arrive at work with a real spring in your step? How many days are you trudging in? How many days per week do you breathe a sigh of relief when quitting time comes?
  4. Are you/your team consistently performing at or near peak? Be honest.
  5. Have you taken a job interview in the last three years? If not, why not? What are you afraid of?

This post is intended as nothing more than a thought starter for an important glance in the mirror. Yet, as the economy and job market continue to improve, we think it timely and appropriate that each of us re-evaluate our present situation vis-à-vis our life goals and preferences, and make course corrections as necessary. Good luck.


A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the newly released book,Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow him on Twitter at



- who has written 228 posts on Contented Cows.

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1 comment

  1. Carol Cherman says:


    Your comment about houseguests stinking after three days reminded me of a wonderful definition I once heard of “hospitality.” HOSPITALITY: Making people feel at home even though you wish they were.

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Considered thought leaders in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden speak to, train, and coach managers on leadership practices for better business outcomes.

OUR PREMISE: Having a focused, engaged, and capably led workforce is one of the best things any organization can do for its bottom line.



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