It’s Not You, It’s Me…Lessons from Seinfeld

I was watching Seinfeld the other day and two things occurred to me. First, I realized how many of the show’s plot lines would have been dramatically changed by the proliferation of the cell phone. Second came my realization that George Costanza was wrong.

In one of the show’s set pieces, George and Jerry were sitting at Monk’s talking about break ups. “Are you kidding,” George asked Jerry? “I practically invented ‘it’s not you, it’s me.’” He’s wrong, of course. I did. I’ve been a practicing lawyer since December, 1987. Seinfeld didn’t premier until July 5, 1989.

As an attorney, much of my day is spent helping people with their break-ups.

  • “I want to get out of this contract.”
  • “Help me fire her.”
  • “Can I leave the company and still work in Maryland?”
  • “I need to find a way out of this.”

On many of those occasions, it’s not the other side that changed, but rather it is my client’s realization that what it has is not what it wants. Unfortunately, but the time I come into the picture, it is often too late to build a “If This Turns Out to be a Mistake” clause into the contract. Instead, we have to deal with a document that does not allow for an easy and graceful exit.

My advice, borne of more painful break-ups than any one person should have to experience, is this: Build in an escape hatch to even the most idyllic of blossoming relationships. Absent the dedication of substantial start-up investment, allow for a “quickie divorce” that would enable the parties to realize that they had made a mistake and separate with dignity and wallets intact.

Even in the presence of up-front investment, the topic is still worthy of discussion. With every document your company signs, consider how you’re going to get out. Think about the process and the associated cost in dollars, morale, and credibility.

Think of it as the “George Costanza Clause.” After all, even if he didn’t invent it, he was right, you know. It’s not them…it’s you.

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