Today the phrase “Crossing the Rubicon'” is used in a variety of ways (think Jeep Rubicon, a popular car choice.) In case you have forgotten the historical origin, it refers to a choice made by Julius Caesar in 49 BC when he crossed the Rubicon River, a geographic boundary that he was forbidden by Roman law from bridging. Today we use the phrase to mean “a point of no return.”
There are rubicons in our lives are formed by laws, rules, oaths, and promises. Our freedom, our integrity, our success, even our livelihood, may depend on staying within certain boundaries.
There also are numerous rubicons in the workplace—you know many of them. Telling your boss to go to hell or quitting on the spot are good examples. There is no way to return to the status quo after that. Not showing up for work for a week without notice may create a rubicon situation. A major screw-up can lead to another one. Misusing a company credit card or falsifying a report may also be the end of your employment with that company.
Other workplace rubicons can be more subtle. Gossiping or posting negative comments about your boss or company, trying to undermine a requested change, or misconduct at a company event may all be boundary crossings. Sometimes you barely step over the line, and might be able to jump back. Other times you might not be so lucky.
For example, a recruiter has called you about a position with another company. You are interested, but unsure if you want to change jobs. You eventually decline, but your boss still hears about the offer at a professional conference. She confronts you when she returns. How you respond at that moment may determine your future success at your current job. Trying to leverage the offer to obtain a promotion or higher salary may be (and often is) a disaster. Trying to express your continued loyalty to the company may be a better bet.
Likewise, if you decide to take the new job, be certain you have an actual acceptance letter in hand before handing your resignation letter to your current boss.
Crossing a rubicon may be exciting. You might see it as expanding your horizon and as moving toward increased personal success or control. Just keep in mind, the phrase also means you can’t go back. Make sure you consider all of the consequences before you reach the no return point.