I Laughed When They Fired Me: How to Survive and Thrive After Being Fired, Canned or Terminated
I was fired five times during my career. The first was when I was fifteen and desiring to work somewhere besides my father’s construction company. I took a job that summer detasseling corn. Now, for those who don’t know, seed companies hire teenagers to pull the tassels off of corn stalks so the corn does not cross-pollinate. It is hot, dirty work in July.
I had been on the job five days when our crew boss, a tall, lanky young man, told four of us on a Friday afternoon to take it slow through the field. When we arrived back at the office, we were fired. Our crew boss had been saying throughout the week that he wanted a girls’ crew and he was assigned one after the firing. There was probably two reasons I was selected to be one of the four fired. The crew worked seven days a week. I told him I could not work on Sunday because of my religious beliefs. The second reason was that I was not a fast worker.
Although this happened more than fifty years ago, I still remember the valuable lesson that I learned that day and that lesson has been reinforced by watching managers fire people over the years. Bosses sometimes make firing decisions for their own reasons and these decisions are usually neither objective or logical. While they may justify their decisions to their boss and the human resources department by finding fault with the behavior of the fired employee, they often hide their true reasons. Their decisions are based on their needs and their perceptions of the employee, not necessarily reality.
The second time I was fired, I was twenty-three and working as an orderly on the psych ward of a large hospital. I had been working on the psych ward for about 10 months when the wife of a patient came to the door of the locked ward and wanted to donate a stereo system. I asked the charge nurse and she said no. When I told the wife the answer was “no”, she persisted until I gave in and said I would bring the stereo system in on my day off and donate it as my donation.
Being naive, I did not imagine that the patient would tell everyone that it was his stereo. When management found out, I was fired for insubordination. I learned I needed to take responsibility for my mistakes and not blame others. I was at fault, no one else.
And when we lose our jobs, we lose our identity.
The third time I was fired was at a temporary job where I lasted only 2 days. I did not have the skills they were looking for. The fourth time I was fired, I was in graduate school and a professor found me work. I lasted only 2 weeks because the drapery store had no need for me. I think they only gave me the job as a favor to the professor. Sometimes being laid off has nothing to do with you or your skills. There are other factors at play that are out of your hands.
The last time I was fired, I was 37. I had worked successfully for the company for over three years. A decision was made by the president to reduce the size of the marketing department. While several people were laid off, I was given an opportunity in another state in a position I had no experience doing and for which I received no training. Ten months later I was fired because I failed to turn around the financial performance of the region. Again, I learned that bosses are often fickle and make decisions for their own selfish reasons.
Being fired is very difficult emotionally and psychologically. Some people liken it to grieving over the death of a loved one and in a sense they are right. For many of us our identity comes from the jobs we hold. And when we lose our jobs, we lose our identity and our connection to the outside world.
Having been where some of you are now, I want to share with you some techniques and ideas for surviving the stress and trauma of being fired.
Manage your emotions. You may feel anger, fear, shock, sorrow or in some cases even joy. These feelings are normal responses to being fired and will change throughout the days and weeks ahead. Recognize and accept your feelings, but choose not to act upon them. When I was fired the last time, I was elated because all the stress and pressure of job had been lifted off my shoulders. I was also able to laugh at the situation. I felt relief. And because I thought I could easily find another job, I priced myself out of a potential job offer by asking for 50% more than I was currently earning. It was only later that fear set in and I worried about whether I would find another job.
Don’t use your ex-boss as a verbal punching bag.
Conduct a Post-Mortem. Over the first few weeks after being fired, conduct an analytical evaluation of your last job. What were the signs that told you your job was in jeopardy? What lessons can you learn from your experience? Was there anything that you could have or should have done differently? What mistakes did you make that you should learn from? What did you learn from this job that you can use in the future?
Realize and act like your new job is to find a job. This is not a time to take vacation or sit around the house moping and drinking beer. Go to work the next normal work day. Don’t wait, thinking that you have plenty of time. When I was fired the last time, I set up the extra bedroom in my house as my office. And every day, five days a week, I entered my new office at 8 am and stopped work at 5 pm. My job was simply to find another job. I also dressed the part, wearing dress pants, a shirt and tie — no pajamas or shorts. When I was looking for a new job in the mid 1980’s, there was no internet or LinkedIn. Yet, then as it is today, the key to finding a new job was networking.
Make a list of everyone you know and contact them. These are the people who can support you through this difficult time in your career. Explain the situation to them. Be honest. Don’t try to hide anything. Ask them for advice on what you should do to secure a new job. Don’t ask them for a job. If they have something, they will tell you. Ask if they have any recommendations about who you should talk with. Don’t be shy. This is a numbers game. The more people you talk with, the greater the likelihood of finding a job. One of my best memories from that time was a business acquaintance who called and invited me to lunch. That simple lunch engagement provided the support I needed.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The company that fired me gave me three months of severance. As the three months was coming to an end and I had not found a job, I went back to the company and received a two month extension. The extension gave me the time I needed to find a new job.
If there are no positions, create one. Think outside of the box. Three months after I lost my job, I proposed a new position to a former vendor from whom I had purchased training. Ultimately, this was the job I accepted with a few minor modifications. I had done something similar about ten years earlier when I sought a promotion in the company where I worked. I proposed a new position in the department and my boss created the position for me with new responsibilities and a raise.
Don’t burn your bridges. A mistake that some people make is to bad mouth former bosses and companies. Twice in my career I have seen employees bad mouth their boss as they left the organization. Later their new company was bought out by their former company and they were fired a second time. The world of business is very small and former bosses can come bouncing back like a bad penny. Even though you are angry, don’t use your ex-boss as a verbal punching bag.
Grab the silver lining and hitch a ride into the future. Remember even when everything has gone dark and there seems to be no hope left, don’t give-up. The sun will rise again tomorrow. Five months after being fired, I found a new job. While I only lasted 17 months in that job, it served as a transition to the company that I retired from almost 30 years later. There is always an opportunity in every negative situation. You just have to find it. If I had not been fired, I might not have found the best job of my career — training others.
If you know someone who was recently fired, please forward this article to them.
About the Author: Harley King has been speaking and training people for over 30 years. He has trained more than 8,000 people to speak, train and facilitate group discussion. He has been writing and publishing his work for more than 40 years.
Connect with Harley on:
• Blog: Monday Morning Motivation —http://harleyinspiration.blogspot.com/
• Slide Show: Opportunity —http://www.slideshare.net/hgking/opportunity-5050088
• Slide Show: The Power of Persistence—http://www.slideshare.net/hgking/the-power-of-persistence-12296772
• Video: The Privilege of Service — http://youtu.be/f6WZJvCmujg?list=UUsKKio6WxYydwKw7BQRUaQg