I sat in a windowless room while my judgment was read to me by my boss and my boss’ boss.
I’d only ever heard the words on television and in movies: “Your termination is effective immediately. Collect your personal belongings and please leave the building.”
BANG! It was like a shot to my gut. I’d never been fired before! I couldn’t believe this was happening.
I collected my stuff and said goodbye to my colleagues. I walked out of the building with my head as high as it would go as a struggled with the feeling that my ego had just been curb stomped and dragged through the mud.
I think most people would agree that getting fired is high up there on the “Things We Fear” list. When you get fired they might as well tell you, “You’ve failed. You’re not good enough. And you get no opportunity to redeem yourself. Goodbye.”
Just for the record, I didn’t orchestrate my termination for the sake of my Year of Fear, but I’m not going to squander a golden opportunity!
I hope that I can increase your awareness around this subject by sharing my experience and perspective.
Here’s what I learned from being fired for the first time in my life:
Ignorance is not an excuse.
It wasn’t an F-bomb-filled rant in the middle of a meeting that got me fired.
What got me fired is a mistake I made on my resume and cover letter. I made an assumption about the status of my engineering license that was incorrect. And although my mistake wasn’t made with malicious intent, guess what?
It was still my fault.
It’s hard to admit when we screw up. It’s so much easier to blame someone else. I could have blamed my employer for a number of things, but in the end it was my mistake. I didn’t make sure all the information on my resume was accurate and up-to-date, and as a result, I got fired for the first time in my life.
Claiming ignorance isn’t enough to free you from liability. I should have been more proactive. I should have made a phone call three years ago instead of this week to check the status of my license.
But I didn’t, and now I have to live with the consequences.
Don’t treat your job as a “means to an end.”
My job was temporary. It was always temporary. I was on a one-year contract and I knew I wanted to start my own business when it was over. I was looking at this job as a steady paycheck that would set me up financially for when I was ready to make the leap to self-employment.
Getting fired taught me that working as a “means to an end” is not enough.
I lacked motivation at my job. I tried to tell myself, “Suck it up. You only have seven months to go…six months…five-and-a-half…”
When you live your life as a means to an end, no matter how long it is, you need to make a serious re-evaluation. Don’t waste your time and don’t waste your employer’s time. If you’re not happy and you don’t see things changing, make a change.
And if you choose not to make a change, don’t be surprised when you get fired.
It’s better to leave respectfully than with guns blazing.
The first thing I said to my bosses when they told me I was being terminated was, “I know I made a mistake. And even though I didn’t make the mistake maliciously, I know I have to face the consequences.”
The next day I sent my boss an email and apologized. It was the first time she ever had to fire someone and I could tell it caused her a lot of stress and emotion. Although I disagreed with how the situation was handled, I felt bad that it was me who caused her that stress. I offered to come into the office and help transfer my projects to my former colleagues, which I did.
My colleagues were surprised to see me back at the office trying to help pass off my files. I guess that’s not normal practice after one gets fired from a job. But I wanted to show people that I wasn’t embarrassed, and I felt bad that my work would fall into the laps of my friends and colleagues.
I got fired and I have no power to change it. But I do have the power to choose how I react.
If you ever get fired, take a deep breath, go home, and reflect over a few drinks. Bring your emotions into check before doing or saying too much. It sucks to swallow your pride, but sometimes it’s for the best.
There’s power in knowing how to identify your feelings.
I spent three hours alone after I got fired. No phone, computer, or human connection. I drank a couple beers and reflected on the situation.
During my reflection many feelings came up inside me—anger, confusion, excitement, embarrassment, shame, relief. And each time a feeling came up inside me, I identified it.
“OK. Now I’m feeling angry. Why am I angry?”
“Now I feel shame. Why do I feel that way?”
It might sound a bit hokey. Any time we talk about our feelings a room of people divides in two. In the past, I was on the side that said, “Feelings? Feelings are bull-shit!”
Not anymore. These days I understand the benefit in being able to stop and identify my feelings. I reflect on the feeling and then allow it to float away.
When I got home after getting fired, I was almost in tears. I held back. I thought that when my girlfriend got home from work I’d probably allow the salty discharge to escape from my eyes. The feeling of shame and anger was lifting strong emotions from deep in my stomach. I hadn’t cried for a long time—maybe I was due.
When my girlfriend got home, though, I didn’t cry. I had already worked through my emotions on my own.
I’m not saying we don’t need other people to help us get through hard times. We do. But in the beginning, I needed to identify and raise my awareness around my own feelings. Because of this, I was able to move forward with positivity and optimism three hours after getting fired.
Getting fired sucks.
When you don’t see it coming, it’s a shock to your system. You’ll feel overwhelmed with emotion. You’ll feel like you have no control over the situation and feeling helpless is no fun.
But it’s your choice how you react and move forward.
A few days ago, I couldn’t have been sure how I would have reacted to getting fired.
But I made a choice. I’m choosing to use this as a learning experience and as an opportunity to move forward with my life.
The fear of being fired and losing a job is real. As always, we have a choice to make: we can either let the fear control us and slow us down, or we can embrace the fear and move forward.
If your day ever comes, which side will you be on?