I’ve been fired a few times in my career — but I bounced back, in part because I rejected the narrative that termination from one job means an end to an entire career path.
The first time it happens to you, getting fired feels like a career death sentence. It’s certainly a grim experience. Human Resources tells you, “Your employment is terminated.” You might be escorted from the building. You feel cursed, like you’ll never work in your field again. You have failed — do the walk of shame! Stick your head in the sand.
These are all false narratives. We believe these myths and lies, passing them on without knowing the truth. We think we no longer control our careers. The fact is that many professionals are fired at some point in their careers. Most regain their footing and go on to success at other organizations.
Once I was fired because a relative of mine was terminated on the same day. It had nothing to do with my work. I got home at 5:30 p.m., made a call to a former employer who terminated me in the past, and got a new job at my old company by 7 p.m. the same evening. This time around, I worked with him for three years. He promoted me to manage one of his stores, and even gave me references after I left. He also offered me another position, but I needed to move on.
In both these cases, my dismissal wasn’t based on my work or any wrongdoing. Sometimes, the job ends, and you don’t fit the employer’s plans. I took the high road and kept the relationship intact, and it paid off later. What if I had internalized the employer’s decision, and brought that feeling of failure with me to my next role? Had I allowed the traditional termination narrative demons consume me, resentment and bitterness would entangle my career. Hopefully, this isn’t happening to you.
The trick is not to let these false narratives about being fired stifle you. I didn’t. And you shouldn’t either. See if you have bought into any of these narratives:
1. “It’s Hard to Get a Job When You’ve Been Fired”
Hiring managers understand that professionals get fired. Chances are, they’ve dealt with this from the other side, as well. In the age of the “at-will” employee, employers need very little reason to terminate an employee, especially as a new hire.
The best way to counter this narrative is to be honest. Be ready to explain why you were fired — and don’t dwell. You don’t need to give every detail. Focus on showing why the company will benefit by hiring you.
2. “I’m Not Good Enough”
It’s normal to worry about long-term unemployment when you lose a job. But don’t let those worries take up space in your mind. Kick them out right now.
One way to handle those feelings is to identify your accomplishments, results, achievements, impact and goals. Write them down and keep them in front of you. You can use reminders from your calendars, Post-it notes on your desk, index cards on your bathroom mirror and so on.
Create these new narratives to replace the ones you might have heard from your old boss or coworkers.
3. “But I Did My Best!”
In the wrong job, your best might not be good enough. This isn’t necessarily an indictment of your skills. Sometimes, you’re dealing with forces beyond your control, such as a merger, layoff or toxic work environment.
Look for the place where your best is extraordinary. Remember that it’s about fit as much as hard work and ability.
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4. “My Family Is Not Supportive”
Some of us have families who are our most significant source of encouragement, while others have families that feel like our greatest critics. Our families don’t always understand what we are trying to achieve. It is up to us to help them understand.
The narrative families create about us in our teens may or may not be accurate, but it shouldn’t be our narrative as adults. Adjust and change the story as often as you like — and be OK if everyone is not on board at first. Success will provide an invitation to come on board.
5. “My Old Boss Will Ruin Me”
Martin displayed high integrity throughout his executive career, and during a recent interview with one company was forthcoming about his termination from his last employer. Martin told me the hiring team liked him; yet, the company waited 90 days between the final interview and the next call.
Why the delay? Martin found out that his old boss discovered that he was in the final stages of interviewing and went out of his way to besmirch Martin’s reputation. The employer came back to Martin and told him that because of his old boss’s interference, Martin was scrutinized more than any candidate in the history of the company.
In the end, however, they extended an offer. The quality of Martin’s preparation and work — as well as his honesty and integrity — tipped the balance. These scenarios are rare, but if you’ve done the work and done it right, no one can undo it.
6. “My Career Is Finished”
Being fired is not a career-ending in most instances. It’s important to keep calm and get as much detail as you can. You can often negotiate aspects of your separation to make things easier for both parties. Doing so much help you control the narrative going forward, which will ease your job search.
At the Spiggle Law Firm, employment attorney Phillis H. Rambsy wrote this excellent article about what you should do when you’re fired. Bottom line, you need to understand the language in your separation agreement, what it means to your future and how the company will respond to inquiries regarding your termination.
“You can negotiate terms so that a severance agreement is tailored to your specific needs,” Rambsy wrote. “You may negotiate for more money. Or you may want to consider other nonmonetary provisions such as a reference from your employer, a nondisparagement provision, and/or a provision that indicates that the employer will continue to cover health insurance benefits for a certain period.”
7. “I’m Alone”
The feeling of isolation after firing is real. It’s worse when you don’t see the termination coming.
I knew when it was coming when I was barely treading water in my first 90 days at a new job. Once I told one of my bosses during my training, “I know I am doing terrible.” She responded, “No! You’re doing great!” I knew she was lying.
When they let me go at the end of day 90, she escorted me to the door, with my bobbleheads and pride in a box, and leaving a 12-pack of water for my ex-coworkers to remember me. I felt enveloped in a shroud of loneliness.
However, as I rode the crowded train home, my loneliness dissipated, replaced by a surge of resolve. I refused to feel or become helpless.
Life after termination worked out fine. I was fortunate to land jobs quickly. I had a responsive network — way before LinkedIn and Twitter — always returning the favor given to them.
It helps to stay engaged in a job search even while you’re employed. Keep networking, investing in personal development and interviewing — because you never know when you might find yourself out of work.
I had a mentor who said she interviewed once a year to remain sharp. If you keep the same mindset, it won’t take long to land a new job, even after being fired. You don’t have to be a slave to any of these narratives. You can use a termination as a stepping stone to something better.
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