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5 Empowering Lessons from Being Fired

“Sometimes the wrong choices bring us to the right places.” ~Unknown

I was fired via email as my plane touched down at LAX.

I am not the kind of person who gets fired, who gets dismissed, who is asked to leave and is not welcomed back.

This was not my track record, no. What was happening?

I had seen the ad on Craigslist, and it looked perfect. An educational theater program for kids was seeking instructors and administrators to help revitalize the company. They needed someone with current experience in the entertainment industry who was an educator, and also had the business vision to help them grow.

Application. Interview. Second interview! This was looking good. The company would soon be expanding into a beautiful big new building. They were interested in new ideas. I knew I could bring a lot to the table. 

They wanted to hire me part-time, as a contractor. I was okay with that. I asked if there was any kind of contract or written agreement. In my past experience, contractors had, you know, contracts.

They said that they didn’t do contracts because they trust the people they hire, but if I wanted one, I could write it up and then we could go from there.

So I did. I based it off a contract an employer had provided to me in the past, and of course asked my attorney father if there was anything else I was missing. I made a couple adjustments and fired it off to them. Nothing overly litigious, just making sure we had in writing what our agreement was.

Days passed. I started to worry. Things had been moving so quickly and so well. Finally, I got an email. Could I come in and talk about the contract?

So I went in for a third meeting. This time, they had me sit in one of the classrooms. With a faux-paternal furrow in his brow, the owner asked me why I didn’t trust them. Why I had written up such a formal document? 

Then came the PowerPoint presentation, highlighting each dagger I had thrown at them with my contract, line by line.

This, ladies and gents, is when I should have picked up my purse, politely exited, and never looked back. 

But that was not my choice.

I sat, berated, confused, and tried to defend myself without being defensive—tried to support the common practice of the contract, open to their suggestions and amendments, but wanting to take care of myself.

Such things were not understood or appreciated there. And so I began my stint, with my boss not trusting me, and me not trusting my boss. 

Over the weeks, the systemic failures of the organization blanched what had once seemed promising.

Questionable marketing practices. Employees manipulating management. Damning reviews with the Better Business Bureau.

And yet I stayed. I believed that there was good work to be done there, and that I could really make a difference. The drive to contribute and develop something blinded my judgment. 

I frequently complained to another co-worker about the choices the company was making. Not a flattering trait, or a healthy one.

I was not rude or out of line, but I was not quiet. I voiced concerns. I spoke out against policies. I strived for us to do things with more integrity.

And in the telling of this story, it seems very clear that this was not a place that I belonged. 

But when I got that email on the tarmac, anger outweighed my relief.

My background was “too aristocratic,” they said. I had asked for things like contracts and mission statements and getting paid the same rate as the other teachers—all things one commonly associates with aristocracy.

Bitter, jobless, I started to find gratitude in my situation.

Here are the 5 blessings that I found in being fired: 

1. I learned to take responsibility for my part. 

As much as I wanted to be right and make them wrong, the truth is that I co-created the dynamic that lead to this point. My hands were dirty, and it wasn’t as simple as getting dumped by the bad guys.

No matter why you’ve been fired, odds are you played some role. Once you take responsibility, it’s easier to get past the anger and onto the next thing.

2. Acceptance replaced resentment. 

I wasn’t a good fit there. As much as I didn’t want that to be true, it was. Getting fired helped me see beyond what I wanted to see, and accept the situation as it truly was. When you accept fact over fiction, you can begin healing from the experience.

3. I detached my worth from my work. 

Who was I if I wasn’t going to work, making money, and contributing in that way? I had to answer that question, and learn to love the Laura that just is, not the Laura that does. It’s that saying of “you’re not a human doing, you’re a human being.”

Learning to value the being part of yourself not only puts you in deeper relationship with yourself, it also helps you appreciate the other “beings” in your life.

4. I got a fresh start. 

Sounds cliche, but it’s true. Having to leave the familiar stretched me to reevaluate what I really wanted and gave me the freedom to go for it.

Do-overs can reenergize you and give a much-needed shake up to other areas of your life.

5. I learned to trust my gut. 

I had the impulse to abandon ship, or rather, not to board ship, early on. I learned that my intuition is right, and that I don’t have to fully understand or verbalize it to let it guide me. That quiet voice we all have knows so, so much, and when we listen, we can act in alignment with our most sacred intelligence.

Getting fired hurts, regardless of the circumstances. But as with most everything in life, it can be an opportunity. You can’t un-fire yourself, but you can choose your experience of being fired. You can find the blessings in the beast.

Photo by Ed Yourdon

Avatar of Laura Simms

About Laura Simms

Laura Simms is a career coach who helps entrepreneurs, career changers, and purpose-driven women thrive at the fulfilling work meant just for them. Learn more with the "get paid for being you" free video series at createasfolk.com.

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  • http://twitter.com/ZenPresence DSG

    Wow. What a lesson huh? I’m sure it felt terrible being fired, but you are correct – some of the best lessons can be learned from such gut wrenching blows.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Dan @ ZenPresence.com

  • Dan Garner

    Wow. What a lesson huh? I’m sure it felt terrible being fired, but you are correct – some of the best lessons can be learned from such gut wrenching blows.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Dan

  • http://topvincent.com/ Chris-Vincent

    Great piece…In life, most things we lose (even if we did not appreciate these things a lot) hurts but then if only we are able to sit down and dig deep into the hidden opportunities, strength and lessons that is embedded in unfortunate situations such as losing a job, we would realize and learn a lot…

    I am glad to read that you did not join the majority who will feel their world have ended and there is nothing better out there once they lose their jobs…Instead you have been able to turn around the negative happening into something positive-by taping into the hidden strength and lessons.

  • CT Angels

    Thank you for writing this – it was like I am reading about my own life stories. We have to trust our gut, be accountable for our decisions such as understanding why we went against our instincts, use this lesson and move forward. I am learning to see “what is” rather “what I want it to be”. Wishing you great success.

  • http://www.CritterWisdom.com/ Carmelo

    Those intense moments (the powerpoint outlining your contract) make it difficult to do what you know you should do … like leave!

    I had a similar experience years ago when I was just starting out selling insurance. I had made an appointment with these folks a week prior and now I was making the presentation to them in their homes. Evidently, even though they made the appointment, they were not comfortable with the company I represented.

    Half way into my presentation, the doorbell rang. It was the police! They had arranged for the police to come during my presentation. Of course I was stunned but I was polite, too polite. After 15 minutes of grilling and finding there to be no problem, the police left saying: “you’re free to continue if you wish.” What did I do? I continued. Ha!

    it was silly of me. Of course there was no way these people were going to buy but something inside me said, maybe they’ll feel guilty and buy. (eye roll)

    Yep, I should have stood up and walked. Big lesson.

    Thanks for sharing, Laura.

  • http://twitter.com/laurasimms Laura Simms

    Thanks, Chris-Vincent. For me, it was important to feel hurt and indignant and all those “bad” things for awhile. But that gets old after a while! There’s always something else waiting for us.

  • http://twitter.com/laurasimms Laura Simms

    The police? Ok, you win :) Those moments are so disorientating and shocking that it’s hard to take action in the moment. But we learn and get better at recognizing what feels right and what just feels off.

  • http://twitter.com/laurasimms Laura Simms

    Thanks, CT. ‘I am learning to see “what is” rather “what I want it to be”‘ <–That's a helpful skill in so many ways

  • ivy

    Wow great read. Thanks for sharing

  • http://www.CritterWisdom.com/ Carmelo

    Yep, that’s right. That’s why experience is so valuable. Experience comes in time, of course, but even a little experience is great. So, action and involvement in life is vital.

    Hahaha … I win, huh? Well, it certainly was a shock! You’re speaking today? Good luck! :-)

  • Priska

    I did not get fired. But after many years of feeling this way, I had no choice but to move on. I took a mid life gap year during which I went through the five steps. Great post which many would identify with. Thank you.

  • Nicole Suzanne Brown

    Fantastic post! There were many a time when my intuition gave me the ‘heads up’ and I too ignored it, only to find once I sat in my centre realized the role I was playing. Thank you for the great 5 things of learning and forgiveness.

  • Irving Podolsky

    Dear Laura,

    I don’t disagree with a single point you made, all worthy of much thought. If you don’t mind, I’d like to expand a little here. Let’s start with point number five.

    You DID trust your gut. That’s why you asked for a professional contract. But you also thought that perhaps you and your company could mutually arrive at a common destination. And that, you knew, could not be evaluated until you spent some time on the job. And along the way, it SUCKED!

    Number 3 – the Laura who just IS, is the worker Laura they hired, prepackaged! Job or no job, you have principles which you must follow and they didn’t align with the company. No, it wasn’t a good match and you were unhappy. Had you not already, in your heart, divorced yourself from the job, or at least seeking any joy from it? Didn’t that come first before your boss made the physical break? After more time at your desk, you probably would have resigned in anyway. In that case, you weren’t actually “fired” so much as your boss ended a bad relationship you both agreed was already rolling down hill.

    Number 4 – Yep, you refocused from trying to fix something broken to working towards a more positive experience. Many people are afraid to leave a bad job for fear of not getting another one. And this is a legitimate concern, especially in today’s job market, which is WHY you took this job! You needed it!

    So for many people, including yourself, the stronger incentive of losing a paycheck forced you to rebuild, reform and evolve, which may have taken much longer had you stayed put. (I think you basically said that.)

    Number 1 – As much as I agree with you that we all must take responsibilities for our actions, especially while getting fired, I don’t think YOU had any choice about it. You DID accept the responsibility of that experience. You stood up for your ethics. You could not shape-shift into an animal that doesn’t do that. And yes, you publicly expressed disappointment about your employers. Not good. Your right to score your boss’s disappointing behavior was not written into your contract.

    Next time, be sure to get that line-item on paper!

    Last June I too got miserably fired off a huge Hollywood movie. I’m just getting over it. Even though I saw it coming, I tried to jump the hurdles, please people who could not be pleased and save my sanity in the process. There was no way to accomplish any of that and in the end I was relieved to be let go, despite losing four weeks of over-time pay.

    Months later, I’m having a good time just BEING, while still unemployed.

    Now all I have to do, is avoid the guilt associated with just BEING! You see, I’m feeling guilty about NOT feeling guilty…enough!

    Irv

  • http://twitter.com/BetaMotivation Kola Olaosebikan

    really enjoyed reading this and definitely glad that you were able to find the proverbial silver lining in this situation. love your positive spin on a bad situation

  • http://twitter.com/laurasimms Laura Simms

    Love the idea of an intentional “mid life gap year.”

  • http://twitter.com/laurasimms Laura Simms

    Irv, thanks so much for this feedback. It’s really great to be able to see this experience through someone else’s eyes. And the only other time I’ve ever been let go was for a Hollywood movie! I was working a SAG ultra-low budget film, and when I booked conflicting television work (which is protected by the contract), they cut me. But that’s a whole ‘nother article!

  • Toni

    Oh I LOVE “I’m not a Human Doing-I’m a Human Being” !

  • Bosses hurt too

    I can tell the reverse story. I’m an employer who hired five people who at first seemed wonderful. My gut gave no warning at all — save one:

    One of the five had a laugh that strangely bothered me. It was flat, music-less, and it reminded me of the scary, board-flat laugh of the Jack Rabbit character in Ralph Bakshi’s animated film “Fritz The Cat”. Whenever this person laughed, my mind would flash to that terrifying character: a meth-addicted biker with cruel animal friends. In the film, Jack and his friends decided arbitrarily to surround and ambush their one gentle friend, Harriet The Horse. Harriet was kind, giving and innocent, a sweet hippie girl. The anarchist animals beat her with chains and gang raped her, simply for fun. Afterward, Harriet was never the same.

    But my intuition’s flash about this employee and his eerily Jack Rabbit-like laugh was not clear or strong enough to warn me what was to come. I treated my hires well, I housed them in luxury, I fed them, I paid for perks and fancy meals out for them, and I was a kind and humble boss. I was hoping to be like Jim Henson, and treat my hires like a family. Lo and behold, the people I hired were drug addicts and sex predators. In return for my money and my kindness, they turned upon me as Jack and his friends turned upon and ambushed Harriet.

    They ruined the project we were working on, then betrayed me, stole tens of thousands of dollars from me, told lies about me, and even tried to have me put in an insane asylum. The attempt to do this failed, but now, afterwards, it feels like I was kidnapped into a nightmare. In its wake, I know that I, like Harriett, will never be the same. Like Harriet, I encountered an evil beyond imagining. Today it looks to me like these souls were turned on by or angered by the fact I was kind to them. They smelled money and plotted together to take it from me. One tried to seduce another – one of only two employees who didn’t join them in the scheme – by saying, “(My name) is loaded. It could be very lucrative if you join us and take all you can from her.”

    My point in sharing the above story is to say that although stories by former employees who have been fired are the more numerous and popular, employers can suffer too. A bad employee or a group of bad employees can sink a company and destroy a dream. My dreams are now destroyed, and so is my trust of other people. I am closing my company and will never try to create a thing again. I have learned from this bloodsoaked, horrible experience how employees really are. I gave and gave to them and walked away with less than nothing.

    Visiting the old office today to clean it out, I felt like I did many years ago when a man raped me and I revisited the place where it happened. The dark, hollow, violated feeling was identical.

    So bear in mind you may have had an epiphany from being fired.

    I am betting your former employer sees the story entirely a different way.

  • Carina

    Hi Laura, I got fired a few days ago and I am glad I found your article. I feel exactly the same way, especially with my intuition telling me right at the beginning that something was off. I also agree very much with #1 and #3. Spot on! True, I definitely contributed to the whole situation as well. What I find is a little harder to change is the perception that I am not my work. Thanks for the insights!

  • Jessica

    On this job in a manufacturing company for 5 weeks, got fired yesterday and reason been not a good fit.
    - 3 weeks after hire, things just didn’t feel right for me, the job was routine and not any form of mental challenge, people think different here. I knew I was in a wrong place but wanted to stay committed for at least 2 months with a week notice because I know the stress of hiring a new staff by any employer.

    Lo and behold I was fired without progressive warning, no notice- I got shocked, guilty, ashamed and a failure.
    Lesson- follow your instinct, leave when you are not comfortable with the place.

  • seriously

    lolz, ‘too aristocratic’ for worker rights???? while this might be a personal lesson for you to learn from, it is also totally anachronistic and discriminatory and hopefully illegal. yuck

  • Liam

    This was a very helpful read. I was just fired, laid off, sacked from a company that I was excited to join after 7 months. I had only the best of intentions and worked very hard and from my perspective that is what makes this so painful (and personal). However, the job itself never quite materialized as intended. The role and responsibilities kept changing and at one point I was told that I was now the department “floater.” That was not great for me as it meant I got to clean up or handle what no one else wanted to do. Still, it was a job with a good company, easy commute and although not challenging, certainly tolerable. I joined as the dept. was being reorganized. A new manager was hired, who was friends with the department head who was fairly new to the company himself and was in the process of building his own empire. The new manager wanted to bring his former assistant with him but there was no room at that time. Two months later, I was told there is not enough work for me and shown the door. No performance issues had ever been mentioned and I got a raise and a bonus just two months prior to the termination. Coincidentally, while looking at the job boards I saw an opening for an assistant at the firm that the new manager came from. I suspect the old assistant will get a job in the department. The entire time I was there, it was very unsettling. My instincts told me all along that this was not going to be a good experience and I had even gone on an interview before this happened. I had trouble with the politics and I suspect the department head is a narcissist. Perhaps if I had flattered him more, it would have saved me. The problem is that I did not really respect him or like the way he operated…perhaps that became apparent. I’m trying to move on but it is hard. My gut warned me that the department head was very self-serving during my interview but I really liked the company. As has been noted, people often leave their managers rather than companies – one way or the other. I wish I had been able to find something else before I was laid off. The other thing is the manager I was most recently assigned to assist had no idea I was getting sacked. When I asked him to be very candid with me about my performance, he told me that he had no issues with me and that I was a pleasure to work with and the decision to let me go was not discussed with him.

  • Krystal

    I got fired this week and to make it worse it was over the phone! I liked where I worked but an 8 to 5 job just wasn’t for me. Each morning, I left behind a crying 2 year old because he missed his mom, and of course I missed him too..a lot! I would go to work thinking of no one and nothing but my son. I cried many nights as we fell asleep together because all I wanted to do was not go to work the next day and just be with him. Now that I am unemployed, I’ve been having an AMAZING time with my son enjoying every minute. My true self vanished within that little office, I lost sense of who I was and who I wanted to be. All I ever thought about was money and saving up for a new car. Now I feel happy and free because all my time is going to my little angel. It truly is okay to get fired, within that little tragic event, comes something much better!

  • Scififan

    This may be an older article, but it’s true to me.
    I have heard the trust your gut repeatedly and it is true in everything.