We've all been programmed to put being fired on the list of horrible happenstances, but does it deserve the bad rap?
By Justin Thompson
“As you've known for some time, it's just not been working out.” And then she started crying, but continued. “You're going to go on to do great things and I think you're a good person and I wish you the best of luck.”
I was stunned. Not at the fact that I was getting fired, but that getting fired actually went down like this. I almost wanted to ask the office manager if we were breaking up. I mean, “It's not working out?” Really? Fair enough.
My first job out of college was pretty nerve-wracking and exciting. I remember applying and interviewing twice for a local advertising agency in their public relations department and eventually getting the call inviting me to join their staff. I was thrilled. Only problem – they wanted me to start before I even went through commencement. Realizing I had the rest of my adult life to work, I stood firm by my stance that I would start once I graduated and was completely finished with school. I needed that time. To mentally transition.
Luckily for me, the last semester of my senior year in college was a full-time internship, so I was used to the rigmarole of getting up early, having to wear business casual five days a week and be a responsible young adult. I knew the deal. But a job? A real job with a real paycheck and real benefits. I knew I couldn't screw this up. And I also knew I couldn't pass it up. The alternative was to move back home with my parents, an option I was not about to surrender to easily.
So I started my job and things went well. I was actually using my degree and being able to contribute and not feeling like an utter peon within the organization. I could speak my mind, could ask questions, could offer up my own insight. It was interesting and fun and I met a lot of really great people who I'm still friends with today.
One thing I noticed was how relaxed the environment was. I totally thrived on that. It meant that I could put the pressure on myself, which I much prefer anyway. This was a place where we all sat down together at lunch to watch tv in the conference room, we all would go out to lunch on sunny, warm days, and sometimes on Fridays we would grab a beer out of the fridge in the afternoon (Yes! A fridge with beer!).
Well, as time went on and the honeymoon started to fade from my mind, the daily grind of work and responsibility set in. It turns out adults are only worse than kids. People get blamed for things or shove off the responsibility for tasks that were either incomplete or incorrect. In an office with a small staff, everyone could hear everyone else's business and you started to see the factions and cliques, knowing who to trust and who not to trust. The term CYA became a part of my vocabulary, as well as a few other choice words.
Over time there were staff changes and I think they weren't in the best interest of the company as far as talent or intelligence were concerned. I think they were merely for the sake of appearances of the agency. A lot of us saw that, but what could we say. So as you do, you go about your day and just clock in, clock out.
But slowly, because the person who hired me had quit, my new boss(es) and I started to butt heads on things. Mostly work ethic, ethics in general, and job responsibilities. My new boss was the type to never show up before 10, but if I was gone for an hour and ten minutes at lunch, she'd want to know where I was. A micromanager to the extreme. But she had pressure on her to deliver and unfortunately, none of the skills to be able to pull it off.
So slowly, things began to build up. Certain things were asked of me that I felt were not within the realm of my duties, such as dressing up as one of our client's brand characters for a parade in the city because the main attraction pulled out. I was a public relations coordinator – I wrote news stories, pitched to the media, tracked column inches, that sort of stuff. Nowhere did I sign up to walk in a costume in a St. Patrick's Day parade.
The disagreements built up, the incompatibility grew and the tension was awful. It began to really affect me just beyond working hours, too. I was depressed and hated my job, therefore I hated my life. I began drinking heavily. Luckily I had three other roommates who were up for shots at 5 o'clock, so I never drank alone.
But my misery was apparent. I began working out like a fiend, lost a ton of weight, wasn't eating right, kept getting into trouble at the office for really only taking initiative and doing the work that needed to be done.
Eventually it got to a point where I knew something bad was going to happen. I knew that for me to live, I had to quit or get fired. If I quit, it was all on me. If I got fired, I at least had the option to file for unemployment.
I remember the day exactly. It was pouring down rain, early June. I called my Mom and was describing to her how her 23 year old son hated his job and hated his life and was miserable and didn't think that this was any way to live, especially at 23. By the end of the call I was sobbing.
After parking my car and walking into the office, I had just put down my things when the office manager, not my boss(es) mind you, but the office manager who I had known and liked the entire time I had worked there, asked if she could speak to me in the conference room. Everyone in the office looked suspicious as we walked in and shut the door.
That's when the infamous breakup went down. She said all that, cried her (what I believe to be) crocodile tears, and I shook her hand and said, “Well, I still want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to work here and learn what I have.” She cried and held on to my hand for an uncomfortable pause.
After that I walked to my desk and packed my things, which had already been pre-packed and put in hanging files so I would have easy access – that's how much I knew something was going to go down. As I packed up my things, all my friends were just staring with a look of “What are you doing with that box?” and I just said “Goodbye!” and then one friend actually said “What are you doing?” and I said, “Well, game over.” And she started crying and followed me out of the office into the hallway and gave me a hug and everything.
I can't tell you the relief I felt. The absolute weightlessness that overcame me. And when I got back outside, it had quit raining and the sun actually started to break. For whatever reason, I knew I'd be okay. I'd make it no matter what.
The next four months between jobs I filed and received unemployment, went on several job interviews – some of which I liked and some I didn't. I realized, that because of my unemployment income, I didn't have to take another horrible job that I didn't really want or like. Eventually, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do so I started temping, figuring I'd be the best, most over-qualified temp any agency had ever seen. I was placed in my current company within a week. And I've been here over two years and love it.
For anyone who gets fired, it's truly a weird experience. It's an open wound that never heals. It's a matter of pride and shame and second-guessing yourself and your behavior. Would I have done things differently? Should I have? Would I really want to be there anyway? It also was kind of embarrassing the first couple of times to say that I had been fired, but after a while I just took it for what it was worth and embraced it. I could tell my side of the story if someone wanted to listen or not. At least I was upfront with the truth and they can make their judgments based on that.
I will say this, those four months ‘off' were one of the worst, yet best times in my life. I was able to just breathe, to really recompose myself and decide what I wanted and what was best for me. There were points where I was scared I wouldn't get a job, that my money would run out and I'd be totally screwed. There were also other points in which I thought, “I never want to work again. I just don't have the desire.” But by the end of the four months, I was ready to get back to something. I needed a purpose, a goal.
So that's the story of how I got fired from my first job. I can't say it'll be the last time I get fired, but I feel almost fortunate to have gone through it so young versus having to deal with that emotional turmoil later in life when I have a family to support. The resilience is always within you to keep going and eventually you reach a point where you tap into it and get back on your feet.