Man on a park bench

How I got fired (and why it was a great career move)

Peter Harris|

Change is scary. I’ve seen people stay in jobs that made them miserable for far too long out of the fear of stepping into an unknown situation. I’ve come close to that a couple of times myself. Because unemployment can be scary too.

I’m not one of those people who’s too afraid of the potential consequences to take risks with my career or my life. I can usually calculate the consequences of a situation and determine if the potential downfall outweighs the opportunity for advancement. So it’s not the fear of the outcome that can stall me, it’s the burden of choice itself. Indecision may or may not be my biggest problem.

This is a condition that holds many people back in their careers. Worrying about making a wrong decision can lead people into making no proactive choices and simply going with the flow. Would you be better off leaving a job that is unfulfilling but secure in order to start over at something new? It can be hard to decide.

Waiting for the perfect situation to fall into your lap isn’t career management, it’s surrendering control. Which is why setbacks can actually be beneficial much of the time. There’s an upside to down.

They can give us the kick in the pants that we need in order to take control again. I’ve written before about the time I was fired from a retail job in university. I was let go from the book store I worked at while writing my Master’s thesis for fighting with the manager-on-duty over the music played in the store. She said that head office dictated the playlist, so we couldn’t change it. I tried to make the case that forcing anyone to listen to ABBA Gold Greatest Hits on constant rotation for four nine-hour shifts in a row was simply inhumane. It didn’t end well for me.

This was a setback at the time, because I counted on the salary to pay my rent. However, because the job was comfortable and easy, I worked with all my friends, and it was a short walk from my apartment, I would probably have lingered there for far too long if I had not lost it.

That would have been just like hitting the snooze button on life.

Finding myself suddenly unemployed forced me to go out and get my first professional writing job as an advertising copy writer, tripling my income and kick starting my career. It was the best career move that I could have made.

The real worst decision we can make is in choosing not to decide at all. Wrong choices are usually just opportunities to learn how to make better choices moving forward. Making no decisions leads to stagnation. And in today’s rapidly evolving world of work, stagnation is hazardous.

Other upsides to being let go?

  • You don’t have to go there anymore. If you’ve been laid off because of cutbacks at the company, then you were on a sinking ship and your job wasn’t safe to begin with. That is a scary and depressing place to be. If you were fired for other reasons, then there were likely performance or personality issues at play. (And it’s almost always personality issues.) Either way, now you’re free. Being at a place where you’re not wanted is demoralizing.
  • You can go about your job search whole heartedly. Looking for work while employed is always a little bit furtive. You don’t want to display too much activity on social networks and job boards. You have to be careful who in your network knows you’re looking – and who they know at your current company. You’re limited to how much working time you can spend on a job search, etc. Once you’ve been let go, you can pursue your next career move full time with the passion it deserves.
  • You remember who you really are. People often identify themselves by their jobs. There is a strange weightlessness that you feel when that piece of your identity is taken away. You realize that the job was just something you did, but without it you’re still you. It’s a powerful sensation that we need to be reminded of every now and then.

A career journey is made up of many jobs, and for most people nowadays, completely different fields as well. They take us interesting places. So when things go bad, think of it as an opportunity for a new adventure. This is your chance to look for a more interesting job, a job that’s closer to home, or one that’s a better fit for you.

It’s better to be back in the adventure striving for something greater than to be standing on the sidelines watching life pass you by.

Of course if you can see the axe coming before you get the chop – you can line up your next gig before that happens. Which is why I wrote about the warning signs you’re about to be fired.

But just sometimes, getting fired is the best thing that can happen.

See also:
Six signs that you’re in the wrong job
The best time to quit your job
Exit strategy: How to land on your feet when you lose your job

Peter Harris

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Category: Career Dilemmas
 
  • Claude Bouchard

    If my last job in the corporate world hadn’t been migrated to Mumbai, I wouldn’t be earning a living today as an indie crime thriller novelist, and loving it!