Haven’t been fired or laid off yet? It’ll happen. Here’s your dose of career Prozac so you can be prepared for the big day.
Getting fired hurts. A lot. It’s a deeply, deeply personal experience. Sort of like being dumped by a lover (”You don’t love me any more??”), but also comes with all kinds of unpleasant financial and professional implications. Unfortunately, there’s huge turnover within agencies, so in the game of advertising roulette, one day it’ll be your turn.
Since writing a book on careers, I’ve talked to hundreds of people about firings and layoffs; even extremely successful executives still look a little wounded when they recount losing their job. Even if it’s done “nicely”, even if you see it coming, even if you get a generous severance package and letter of recommendation, it’ll probably take a good chunk out of your confidence. (”Look on the bright side… you haven’t lost a job, you’ve gained a newfound sense of desperation and despair!)
Below, a few things I want you to remember.
1) Getting fired is life’s way of telling you to move on.
Assuming you didn’t get fired for shtupping the boss’ wife in the mailroom, if you’re fired, something wasn’t working. Maybe it was the wrong agency for you, or maybe you had an unsupportive boss or a lame job. In any case, learn every possible lesson from your mistakes, but redirect your energy toward what’s next. The next job, the next career move, the next version of yourself.
2) Fear of being fired makes you more likely to get fired.
Obsessing over whether you’ll get the ax can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because it usually causes weak decision-making. You simply cannot be your most successful in a job in which you’re nervous. Focus yourself on the elements you can control– seeking honest feedback, making real changes as needed, and focusing on performance rather than job security. (That said, go ahead and update your resume.)
3) If you’re less-than-thrilled with your employer, odds are, it’s mutual.
Don’t cling to a boss, a job, or a client if you’re miserable. They can smell it. Find the smartest exit plan, and transition ASAFP.
It’s human nature to want to remain in a stable employment, enjoying a cushy vacation policy and free leftover bagels. But in order to truly rock the house in any job, you have to be working at your fullest potential, and that requires that you feel completely engaged and while not necessarily overjoyed with your job, at least dedicated.
4) Once fired, your suddenly-former job will start looking a lot better in retrospect.
Even if you loathed your job, even if you dreaded Monday mornings, even if you had a voodoo doll of your boss in your desk drawer, that all changes the moment you’re carrying the entire contents of your office in a box out the door. But if you were miserable, don’t second-guess yourself. Deposit the severance check and consider it cushioned landing for that friendly push out of the nest.
5) Stop worrying about whether you’ll have to start eating catfood out of dumpsters.
For most people, self-appraisal plummets the moment they see the letter of termination. This is one of those times when perception and reality probably don’t match. Just because you feel vulnerable, just because your confidence, that doesn’t mean you won’t get another job. actually just took a step backwards.
6) Being fired is not the kiss of death. Crappy work, however, is.
In advertising, employers understand that things can sour for any number of reasons. Great people get canned in every agency, every department, for any number of reasons. In terms of your next job, the firing won’t be an issue as much as WHY it happened. If you’re pounding the pavement with a lame portfolio or weak references, yeah, that’s a bit of a problem.
7) Avoid this whole unpleasantness by making yourself “fire-proof.”
There’s no better protection against unemployment than a brilliant track record, reputation, network of supporters, and an unshakable ability to get up off the floor and get back in the game. The best job security you can have for the future is concrete proof of what you’ve accomplished in the job you have today.
8) One day, you might actually look back and thank the schmuck who fired you. (No, really!)
Over and over, people tell me that getting fired was the best thing that could happen to them. Yeah, it probably messed with their head at the time, but it allowed them to figure out what wasn’t working so that they could get on with the rest of their career and the business of kicking ass.
Bottom line: You always can’t control whether or not you’re let go. You CAN, however, control the quality of your work.
Remember. Steve-frikkin-Jobs was fired from his job at Apple, years ago. And things have turned out pretty okay for him, wouldn’t you say?
originally published in Advertising Age, Aug 4, 2008