BY Nick Henning
It was an average Thursday morning. I was working with my team on filling roles for a large Financial Services client. Out of nowhere, I get a meeting request from the company executive administrative assistant. Odd, I thought. The meeting was in ten minutes with the President of the company in his office.
As I walked into the office I noticed that in the corner was one of the partners of the company. They asked me to shut the door and sit down. My blood pressure began to rise. Then the President started speaking. I knew what was coming. The tone of his voice and lack of eye contact said it all.
I was one of the "golden employees." You know the ones that the organization show as an example of growth opportunities to new hires. Promoted 3 times in a matter of two and a half years. Also, I was a part of the executive leadership team with everyone else at least twelve years my senior. However, I had been unhappy with the organization for the past couple of months. It all started when there was a change in the compensation model and executive leadership. Promised that if I hit certain metrics (which I did) I would make a certain level of income (which I did not). Additionally, the executive leadership shifted to become more of a “good old boys club.” I learned that I was making the same income as my previous boss who happened to be a woman which didn’t sit right with me.
The meeting lasted all but ten minutes. They walked me out of the front entrance. Later I learned that they had a company-wide meeting to announce my departure. To address any questions and get ahead of any ripple effect. At the time I felt betrayed because my current boss at that time who was a partner as well wasn't in the meeting. I had built a tremendous relationship with him. I guess it was his way of communicating that he didn't agree with the decision.
As a result of this experience and a couple others, I know the shame and stress associated with getting “redirected.” 5 times through the course of my career to be exact. Yes, that's correct I was fired three times by organizations I worked for. The other two times I had to fire myself after unsuccessful entrepreneurial endeavors. Yep, I fired myself. Remind me to tell you that story one day ;)
But it only gets better. I have advised thousands on their careers as an executive search professional. And wait for it…I'm a career coach now. Proof that anyone can do anything. Literally.
You would think that being fired 5 times makes me unqualified to be a career coach. I would say the opposite. It is precisely these types of experiences that qualify me. I have deep empathy for those that have lost their jobs. I know the thoughts and feelings that can take over. But the silver lining is that I’m able to help navigate them to the next role faster. I learned it’s best to reflect and discover your strengths, talents, and ask the difficult questions to clearly define your values. This will help you create a purpose, find alignment, and have meaningful work. I know the best way to tell your story to put yourself in a good light from a bad situation. I mastered how to communicate the transferable skills learned from the previous role. Most importantly, I learned how to ask the right questions while going through the interview process to identify toxic environments and bosses. And so much more.
As you can imagine at first I had some reservations about writing this article. Would it be career suicide? What would potential clients think of me? Again, thoughts of fear, doubts, you know, the typical ego-shielding bullshit. However, a voice deep within started gently speaking to me not to hide these experiences from others. It grew louder and louder over time. Then one day it finally became clear that it was my soul yelling it’s time to step out of your comfort zone and share this article with the world. It knew that it was critically important to share the insights that I gained and provide advice based on what worked for me after these painful experiences.
Lesson 1 - Don’t ignore the warning signs.
Whether you're placed on a performance plan, feel disengaged, or dread Sunday evenings, these are all red flags that indicate you should start to look for another role. Every one of my firings was preceded by a period of misalignment. Every. Single. One. With the role itself, the leadership, or the culture of the organization.
Some of the warning signs were unrealistic expectations, unmet promises, and a micromanaging boss. A "high performer" throughout my career I received a promotion or two in almost every organization. As a result of my willingness to please and desire to achieve, my leaders would place more on my plate. Before I knew it they were expecting me to do the role of 3 people. In one organization.
Advice 1 – Take action
Once you see a warning sign immediately start taking action to find something better. Don't "suck it up" or "stick it out" when you know it's not right. Every time I knew deep down that I needed to move on. And not doing so ate at my health and soul. Meanwhile, I would convince myself that something would change or I would find a new role the following year.
Being in a toxic environment or constantly stressed is unhealthy. We all deserve better and the sooner we get away from constant stress the less damage long-term it will have on our bodies. If your boss is shitty that is not your fault. However, continuing to work for them is. So start taking action now! Put together a job search strategy and execute it. Update your professional branding like your cover letter, resume, LinkedIn profile. Start reaching out to your network to let them know you're seeking the next role. Get out and start building more relationships.
Lesson 2 - You did not fail and you're not a failure! You learned.
Education can be expensive. It sometimes costs money, other times pain. Life is full of lessons learned. I learned a great amount through these experiences. More about myself and what I needed to do in order to be successful in the future. What type of bosses and environments I needed in order to excel. Most importantly, I learned it was how I internalized the occurrence that mattered the most. I had two options failure or lessons learned. The most empowering thing is that I got to decide.
Hindsight is 20/20. Looking back, these lessons helped me learn, grow, and become a better version of myself. Every redirection led me to something much better because of the knowledge gained along the way. Also, they prepared me for future challenges. Overcoming them provided me with confidence to conquer challenges in several aspects of my life.
Advice 2 - Reflect and take ownership
Take time to reflect to prevent history from repeating itself. Write down the lessons that you learned from this experience and internalize them. Both the good and the bad. Be sure to include what you're grateful for in having this experience. The key is to view it as a positive experience in that you learned more about yourself and what you need.
Take ownership of your part in it not working out. Self-awareness will help you avoid getting yourself into similar situations in the future. We are all far from perfect. Yet, we're perfectly imperfect. Don’t wallow in self-pity, resentment, or let thoughts of fear creep in. This will only drain your energy levels and distract you. Again, you learned and grew. Now is the time to focus your energy on immediately taking action after reflecting. Whether you realize it or not you do have a new job. Your new job is finding a new one so start putting in your best effort by implementing a job search strategy.
Also, create a stress management plan and start implementing it. Finding a job can be very frustrating and stressful. Focus on taking care of yourself by eating healthy, exercise, and quality sleep. All of these things will help you ward off stress and help you perform better while interviewing. Benjamin Franklin said it best. "if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail."
Lesson 3 - Forgiveness is key.
Being fired is painful. Rejection by others is difficult in all aspects of your life. Especially in your career. However, don't carry around your resentment because it's very heavy and weighs you down. Forgiving your boss or former employer is one of the most empowering and freeing things you can do. It will free up your mental space and give you more energy. Ironically, one of the worst bosses I ever had said one statement that I carry with me today. "You're always learning what to do and what not to do by those you work with and for." In this case, it was the latter but I'm grateful for the education. The sooner you forgive them the more energy you will have to focus on the things you need to do.
The worst thing you can do while interviewing is to speak negatively about your former employer. Though they may have done you wrong it will only reflect poorly on you. Often, potential employers will think that you were most likely the cause of the problem. Trust me and resist the temptation to vent. As mentioned share what you learned and what you're grateful for from your past employer. Put a positive spin on a negative situation.
Advice 3 – Self-love is the answer!
The most important person to forgive is yourself. For allowing this to happen to yourself and putting up with an unsatisfactory job. Often we put up with negative bosses or toxic work environments because of fear. Fear of the unknown and the what if's etc. It has an impact on our productivity, engagement, and overall happiness.
Some self-love is critically important. Most often, we are our toughest critics. 80%+ of our self-talk is negative. Don’t continue to beat yourself up. It’s a waste of precious energy. Apologize to yourself, accept the apology, and then move on. This may seem like a silly exercise to do, but it is SO important. Every day is a brand new fresh opportunity to become a better version of yourself. So don’t hold yourself back by reliving your mistakes over and over again. Show yourself some love by focusing on creating the future version of yourself that you actually want.
Better times are coming!
Being fired is difficult, to say the least. If you take away anything from this article, let it be this: being fired is an opportunity for you to start anew and could be the best thing that happens to you. Take for example, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, and Walt Disney. All three tremendously successful, yet each one was fired in their careers. If they hadn't been fired and remained in those roles they might not have gone on to great feats. It comes down to your mindset and how you internalize the experience. Does it make you bitter or better? The choice is yours!
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