This article was originally published in Issue 63 of InSight on 17 December 2008
New CEO: I’ve decided to advertise your job and you can apply for it if you wish.
New CEO: I need a stronger person for your role.
Me: But I was only promoted into the role 6 months ago and I have never had any feedback from you previously about your concerns. It’s only fair to hear the concerns and be given a chance to improve.
New CEO: I am not prepared to do that, my mind is made up.
This conversation was the beginning of the end of my ten and a half years with one employer.
Technically it would be correct to say that I resigned, but really … I was fired. I was offered other, lesser jobs inside the organisation, as a soft landing for me, but my card was well and truly marked.
The next 4 months was a very unpleasant succession of tense meetings, accusations and counter-accusations, lawyers’ letters, payout negotiations and threats of restraint clauses.
It was the most stressful time of my life. I had always believed that good performance and basic fairness would triumph in the workplace. How naive was I!
Succeeding inside most organisations is as much about politics as it is about performance. My experience, in almost all of the 10 years of my employment with that organisation, was that performance was all that mattered. You were told what needed to be improved, how to do it and how you would be held accountable for that improvement.
Communication from the top was almost always clear, consistent and predictable. This made things easy as you didn’t have to worry about second-guessing, head scratching and butt-kissing, you just focused on delivering great results.
Of course things weren’t always a bed of roses. From time to time, I got frustrated, had arguments with the boss, whinged to colleagues over Friday night drinks, allowed myself to be flattered by head-hunt calls and meetings with competitors.
But nothing significant happened during that time, to have me seriously contemplate leaving. I had a fancy title (Deputy GM, National Recruitment Services), was earning good money, married almost three years, with a son approaching his second birthday, a new-born daughter and a big mortgage, like most of my peers.
The company had gone public, the transition from founding CEO retiring to new CEO arriving had appeared to go well, the share price was in the black and I had a nice package of share options as a future potential bonanza – we were going to be the next Morgan & Banks!
When I walked away from that organisation, I walked away from ten and a half years of giving my heart and soul to something I believed in, passionately. I was devastated and emotionally shattered. My life, which seemed so certain and rosey only 6 months before, now looked anything but.
I called my ex-boss who listened, sympathised and said “At some point in the future, you will look back on this event and see it as the best thing that ever happened to you”. It was a prophetic sentiment, but one I was not particularly receptive to at that point in time.
I moped around home (unemployed people tend to do that) and passed the time cleaning out my cupboards. I found an article I had forgotten about.
Some years before, I had read, kept and still have, an article published in The Australian, titled Life doesn’t begin until you’re fired. It was written in February 1991 by Bryce Courtenay, a regular columnist and one-book author (at that time).
Sitting on my bedroom floor, I re-read the article.
It was a breezily written account of Courtenay talking to a recently fired, ex-colleague about the benefits of being fired. Courtenay says:
“… I learned that the entire meaning of life is knowing that the worst that can happen to you is well within your capacity to handle and that the best will continue to surprise and delight you for the remainder of your life.
And remember, being fired may just be the best thing that ever happened to you. How else are you going to find out who you are not?”
I took a deep breath. Hmmm, maybe I needed to look at my circumstances differently.
Until that point, my forced exit appeared to me to be an utter disaster. Looking at it through the combination, and almost identical words, of my ex-boss and Bryce Courtenay, I then thought, “why was I upset about being fired by a clueless, incompetent moron who couldn’t see the good in me, anyway?”
I resolved to take my destiny into my own hands and cease being a victim of my circumstances, regardless of the perceived rights and wrongs of what had occurred to me.
The future looked very different for me, from that day forward.
Fast-forward to December 2008: My best friend is unemployed, a close relative was fired last month after 24 years of outstanding performance in a multi-national organisation across two continents, a (now ex) client was promoted in September then made redundant this month and recruiters I had trained as recently as last month, have now been shown the door.
In the current economic climate, we all know someone (or soon will) who is now without the employment they desire.
I hope that whoever the person is and whatever their circumstances are, they quickly realise that their so-called “disaster” is a golden opportunity to find out their true capabilities and destiny – a destiny not limited by the opinions, directives and all-too-human faults of a current or past employer.
Being fired is not the end of the world – it’s the chance for a new beginning. If that’s what you choose to make of it.