Chris Consorte was brought into the HR office. The woman on the other side of the desk was decidedly not pleasant. She did everything but hand him a blindfold and a cigarette.
"I kind of knew it was coming," says Consorte, 31. "Every week, somebody was on the chopping block. I was almost laughing as she was terminating me, and I think she thought it was odd that I wasn't more upset, but I knew it was coming."
Consorte was 26 at the time, and like so many people in the dotcom industry at the turn of the 21st century, the business he worked for had financial problems. Consorte, who was earning a six-figure salary, was an expense the company just didn't need.
Yet being fired was a problem Consorte didn't need. "I decided then that I would never let this happen when I was two to three kids deep, with a $600,000 mortgage and a wife at home," says Consorte. "And so I learned the best lesson I could ever learn in life: You have to depend on yourself."
Today, Consorte is a managing partner of Integrated Direct LLC, a direct-marketing firm in Long Island, New York, that is poised to bring in $2 million in sales before the year is up. While business is booming-the company expects to add 10 more employees to its current staff of 12 before the end of the year--the first few years were difficult. "People were not calling me back," says Consorte, who began the company in 1999, within months of getting fired. "They were worried about their own jobs and [were] not about to take me on for advertising consulting. It took years to find big accounts." That happens to be one reason why, after several months in business, Consorte eagerly partnered with his graduate school pal Andrew Calimino, 38, an entrepreneur with an extensive networking background.
Consorte's immediate thinking--that he would start his own company-shows that he didn't have his identity tied up in his job, which is a very good thing, according to Dr. Lee Jampolsky, a clinical psychologist and author of several inspirational books, including Smile for No Good Reason. "The first thing people have to do is realize that self-worth is not dependent on the job you have. It's the first question you'll get at a cocktail party--What do you do? There's quite a lot of emphasis on that question," says Jampolsky. "But if we tie our self-worth completely to the jobs we have, it's very difficult to recover." (See "Pick Yourself Up" below.)
Consultant Dalton agrees. "You can't stay in the dumps forever, so why not take the next step now? You can stay miserable for two weeks, or get excited, seek better alliances and see this time as an opportunity." It should be noted that Dalton herself was fired years ago--her boss learned from one of Dalton's office colleagues and so-called friends that she was considering striking out on her own, so he helped her along by firing her on the spot.
Some irony, of course, is that if you can avoid the crushing blow of self-doubt and start your own business, you may someday find yourself in the position of having to fire employees. Shaw had to do just that last year. She fired her general manager, who then had the nerve to show up for work the next day. Shaw, however, lost hers and tried to make things work for another few weeks. Finally, she terminated her general manager again-and changed the locks.
On another occasion, after weeks of her staff snipping at each other like high-school students and seeing sales go down, Shaw-in a sign of the times-threatened to terminate her staff and replace them with telemarketers in India. "It was harsh, but it worked," says Shaw. "They all met their sales goals, and now everybody is happy. Being a boss is challenging, but I've learned from places that I've worked to be a better boss than some I've had." But what really has helped Shaw endure the pain of firing somebody else and of looking back at her own employment track record was hearing some good advice from a neighbor.
"She said that if people aren't happy at their jobs, they're going to fire themselves," says Shaw, who recognizes that during her career history, she kept self-terminating her own chances at steady employment, because ultimately, she wanted to work for herself. "I agree. People don't really get fired by other people as much as they fire themselves. I have to admit, thinking about it that way made me feel so much better."
Pick Yourself Up
You've been fired, and for the last few days, you've been on the couch, taking it easy. A little too easy. It's been four days since you last showered. Fortunately, clinical psychologist Dr. Lee Jampolsky has some words of wisdom to consider:
- Forget the poverty mentality. This is easier said than done if you're utterly broke. But if you're constantly thinking "I don't have the money to do this," rather than asking yourself how you can raise funds or start a business cheaply, it's self-defeating.
- Impose a daily structure. Successful people don't sleep in until 11 a.m.
- Let go of your anger and bitterness--right now. "Feeling like a victim will hurt nobody but you," says Jampolsky. "You have to let it go. Sometimes, I'll meet with people who were fired from their jobs, and two years later, they still don't have the jobs they want. One of the first things I notice is that they're still holding grudges and anger about the jobs that they lost."
Speaking of which, Jampolsky advises that if your new business competes against the one you were fired from, try to keep the competition at a healthy level: "If you're constantly thinking 'I'm going to sink the SOB for everything he's done to me,' your success is only going to be sweet for about 10 seconds. Being successful because of another person's suffering is not a real fun sort of success."
In 1996, a bored Geoff Williams was deservedly fired from a teen entertainment magazine where he had worked for three years. He went into freelancing full time and has never looked back. (Well, not much.)
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.