I had my fourth college internship during my junior year as a journalism student at Syracuse University in the early 1990s. It was at a local TV station, WTVH-Channel 5, where a veteran reporter who oversaw the internship program told me, "You're not anybody in broadcasting until you're fired twice."
Ironically, that reporter was fired within six months. Broadcasting has always been a sector rife with RIFs (reductions in force).
I worked in radio and television for more than a decade and during that span, I was fired three times as a result of mergers, management changes and macro economic pressures.
While it's tough to pin down how many people have ever been fired from a job, the most recent research on the topic appears to come from Rutgers University, which found that approximately 22 percent of the U.S. workforce was laid off during the recessional span of 2009-2014.
Anecdotally, every corporation I worked for after I intentionally left the news business also had at least one round of lay-offs during my tenure with those respective companies. Hiring and firing seem to be the inescapable, dualistic Ying and Yang of the workplace.
Based on that fact and my personal experience, here are three lessons I've learned from being fired three times.
1. Your job does not define you.
When we meet someone for the first time we typically describe what we do for a living or ask what their profession might be. This subconsciously conditions us as Americans to define ourselves by the work we do.
If that's the case, then losing your job can logically result in a loss of identity and self worth. To avoid this, it's better to focus on why you work rather than what you do for work. Focus on your family, the relationships you foster on the job, the difference you're making in the lives of others or the personal fulfillment your work provides.
All of those aspects of your life transcend where you work and reinforce why you work.
2. Have a side gig.
Investment advisors encourage us to diversify our passive income portfolio. It's equally smart to diversify our active income (aka your day-to-day job) with a supplemental income stream as well. While seldom easy to do, this is important from an economic perspective.
The first time I was fired from a broadcasting job occurred in 1991 at WSYR-AM570 in Syracuse. Before I was let go, I was a college senior who had worked full-time at the station for more than a year and was weeks away from graduating. I had just signed a six-month lease to an apartment I was going to move into after finals. Then seven others, along me, were let go for cost-cutting reasons.
Luckily, I landed another radio job in another city before school ended, but most of the WSYR severance check I received went to pay off that apartment lease liability. Ever since I've been a freelance writer and entrepreneur on the side, so that if and when I was fired I was never out of a job.
3. Those who truly deserve to be fired rarely are.
Each time I was fired, I was part of a wave of cost-cutting measures resulting from a merger, management shift or economic downturn. Within each of those RIFs there were several Emmy-award winning reporters, veteran investigative journalists, un-protected union hires...etc. Not one of those individuals were ever fired for performance or disciplinary reasons -- we were canned for pure economics or confused capriciousness.
In my case, each news director gave me a glowing recommendation to help me in my subsequent job search. Further, in every instance there were still incompetent executives, inexperienced newsroom personnel and cantankerous protected union veterans at each station after the respective RIFs.
While getting fired is never pleasant, in hindsight I can honestly say that those were the times I experienced the most personal and professional growth -- positively feeding my entrepreneurial drive.
Losing those jobs were some of the best things to happen to my career.