An Expert on Getting Fired Shares How to Suck It up and Push Forward
Things only turn around when you're being constructive, not when you're dwelling on the negative.
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Sometimes I get asked about hard decisions I've had to make in my career and how I've dealt with it. The hardest decisions in my career were the ones that were made for me. Namely, being terminated from a job.
As the effects of COVID-19 continue to unfurl, many promising careers are coming to an abrupt end. Headlines from all over the world are about companies large and small being forced to let employees go. It's been a jolt to the senses.
I've had the "luxury" of getting let go (fired) from the last four companies that employed me. That's right. I've been sacked four times in the last four and a half years. Before you pass judgement, I should note that I've over delivered and shattered every goal and benchmark I set from the start. Four years ago I moved from Washington, D.C., and entered the startup scene here in Copenhagen, Denmark. I brought my American work ethic and culture with me.
Regardless of the reaons I was fired—I don't believe it was ever due to my processes, skills, or results—purpose of this article is to share with you how I've managed to spring back faster and stronger from being cut out of my job, time after time. ... And how you can, too.
Get a reason.
In most cases, this type of abrupt change has given me a chance to reflect and re-frame my energy toward constructive growth. Self-reflection after being let go from a job is incredibly important. Even if you weren't a fan of your previous boss or supervisor, there's almost always a nugget of truth in their reasoning. It's beneficial for you to consider it from his or her point of view.
I've always asked for a meeting a day or two after I sign the termination paperwork so I can gather my thoughts. I try to schedule an hour with my supervisor. And unless you've really messed something up, they're likely to give you time. Why meet again after the initial firing?
Get some certainty: In many cases, you will replay the moments of that final conversation over and over in your head. Take notes on "the why" that led to the decision.
Get the story straight: Make sure that if you're going to use your recent ex-employer as a reference, they have the right story and agree to give the positive side to your abilities.
Expectations of the future: Maybe you can ask about getting access to documents or files. Maybe there were some email connections you made. It never hurts to ask. The worst they can say is no.
Here are some additional considerations during your post-firing meeting:
Objectivity: Taking the objective route of working your way through thinking about the firing from their perspective can be cathartic.
Humanize it: Think of the person who fired you as a flawed human just like the rest of us and assume he or she made a decision out of something that was based in reason or fairness.
Beyond control: If the firing was only due to economic reasons, then rest assured that this happened through no fault of your own.
Angles: Consider the circumstances from all angles before moving forward. Would colleagues agree with the decision? Would a perfect stranger? Would it matter?
Post firing exercise.
In order to move on fast while growing as an individual and professional, I advise giving the following topics some thought. Write a few bullet points out:
- Top 3 reasons given for being let go: X, Y, Z
- Top 3 things I could have done to avoid this: A, B, C
- Top 3 things I can learn to overcome A, B, C and avoid X, Y, Z are 1, 2, 3
If you couldn't have changed anything, you're nearly ready to move on. If you could improve something; save that. This should be the cornerstone of your road map moving forward.
Also important is to give yourself a reasonable period of time with a specific end date/time in mind where you are no longer going to allow yourself to feel bad about being fired. The last time I was terminated, I gave myself a total of an hour to feel sorry for myself. The first time I got fired I gave myself three days to throw myself a pity party. It's OK to embrace all of the non-productive "woe is me" thoughts during this time. But once the time limit I set in advance was up, I set my mind into a state of focus on the next steps. Fight the urge to bring up or dwell on negative thoughts. They won't serve you and won't change anything.
Create your to-do list.
Step one to moving forward is starting something ... anything. Often, the less time you put between your last day and getting back on your journey makes bouncing back much easier.
Focus on completing your to-do list. Put yourself into something that is cathartic but also measurable. Blend it with the three things you need to learn from the earlier bullet point exercise (Remember: X, Y, Z, / A, B, C, and 1, 2, 3). Even if you don't believe in the reasons for your untimely exit, these points are still somewhat valid. Set a schedule that reflects working hours and begin working through your "to do list."
Depending on your circumstances, you may feel that some self-improvement is necessary. Go for it. Find out what courses or books might help provide you with the insights and skills you need to take you to the next level. Perhaps even consider meditation if you don't practice it already. A clear mind is ready for new challenges.
From there, of course, you'll want to think about creating income. In other words, finding a new job. Spend time updating your resume, portfolio, and LinkedIn profile. While you're on LinkedIn, consider reaching out to your connections. Someone you know in your industry might already be hiring for your next dream job. Never forget to ask for the job at the end of a meeting for just help in general. I always try to remember to ask people how I can help them for good measure, as well. Create a list of job prospects and keep it updated as your conversations progress.
Be proactive about staying positive.
Finding a new job might happen fast, or it might take some time. What should you do if the negative thoughts persist? Repurpose them into something constructive. Gamify it.
I'm not good enough = Work through a tutorial on YouTube and learn a new skill
Nobody will hire me = Make three new connections on LinkedIn or apply for three jobs
Nobody likes me = Read a chapter of a self-improvement book of your choice
I don't have a network = Go to one event per week (virtual!) and meet three people
What came of my job losses?
I used all of my negative experiences as momentum and pure energy to drive forward. I went all-in on working toward setting meetings and interviews.
And you can do that, too.
After my last firing, I came to terms with my desire to run my own companies again rather than defer to others. Public speaking came first. I landed a ton of talks at meetups, keynotes, and guest lectures. When talking about what I was working on, I had a sense of humor about my job loss and used the opportunity to also mention I was looking for new clients and investment.
Losing your job is not your identity, so don't make it into one. Unemployment is temporary.
Remember things always get better when you're being constructive. Building a to-do list and sticking with it should be your goal for now.
And whatever you do, don't feed negative thoughts. They grow every time you give them a chance. Use any negative inclinations that spring up as momentum to get more done.
Never be afraid of asking for help. Put yourself out there. I've certainly done it here.