Personal defeats can be devastating, and the bigger the loss the more likely you’ll end up rocked back on your heels.
When it comes to your career, there aren’t many defeats bigger than being fired. Typical reactions to abrupt termination include:
- Climbing back in the saddle by vigorously searching for a new job as quickly as possible. I’ve noticed many people that react in this way seem to be out to prove that their boss/company was wrong to let them go.
- Collapsing in a cloud of despair, putting off any decision making until you work through your feelings of betrayal, guilt, inadequacy, etc.
The problem with both of these reactions is they focus on the firing as a personal defeat. And while in some ways this might be true, there are other, more productive ways to process the event.
You learn more from adversity than prosperity
Trouble is a great teacher. I’ve learned and grown more during tough times than when things were easy. Trouble forces us out of our comfort zone. Trouble gets us to consider alternatives we’ve previously ignored. Trouble encourages us to adapt and change.
And there is no career event with more potential lessons to teach than the loss of a job.
If you’ll let it.
It’s tough. You’ll have to (at least temporarily) put emotion aside and look at the event dispassionately. What actions or events precipitated your termination? Did you see it coming? If not, why? What could you have done differently that would have changed the outcome? What signals were present that you missed/ignored that could have tipped you off that a change in strategy was necessary? Was your firing a result of tactical or strategic errors on your part – ones that you can learn from and correct in the future?
Or was there something more… fundamental going on?
Are there things about your core personality that are undermining you?
In the stress and trouble leading up to my termination, I came to recognize a number of deeply-rooted behaviors that caused me problems. For example, I absolutely hate receiving direction from superiors, and that goes double for criticism. When the proverbial S$#& hit the fan, the last person I wanted to talk to was my boss. Unfortunately, even with conscious effort, I eventually realized wasn’t going to be able to completely correct this issue.
Time to come up for air
Many career-oriented people (particularly, it seems, men) tend to set a long-term target early in their work life and then go on autopilot. While this tactic is useful if getting to finish line is the only thing that matters, goals left unexamined for years on end are not a particularly good idea.
For most of us, a funny things happen over time. For one thing, we learn more about job we’ve pointed ourselves at. Often it isn’t really what we imagined it would be. And most of us learn a lot more about ourselves, too. It makes sense that we would come up for air, look around, and decide if we really want to continue striving toward our old goals.
But many of us don’t.
A case in point is my own career. I was bound and determined to become the CEO of a public manufacturing company. It was my goal from a tender age, and in my mind I was perfectly suited for the role.
Over the years there were plenty of indications that it wasn’t the right job for me. I already admitted I chafed under any kind of authority – and the CEO job I coveted wasn’t going to free me from answering to somebody. I also hated conflict, and avoided it at all costs – hardly consistent with a job where you needed to take on tough problems every day. And the work content wasn’t what I had envisioned in my youth. Rather than directing the ship, the CEO role consists more of delegating responsibility to the right people and explaining things to Wall Street – neither of those skills was my sweet spot.
It wasn’t until I was fired however, that I gave serious thought to doing something else.
That damned horse, again
After my termination, I jumped right back on the horse again. It was what I knew how to do, and I was determined to convince everyone (mostly myself) that the firing was “their” mistake. In short order, however, I was unhappy in my new job. That’s when I really started thinking about what I should be doing with the rest of my life.
A short time later, I made a major change in direction that left me much happier and much less stressed. While it has taken a bit of adjusting to permanently let go of my old career goal, I’m now much better off for having done so.
The loss of a job doesn’t have to spell disaster. While there are financial consequences, to be sure, you should look at the situation as the perfect opportunity to re-examine your current trajectory. If it’s been a while, chances are good at least a little “fine tuning” is in order. 31.3
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To the right is the cover for DELIVERABLES. This novel features a senior manager approached by government officials to spy on his employer, concerned about how a "deal" the company is negotiating might put critical technical secrets into the hands of enemies of the United States. Of course, things are not exactly as it seems....
My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experiences as a senior manager in public corporations.