I got fired once.
As hard as it was at the time, it became a tremendous catalyst for change that eventually turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. Simply put, if I hadn’t got fired on this day, I would never have ended up in New York City.
This happened back in March of 2012 at the closing stages of a very hot and memorable summer where I spent every evening after work watching the sun set over one of Adelaide’s numerous and incredible city beaches.
I wrote this post about a week after I got fired and I’m glad I did. It brings back very powerful memories from that day and it now serves as a reminder of how traumatic the event was, and how god-awful-hard the months were that immediately followed.
What I like about this post is that I had no idea what was coming next. At the time that scared me greatly. I get the sense from the final paragraphs that maybe I knew this was big but I could never have predicted how big or what a life-changing event getting fired that day would turn out to be.
Why share this with my now considerable audience? Why openly admit professional failure?
I’ve been inspired by two things – this recent HBR blog post on openly talking about failure and I’ve been reflecting on my own career change journey thanks to my involvement in co-hosting this upcoming event in New York.
I often think about what I’d be doing now if I hadn’t got fired that day. Would I have continued my cosy set-up in Adelaide working as a management consultant? Or would my feet have eventually got itchy, and I would have spread my considerable independent wings regardless? Read on and judge for yourself.
I lost my job last week. And no, I am not joking.
Technically I wasn’t fired. My job was declared redundant. Like the difference between the two is supposed to make me feel better. It’s a horrible word, redundant. And to be declared redundant? Officially it means deprived of one’s job because it was no longer necessary for efficient operation. For efficient operation? Fuck that. I’m still sitting here, the first Monday morning in over 10 years and I have no job to get up and go to. It feels very strange.
This was supposed to be my dream job. My dream post-MBA job. Recall that just four months ago I chucked in the very secure long term job I had in public health, packed up my life, moved on my own and to a different state for this job.
This is very unfamiliar territory for me. I have never been fired or made redundant from anything. I have never felt so comprehensively rejected in all my life, and foolish, and completely demoralised. Welcome to the real world of work, Sarah! You are no longer the sheltered pseudo public servant you once were, in a cushy job where no one gets fired.
I am not going to go into the specifics of why I lost my job and I don’t want to bash my old firm. I need to tread lightly here. What I will say is that the GFC is not over, kids. This country has not escaped it. It is starting to permeate into government departments who are reducing their spending accordingly.
I knew for the better part of two weeks that this was coming. While no names were mentioned initially, as soon as I heard the boss say ‘reducing headcount’, I immediately felt very vulnerable. I was the last person they hired. I may have had nearly two weeks to sit with it but how do you prepare yourself knowing you’re probably going to get fired?
I had wondered exactly how they would do it; the part where they tell me they are terminating my employment. Would they take me to a public place, tell me I have to leave, where I couldn’t make a scene or hissy fit it out in public? Or make a meeting time with me on Outlook, where I would know in advance what was coming? I knew my head was on the chopping block. Decision day arrived. It was uncharacteristically grey and rainy outside and it mirrored my mood. I wore my favourite pretty red hair clip and hoped for a shift execution.
I am proud of me for handling it as well as I possibly could. I listened to what sounded like a short rehearsed speech from my very nervous boss. I had time to cry about it. I was told to gather my things. I had $30 cash stuffed into my left hand. I was promptly marched out the door and into a waiting taxi. The fucking indignity of it all. How’s that for a swift execution? It was all over in 15 minutes and by 9:30 that morning, I found myself back at my apartment wondering what the fuck just happened.
Two weeks is a long time to wait to learn your fate. It was incredibly difficult to front up to work, knowing I was probably going to get fired soon, and actually concentrate and do anything that resembled work. It was like a rollercoaster. At times I brushed it off and felt fine about it, other times I was convinced I would keep my job and other times I drove myself crazy and over-thought it to the point of floods of tears. Only natural I guess.
I hate thinking I was an easy target for firing because of my personal circumstances. Or lack of them. I don’t have a family or partner to take into account. I don’t have a young family or kids in private school. I’m the one with the newly minted MBA who can take it pretty much anywhere and if that fails, can always use my clinical background to fall back on. I could always do a PhD if I got really desperate. I may have options, I have more options than those around me but I have worked hard to set myself up to have those options. Nonetheless having options doesn’t make it any easier when you’re the one in the firing line.
I have hated telling people about what happened. Especially my old colleagues in public health, where redundancy isn’t part of their vocab. Some people I just haven’t told. I am completely ashamed to put ‘unemployed’ and ‘my name’ into the same sentence.
It’s been nearly a week since it happened and I’m feeling a little lost. As much as I’ve resented it, my work has always been a huge part of my identity. Now that’s gone and I’m not sure what I am anymore. I am not used to having so much time on my hands.
But I am much more than my work. More than a growing collective body of research. I get the feeling that this experience is going to prove it to me. I can take the time to cherry pick and wait for the best job with the best fit. I can explore what I am truely passionate about, what blows my hair back and what will really make me jump out of bed each morning.
In the meantime I have to stay positive and busy. I can finish off a research paper that’s up for presentation mid year. Think of all the running I can do! I have no excuse for not smashing up that half marathon I’ve been eyeing off next month. I’m going to watch every single movie nominated for Best Picture, all in one hit. And the tv I can watch! American tv is cranking up soon in the lead up to its summer hiatus. Awesome. And what about all the wonderful new music waiting for me to explore and wrap my ears around? I can catch up with pals and not be the one that has to rush back to work or be home before 10 on a weeknight. My kindle is going to get a serious work out. I can read and read and read and read. I can even try meditation. I can take dance class every single night of the week. I might just do that.
I will be okay. I am not going to panic. I need to spend time thinking hard about what happened and what I want to do next. I need to keep the bigger picture in mind here, now more than ever. People get fired every day. I can keep a roof over my head and food on my plate for a very long time to come. And I don’t have to quickly scoff my lunch sitting at my desk at 4pm any time soon.
On the back of every bus ticket sold is this town they print short motivating affirmations. On the back of my bus ticket last week was this very timely quote.. every ending is a new beginning. Exactly right. As for my new beginning? Dusting myself off, taking full advantage of the downtime and not letting this smash my confidence are some of the options I’m considering.