Released. Replaced. Let go. Phased out. Sacked. Canned!
No matter what words are used, the impact is the same: You’re out! Now what?
I knew when a new boss entered that cushy corner suite that my time in the adjacent office was numbered. But I continued to hope that our relationship would jell and that I would hold a prominent spot in whatever personnel realignment he planned.
It didn’t happen that way. Soon, I was very discreetly read my rights, as it were, and shown the door. How did I want my colleagues informed, I was asked. “Should we say you resigned?” Yes, I concurred. Later, I would regret that response. Why not tell them the truth? I mean, why sugar-coat it with euphemisms?
When I bestirred myself to visit the local Unemployment office and file a claim, I was asked why I was out of work. I said I’d been fired. The man behind the desk shook his head disapprovingly? “Did you hit someone?” No. “Did you kill anyone?” Of course not. “Then let’s say you were terminated, okay?”
The difference was clerical, of course; the result was the same.
Looking back, being terminated was probably the best thing that could have happened to me (though it certainly didn’t seem so at the time). In the years since then I’ve accomplished much more, and experienced much more in the business world, than I would have if I’d stayed in that slot at the firm.
But, back then, I was convinced that I probably would never work again in my chosen field, but I did take the advice that was offered me. . . and began writing letters, so all the people I knew and respected would learn what had happened and I wouldn’t have to tell and re-tell my story ad nauseum on the phone.
But, of course, I did get sympathy calls, which I realized right away were truly unhelpful—damaging to the human spirit. But two people I expected to hear from never responded. Months later, I asked one of them—who’d been a friend and confidant since college—why he’d been silent. I hadn’t asked anything of him.
“I didn’t know what to say” was his answer—to which I responded, “You weren’t required to say anything. . . other than, maybe, ‘A man of your gifts won’t be out of work long; you’ll be back in the saddle in no time,’ if you really believe that.”
In other words, someone who’s just been fired—or, er, terminated—is destined to feel like a piece of shit, at least for a while. Words of encouragement that say, “You’re talented; your special,” are needed far more than a crying towel.
But being suddenly out of work can really be instructive—you quickly learn who your friends are and who they aren’t. I remember attending an industry function—which I did primarily to show my face and make clear that I was bearing up beautifully (though I was still kind of fragile).
I entered alongside two people I’d known professionally for years—they said nothing but moved as far away from me as possible without actually scaling one of the walls.
I was more amused than saddened; I didn’t think I looked at all leprotic.
As I made the rounds, cadging a drink at a pop-up bar and nibbling on little sandwiches before the event got under way, a few people came up to me to share encouraging thoughts. And one even said, “You need a desk? You need a phone? Just tell me—you’ve got ’em!”
I almost wept. Here was someone I barely knew who understood my situation fully and was aware that I had to move beyond whatever hurt I was feeling and get myself back in gear. As to my longtime “friends,” they huddled in a corner and kind of snuck off when the program ended—anything to avoid being near me during the file-out.
There are some people who manage to waltz through an entire career with no dips in their upward trajectory, but such folks are rare, I think. Most of us do have to work through the experience of being fired, or terminated, at least once—and usually at the least favorable time.
How do you deal with it? Positively. You never look back, never bad-mouth your former superior (no matter how passionately you hate his or her guts), and of course you always keep your eye and your thoughts on the future—the challenges that lay ahead.
Some years ago, while she was still driving (but probably shouldn’t have been), my mother-in-law got into a fender-bender not far from her New England home. She ran through a traffic light she forgot was there. No one was hurt, thank God, but a police officer did come to the crash site to investigate. “Who was at fault here?” he asked.
“It was no one’s fault,” my mother-in-law said briskly. “It was an accident.”
Similarly, when anyone is questioned after losing his job, the best answer might be, “It just wasn’t working. I had to move on.” And if someone expresses sympathy and concern—”what will you do?”—the response should be, “Lean on people like you for referrals and recommendations. Who do you know? Whom should I try to connect with?”
I think you’ll feel better—I sure did—and maybe you’ll get useful results.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons