I’ve been fired once in my 30-plus years in the workplace. And the memory still stings.
The firing occurred in 1981, three months into my first job after graduating from college with a journalism degree. Talk about a bad start to your career.
The job was with the Associated Press, which provides news stories to media outlets around the world. The job seemed like a perfect fit for my education, interests and ambition.
At 22 years old, I wasn’t equipped for the unrelenting, around-the-clock pace of the AP. I slapped headlines on articles others had written and sent them electronically to AP clients statewide.
I felt like a factory worker. I was drawn to journalism because of the allure of interviewing people and witnessing interesting events. But on this job, I was restricted to a desk, shoveling copy as fast as I could.
And I wasn’t fast enough. After a three-month probationary period, the bureau chief called me into his office.
“This isn’t working out,” the balding, 50ish newsman told me. “You’re not keeping up with the pace we need, and you’re making too many errors. You’ve shown improvement, but it’s not enough. We’re going to have to let you go.”
My response to being fired
I felt shock, embarrassment and shame as a fumbled for a response.
“OK,” I said meekly. “I understand.”
After shaking the boss’ hand, I made a beeline for the exit. Tears welled in my eyes, and I didn’t want to cry in front of my co-workers. I cried in private, and depression overtook me.
Looking back, I don’t recall how I worked through the pain of failing in my first job as a college grad. I didn’t read material on overcoming grief and regaining confidence. And I didn’t share my feelings of failure with a counselor, friend or family member.
In short, I handled a life-altering event – a firing – very poorly.
In today’s unsteady economy, few people have rock-solid job security. If you’re fired or laid off, you can process your feelings better and move forward quicker than I did.
How? Experts have several tips.
Confront your feelings
Don’t minimize the trauma of getting fired. Don’t act like you’re fine when you’re not.
Instead, examine why the firing shook you to your core. (And it did.) Do you doubt your abilities now? Do you fear you’ll never land another job in the same field?
If you don’t know why you’re so wrecked by the firing, you’ll be unable to resolve your pain. And you’ll carry the sense of failure with you, potentially sabotaging future jobs.
Confide in others
You probably know friends of family members who have been fired. They would likely welcome the chance to help you.
Ask them their feelings upon being fired – and what they did to move forward. After hearing what your friends or relatives say, tell them how you feel. There’s something cathartic about pouring out emotions to someone you trust.
“The first reactions to being fired are usually anger and pain, followed by feelings of confusion and disillusionment,” writes Tony Lee, publisher of CareerCast.com. “Unless these feelings are aired out with a spouse, friend or counselor, your self-esteem can become shaky.”
Check the web for articles and books on overcoming a firing. There are plenty of resources. Don’t walk the path of rejection alone. Others have already been there and can offer guidance.
Don’t panic. Instead, learn to handle your emotions.
“While a moderate degree of anxiety has been consistently found to be a motivator, panic will only make the situation worse,” writes psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter.
Remember what you did well on the job
Yes, you were just fired. But that doesn’t mean you performed terribly all the time. Think of moments when you successfully completed a task and received praise. Use the positive reinforcement to counteract the negative mind talk you’ll likely experience.
“First, you need to rebuild your confidence and self-esteem,” writes Randall Hansen of CareerDoctor.com.
Realize that you failed at a job, not as a person
Even if you botched a job completely, don’t see yourself as a failure. Separate your work from your worth. Some people perform jobs well but treat people poorly or act unethically. You may not succeed at a job, but you can hold your head high if you hold fast to your values.
Many successful people have been fired – some more than once. A firing doesn’t doom your career. But your reaction to a firing can. Don’t let a boss’ decision send you into despair. Use a career setback as an opportunity to examine your strengths and weaknesses and move forward confidently.