Monday afternoon a few weeks ago.
A little before 4 pm. I get a call informing me that I am fired.
Moments such as this can be dizzying. There are a couple things in life that create the feeling suddenly of having no ground beneath you. Your spouse or lover says,, “Divorce.” Your doctor says, “Cancer.” Your mom says about your dad, “Dead.” Your boss or someone above him or her says, “Fired.”
It was like the first time I stepped onto the ice at the temporary ice rink at Burns Park in brand new used hockey skates. I fought to keep my balance, doing a little dance as I tried desperately to make my skates stop skating and stay put on the ice. The harder I fought, the faster my feet slid from under me. And I fell.
The words, “You’re fired,” are like that last little push as you try to make your skates grab an edge and take hold. Much like being on ice, it can be just as hard to get back up.
This isn’t the first time I have been in this position. Lucky for me. I’ve felt the same bewilderment, confusion, hurt and anger before. Perhaps so many times that this time most of the edge of being fired quickly fell away. The anger was still there, for sure, but I also felt a sort of calm detachment as I ticked off a checklist of what needed to be done immediately: update resume, notify network, hit the job websites, set up appointments to talk with people about new job possibilities. I became hyper-focused on what to do next. In the moment the management notified me of my forced departure, I left the job and became so disconnected it was like I had simply walked through an opening and closed the door.
Tasks and projects in which I was involved no longer mattered. The goals and mission of the company I was formerly a part of suddenly became someone else’s focus. But then I worried about the people I was mentoring. Who would watch over them?
The knife in my back was that I was expected to work as if nothing had changed for a time and I was not allowed to notify anyone outside of management if I wanted to receive my severance salary. It was if they were saying, “By the way, since you’re down take this. We might as well make it harder to get up again.”
It took a couple weeks for the black clouds of another job loss and the depression that accompanies it to settle in. My wife noted a change in my mood. I went to my journal and could only write dark things. I used words like “hopeless,” “sadness” “despair” in trying to decipher my feelings. It’s easy to feel that this moment will be the way it always will be. What’s worse is that the sadness morphs into a giant hairball of despair as I began to apply this one event, this loss of a job, to failures in every other aspect of my life. The one raincloud became a massive trough.
It took a couple days to dig out.
In the grand scheme of our lives, bad things happen. Like many, I’ve faced my share of challenges and setbacks. The tapestry of my life is rife with snags and tears as well as long stretches of beauty. Mine is no different than others’.
I tried to look at this sudden event as an opportunity. I don’t always believe things happen for a reason nor do I believe in spending all of my time trying to figure out a reason for everything. Sometimes things just happen. I’m sure I bear responsibility for not meeting the expectations of the management and this led to my firing. I also believe that management is often dysfunctional and in this case they were overbearing, narrow-sighted pricks. I did a lot of good in this job.
In the days and weeks following my firing, I began to articulate that I had felt for a long time that my ladder was on the wrong wall. Things felt “off” but I wasn’t able to say exactly what I should be doing differently in life. I do believe that everything we do leads in some way to the next good thing, if we are aware and have the courage to take risks. This is a time to take a long view and decide what direction will be the most fulfilling for me over the next five, 10, 20 years. This will involve embracing some risk.
I don’t want to do what I’ve always done. I want to make this a chance to do something authentic that uses my skills and challenges me. It would be easy to slide back into doing the same things with a new company. And then face the same uncertainty and dark clouds again.
You remain where you are unless you change. I’m aware just how hard our brains work to resist change. I hope to have the self awareness to forge the kind of refashioning that will make this firing not simply another step in sticking with the familiar but a step toward evolution.