“My boss called. ‘I have unfortunate news for you. We’re letting you go.’ He kept talking, but I didn’t hear a word he said. In an instant, my identity as a mortgage executive was gone. In 26 years, I never had to look for a job. I had always been recruited away. It felt like I was swimming alone in an ocean, asking, “Who am I?”
That’s how Bronwyn Morrissey described her feelings after getting fired. She was devastated and confused. Who wouldn’t be?
Maureen Chiquet felt the same way. She was Chief Executive of Chanel before she was abruptly fired in middle of a haute couture show in Paris. About her public fall, she told The New York Times, “It’s like having your stripes torn off. You feel very exposed. There’s no way to avoid the question, “Who am I?”
Elizabeth, a senior marketing executive in New York City says for certain, “You can’t have a career without getting fired or losing a job you want. It happens all the time.”
Still, getting fired ignites fear. How will I pay my bills? What do I tell people? How do I start looking for another job? We try to soften the blow by telling people, “It didn’t work out. They were downsizing. We decided to part ways. It wasn’t a good fit.”
My friend, Bobby, tells people to say, “I’m in-between opportunities,” but the reality is you’ve been fired. It can be demoralizing, terrifying, and it can shake your confidence to the core.
Jill Abramson was the Executive Editor for the New York Times until she was fired in 2014. Since she was the first woman to hold that position, her exit was big news in the media world. Photographers and reporters from the New York Post camped outside her door.
Like Bronwyn and Maureen, Jill Abramson was stunned. After the initial shock and public humiliation, she discovered it was liberating for women to hear her say, “I got fired,” because it was the truth. Jill said, “I’ve devoted my life to words and their meaning, and so why not [say I was fired]? If you use some euphemism, people are left wondering, what happened?”
Bronwyn Morrissey’s mortgage company merged with a bigger one and 80% of the work force was let go. “I had just exceeded my annual sales goal by 185% so, I thought, ‘They’re not going to fire me. They need me too much.’” Like the rest of us, though, Bronwyn learned, she was dispensable.
Getting fired is like being dumped by a romantic partner. You worry that you may never love or be loved again, just like you worry that you’ll never work or be of value again.
Here are some Strategies:
1. Let yourself grieve. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identified five Stages of Grief after a death or loss of any kind. They are: Shock, Denial, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. These stages are rarely linear, so don’t be surprised if you bounce around before finally reaching Acceptance. Bronwyn said, “I really let myself grieve. If I didn’t take time to heal, I would have taken that grief and anger to the next job, and I didn’t want to do that.”
2. Let people help you. Most people want to help, but they don’t know how to ask. Tell them what you need: a travel companion for a get-away, a workout partner to get or stay in-shape, referrals, recommendations, email introductions, or a list of contacts. Ask and ye shall receive.
3. Carpe Diem. Bronwyn hikes, meditates, and journals. Maureen healed by writing her published memoir, Beyond the Label: Women, Leadership, and Success on Our Own Terms. These women are professionally reinventing themselves: Bronwyn is now a certified Leadership Development Coach; Maureen is on her book tour sharing skills for empowerment. And, Jill lectures at Harvard.
4. See a Pro. If you lost the feeling in your arm, you’d see a Neurologist, right? Well, if you lose your job, find a therapist, coach, or career counselor. Let someone access your strengths, give strategies on next steps, and offer a fresh perspective on you. Note: There’s no shortage of career and business coaches. At the first meeting, if it doesn’t feel right, it’s not. Move on. Be selective.
5. 15-minutes a Day. Let’s face it, people get fired or knocked down all the time. Pick 15-minutes every day to feel scared, sad, and sorry for yourself. Then, force yourself to get back in the saddle. You’ll keep moving forward without denying your grief.
For the next 30-days and beyond: If you have a job, spend 10% of your time looking for your next one. Make a list of people you admire in business and hone those relationships. Send emails with the Subject, “Thought of You” and a link to a relevant article. Invite them to coffee. Provide virtual introductions. It’s a 2-way street. Ask, “How can I support you?” You never know when either of you will want or need a new job.
Remember: Treat every conversation like an interview. And, train your brain to be optimistic. As you apply for new jobs, switch your thoughts from, “I hope I get it,” to, “This job or something better.”
May the best job win!