Maybe you have never been fired. I sure have — more often than I care to remember — and I can assure you that, while the moment may be humbling, the experience has always been educational. Here are things I learned after getting the boot. They may not be earth-shattering lessons, but they’re good reminders when your earth has been shattered.

Be gracious, even at the end.
My first firing took place at my grandma’s bookstore. She said, “I told you that you can’t read when you’re working.” I said, “Just let me finish this one page.” She said, “You can finish all the pages — because you’re fired.” Fine, I told her. Besides, she didn’t pay enough. She told me that I made a lot of money for a 9-year-old. Then she said, “When you’re fired, it’s important to be as gracious as possible because there’s no point in burning a bridge any more than it’s already burned. And you never know what you might need later from the person who is firing you.” Then she took me out for ice cream.

You’d rather be where you’re appreciated, anyway.
I worked at a pizza parlor, where we treated the kitchen like a chemistry lab. The boss’s wife decided that 16-year-old girls were too tempting for him and instructed him to fire anyone who fit the above description. I tried proving my worth by inventing a method to make dough twice as fast as anyone else. But my hours dwindled. I was berated for not lining up the pepperoni exactly. It became a job I could only do wrong. The boss eventually followed his wife’s directive, and I took my pizza expertise to another restaurant, where I became the go-to pizza queen.

Even if you have a job, network like a person who needs a job.
Continuing my career in food services, I worked at an ice cream parlor. It was easy when someone ordered a flavor like daiquiri ice, which would thaw in five minutes. But hard flavors like pralines-and-cream would take most of the day to soften, and scooping them made my muscles sore. So I started directing customers to other ones. (“French vanilla? Feh. Orange sherbet — now that’s a flavor.”) When the end was near, I gave ice cream away for free. When the end arrived, I got another job right away — with someone who had benefited from my scooping largesse.

Everyone is expendable. Especially you.
Upon entering the real world, I worked at one of the first high-profile e-commerce websites. I had done my master’s thesis on interactive media, and suddenly 50-year-old managers were asking me for advice. Competitors tried to recruit me. I felt wanted and needed, and I started believing my own press. So much so that I neglected internal projects for freelance ones, thinking I was untouchable. I was the only one who understood the Internet, right? Wrong. And anyone who thinks they can’t be replaced is too.

12 replies
  1. Charlie
    Charlie says:

    I have one to add: You are resilient!

    I know so many people who have never been fired, and I think it is a shame because these are often the same people who are afraid to take risks in their careers.

    It is very empowering to get a new job after being fired. Also, being fired forces self-reflection that many people neglect.

  2. jazzypom
    jazzypom says:

    Thank you very much for this article!

    I’ve been following your column since August this year, and it has helped me to think about where I’m going and what I’m doing. The column ‘Do What you Are’ really resonated with me, and as a result, I’m going back into teaching.

    Thanks Penelope.

  3. TJ
    TJ says:

    “When the end was near, I gave ice cream away for free. When the end arrived, I got another job right away – with someone who had benefited from my scooping largesse.”

    It’s always fun to use work resources to illicitly benefit others :)

  4. ladym
    ladym says:

    so…what do you say in interviews about why you “left your previous” job?

    i was fired for the first time last year…it wasn’t the biggest blow to my ego ever, and i really hated working there, but it was still a learning experience.

  5. VAUGHN NEBEKER
    VAUGHN NEBEKER says:

    IT LIKE WHEN ENRRON FELL APARIT… LEARN TO TAKE THE PATENT’S AND OR WITH YOU… THAY CAN FIRE YOU BUT THE COMPENY INPLOYED’S… IT WERE AS A INPLOYEE YOU HOLD THE CAPITEL. THE CEO PLAYING SMARTEST MAN IN THE ROOM AN LOSING.. IT WERE A US COMPENY INPLOYED AT THE TUEN OF $70.0 BILLION DALLOR’S… THAY USED TO LAFF AT THE PHONE.
    THE LIGHT FIBER OPTIC CABLE USD TO CARRY 1,088 CALL’S.
    THAY PAYED NO ROYLITY. SO I PULLED PATENT AND OR COPY RIGHT… MONEY TOCK’S BULL SHIT WAKET AN THA WENT DEFUNK..
    SO IT DEPEND’S HOW ONE DESRIBE’S CANNED..

  6. Praline
    Praline says:

    I lost my job with an investment bank last year after 6 years with the company. I was fortunate in that I had invested in a friend of mine that has a small internet marketing company and asked me to run the finances for his company. My advice is to keep at least a portion of your savings in alternative, i.e. non-stock market, investments and keep in touch with friends and former colleagues, especially successful ones.

  7. matchmaker
    matchmaker says:

    Think of yourself as an artist at the office; notice that each business problem begs for creativity. And be happy that you have health benefits and vacation days, which you wouldn't if you showed your solutions in galleries instead of conference rooms.

  8. Savings Accounts
    Savings Accounts says:

    Following up on Pralines comment I would totally agree not to tie up all your money in stock market investments. This is to risky. There are alternative methods of investing in the stock market in which you are guaranteed for your initial capital investment. These are called structured investments they follow the stock market yet the FDIC insured them as if they were a bank account, I have quite a lot of money in such a scheme and I get the security of a savings accounts and the excitement of the stock market. Give it a quick Google to see all the latest structured investment products.

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