I got fired over Skype… from my own company. In today’s economy, many people are getting fired from their jobs. As many of my peers lose their jobs, I can’t help but remember one of the chapters of my life that hurt me the most, but, at the same time, catalyzed my growth. In the midst of a world turned online, people are getting fired over the phone, Zoom, Slack, DM, and mass mailing, and the stories keep on coming. The courtesy of eye to eye, one to one, or the professional version of “we have to talk” interactions are long gone. But I dare to say that they were gone long before.
Back in 2018, I got fired as the CEO of my own startup company over a video call. My co-founders couldn’t even look me in the eye and turn their videos on throughout the call. Let me tell you one thing straight. I won’t make it sound rosy. This situation sucked! But growing also sucks. No learning happens within our comfort zones. After I got off that call, I bought a ticket to meet them face-to-face because for me that’s the appropriate way to handle issues: straight to my face. Later on, I proceeded to travel to over 35 countries to cope with my disappointment, as, back then, travel was my therapy. Now, not only is travel not an option, but I know better and found my freedom by other means.
So, if you were fired recently, continue reading. I’m about to save you weeks of recovery and years of therapy.
Feel All the Feelings: The 5 Stages of Grief
The 5 stages of grief were originally developed to explain the emotional trajectory of people with terminal illnesses. Yet, in a world where everyone believes in the concept of what you do is who you are, losing a job can feel like death for some. Or, at the very least, being fired can feel like going through a breakup. In her book, On Death and Dying, Kübler-Ross writes about the 5 stages of grief: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. She did not develop these stages with the purpose of describing the loss of a job, but her ideas do help understand the coping process.
Getting to the acceptance stage takes a varying amount of time for each individual. Also, these stages are not linear: you can progress from one to another and then return to the previous stage. Once I reached acceptance, I managed to see my experiences they were: a neutral event. This realization is how I knew I had transcended the grief.
Step 1: Stop the Rumination
Every moment creates your future.
The past and future are constant collections of small bits of present moments. So, do you want to go through the negative experience only once or are you going to be re-fired in your brain over and over again? Each thought, sensation, and memory activates a neural pathway. Our brains are rewired every day and constantly forging new neural paths. Will you continuously train your brain to feel miserable? Or, are you going to train yourself to feel grateful? The decision is in your hands. In a world where our amygdala is activated on a daily basis, transmitting fearful and emotional signals following any negative news, it’s no surprise that we fall back into our default mode. Our brains are trained to look for the negative and fix it: to survive not to thrive. But do we really want to live our lives on a constant loop of battling negative emotions? Is dwelling on past experiences worth it? Are you ever going to change the past by reliving it over and over again?
Actionable step: An exercise that helped me grow is re-writing the story, taking in mind what you learned from this article. Think of this activity as an expensive MBA class to add on to your life resume. Extra points will be awarded if you complete this exercise with a pen and paper, as physically writing helps you create new brain patterns.
Step 2: Change Your Lenses
There is no good or bad.
Let me tell you The Story of the Chinese Farmer, a tale I used to listen to growing up that best exemplifies this concept.
One day, a farmer lost a horse, and his neighbors told him that’s too bad. The farmer said, “Maybe.”
The next day, the horse returned with many wild horses, and his neighbors told them he was lucky and that’s good. He said, “Maybe.”
Then his son broke his leg playing with the horses. The neighbors rushed to tell him that’s too bad. He is so unlucky. He again said, “Maybe.”
Then all the boys got recruited to go to war. But because his son had broken his leg, he couldn’t go. The neighbors said once again that he was lucky.
The moral of the story is that there is no good or bad. Bad luck and good luck do not exist. Everything depends on how you perceive it.
To see the whole picture requires immense complexity, and you never know what the consequences of misfortune are until you get to see the whole picture.
The truth is that events are neither good nor bad. They are neutral, and we are the ones who give them significance.
Actionable step: An exercise that has helped me is writing down a list of things you are grateful for. Even in the darkest times, we can find simple things to be grateful for. Even just listing 10 things that you are grateful for while washing your hands, could help you start to shift your focus to a more positive outlook on life.
Step 3: You Are Not Alone
This pain is shared among millions of people. Don’t view it as something that only happens to you.
Let me tell you that after I lost my job, I called my closest friends. Many of them have built businesses and are successful entrepreneurs. And, to my big surprise, they came clean and told me that they have gone through this as well. Not to mention there are many hyper famous entrepreneurs, like Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX or Whitney Wolfe, founder of the dating app Bumble, who have gone through similar experiences. A high number of company founders get forced out and compelled to sell their shares, or “fired,” and no one talks about it.
We often hear about the dream of being your own boss. But in reality, you are always working for someone whether it’s your clients, your audience, or your investors. It’s always about being of service to someone. The key is finding out how to be of service while doing something you love: that sweet spot where your passion meets your skills which meets your paycheck. This concept can be summed up by the Japanese term Ikigai.
So, the solution to getting fired is not rushing into starting a company. Instead, you should be clear with your goals and align your personal why to the company’s why. It could be your own business or not.
From my experience, I learned that job security doesn’t exist. It has never existed. Having a job is about providing essential services for others.
Freedom is not about being your own boss or traveling the world. Being free is the ability to control your thoughts, actions, and words. Aligning your mind and actions to your personal why is a freedom that goes with you wherever you go and doesn’t require a plane ticket.
I hope that this chapter in all of our lives at least allows us to talk more openly about our failures of any kind, whether personal or professional.
We are human, and failure is part of our progress.