I was on the road to recovery from my back injury. I was feeling better. Nothing could bring me down. Then I got fired.
It was Tuesday and I was on a work trip in Los Angeles when I received an email from my new CEO saying that she wanted to meet with me that Thursday morning in her office when I returned. I knew something was wrong — not because she wanted to meet, but because she was so nice to me in the email. That woman was never nice to me. It was going to be ugly. I tried to reschedule because getting there for the meeting required me to take a six-hour flight on Wednesday and then drive three hours in the car, but she told me that I needed to be there regardless.
I knew I was walking into a bad situation. I spoke to my fiancé and we decided that if she was going to fire me, I would say as little as possible and leave as soon as possible. I didn’t realize that the meeting was only going to be a couple minutes long. After fourteen years of leading the sales organization and being an executive at the highest level in the company, she simply told me that my position was being eliminated. I could sign a paper saying that I resigned or she was going to let my team know that I had been terminated. I knew it was going to be bad, but that caught me off guard. I had just been recognized as one of the 40 Most Influential Women in Radio and now I was getting fired. I told her that I wouldn’t sign or agree to anything. I didn’t want to resign and I had no idea why any of this was happening.
Walking out of that office was hard. I felt that I had been treated so poorly and felt used. It felt like something had just been taken from me for no reason at all. The next twenty-four hours would be the toughest. I cried the entire ride home. I was not only defeated and discouraged, but I was also exhausted. I had never been fired before so the situation was completely new to me. The uncertainty was terrifying. That feeling morphed into anger and disgust the next day. That whole week was a rollercoaster of emotion. At times, I was crying because I was so upset while other times I almost felt happy to be away from such a negative situation. I knew that one day I would be okay; I just had no idea when that day would be. My fiancé and son were great during that time. They helped me to create a “no negativity zone” at home to make sure that I remained positive. Without their support and encouragement, I don’t know where I’d be today.
It took about seven days for the volatile rollercoaster to come to an end. I began to get some much-needed clarity. I had already changed my phone number and bought a new phone so I could start over. It wouldn’t be easy, but I knew that I needed to reach out to others so I made the following post on social media. “After 14 years with Beasley Media Group, leadership has eliminated my CRO position. I want to thank my team, partners, clients and all of the amazing people that I have known over the years. It has been an emotional few days and I wanted to thank everyone for their love and support. If I have impacted you in any way over the last 14 years, please leave me a comment below. I would love to hear from you! Thank you!”
That changed everything. Some people were shocked that I would post something like that. I figured people would find out anyway and, if I didn’t reach out, I wouldn’t be able to get any help. By the following day I had received a tremendous amount of encouragement and made some great new connections. The comments on my social media were amazing! What I enjoyed most was how people shared with me their own stories of how they overcame adversity after being fired.
My friend Elaine shared a story with me about being unhappy with her job at a salon. She worked at one of the biggest salons in Miami Beach, but the owner was a terrible woman who was awful to her employees. It was beyond draining so Elaine put her foot down and was promptly fired. She was petrified and didn’t know what to do next, but suddenly the clients started to call her. She would go to their homes to cut their hair. She doubled her income the first year and opened her own business the following year. She made sure to tell me that if she hadn’t been fired, she’d still be working for a nasty person and not living her dream life. That gave me hope and it truly lifted my spirits when I needed it the most. My mindset was beginning to change. A week earlier, I was petrified and now suddenly I was hopeful that things were going to work out for the best. Those responses were huge. Even today, I will often go back to read some of those responses because they move me so much.
Many of the people who responded also offered to help. The easy thing for me to do would have been to ignore that, but I decided to take advantage of it by asking them to do one specific thing for me. That might be making a connection, writing a letter of recommendation or even just advice. By making one specific ask, those that were offering were now delivering. That helped me piece together a plan. I tracked my progress. I made a grid that I hung on my wall so I could go back and look at how far I came — just like I did when recovering from my back injury. That was a game-changer because I found strength in that progress. Up until that point I had been the person others relied on for help, but now the roles were reversed. I felt painfully vulnerable at first, but the experience brought me closer to my friends and family.
There were plenty of roadblocks that first month. One big one was having to change my old company profile on my LinkedIn account. I desperately wanted to change it, but I didn’t know what to write. That may seem simple, but I wrote thirty different versions of my profile and still couldn’t get it right. I called friends to see what they thought and was encouraged to just write a draft up on the platform. If I liked it I could save it. Little did I know that when you begin rewriting your profile, it simultaneously appears on your page for all to see. I guess my rough draft was good enough to go live. In the end, I had agonized over that and wasted so much time. When in doubt, sometimes the best course of action is just to take action. Don’t hesitate. It turns out that I still have that same profile on my account to this day.
Suddenly, I felt a whole new sense of freedom. After a lifetime of doing what I thought I had to do, I was in a position to do what I wanted. That seemed so foreign yet so exciting. Instead of working for a paycheck and consuming myself with that work, why not decide where I wanted my life to go? Who knew when I’d get that opportunity again? At the same time, I was under pressure. I did not have a paycheck coming in for the first time in my life. Being someone who had worked since they were twelve years old, and was used to being the primary breadwinner, that made me nervous. I had a son to take care of. That panic can drive you to take a quick job and essentially trade one bad situation for another. I was getting offers, but I wanted to hold out long enough to make sure my head was right and my confidence was rock solid before I made a decision. Being terminated reminded me that confidence is not static and needs to be built up again when it is weakened.
Things were looking up in my third week after being fired. I felt better and was able to think clearly. I was also removed enough from my job to see things from another point of view. How much had that toxic work environment impacted me physically and mentally? Over the previous year my hair started to thin, but it was suddenly starting to grow back. I started to realize how that negative person was like an anchor weighing me down. My body was sending me signs that I needed to get out of that situation, but I hadn’t been listening. It started to make sense. Only after I shed that anchor was I able to take off. I was finally getting the chance to do what I was meant to do. I was getting the chance to soar.
After my fourth week, I was presented with amazing opportunities. I had been asked to appear on a television show, consult for a company and even endorse a brand. No longer did the future look bleak. I was actually excited about what the future had in store for me. The fear had slipped away. The rollercoaster ride had finally come to an end. More importantly, I was back to looking at things in a positive light. I didn’t focus on the anger or hurt feelings that came with being betrayed. Instead, I focused on all the new opportunities that were coming my way. If anything, I was overwhelmed by hopefulness. I was in the driver’s seat and the ability to create my dream job seemed like a very real possibility.
Getting fired came as a blow that I was not prepared for. It felt like I had lost everything, but I realized that they couldn’t take away the reputation that I had built over the past twenty years or the work I had done. They couldn’t take away my network. They couldn’t change the quality person I had become or the confidence I had in myself.
It’s funny how the uncertainty that felt so scary at first had become exhilarating. Instead of focusing on all the negative things that could happen, I shifted my perspective to focus on all the possibilities that would allow me to change my life for the better.
Some of the greatest success stories began with an unexpected firing. Oprah Winfrey was told she wasn’t right for television and fired. She turned that setback into an opportunity to create a brand that transcends all others. Mark Cuban was fired from his sales job and that termination allowed him the opportunity to go out on his own. J.K. Rowling was fired from her admin job because she was too creative. While unemployed, she began to write. Sometimes it takes being down and hitting bottom to realize that doing what we want doesn’t have to seem so unrealistic. Have faith that there are better days ahead. Speaking from someone who has been there, I can tell you that it’s true. I am constantly reminded that life isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about how you respond in the face of it.
Excerpted from Confidence Creator by Heather Monahan. Copyright © 2018 by Heather Monahan. Reprinted by permission of Boss In Heels Publishing Company. All rights reserved.