I was recently asked to provide a reference for someone. This individual is great at what they do and I provided many positive remarks. However, the person who called me was a good interviewer and he asked some probing questions about the candidate. As I responded to one of the questions, I was surprised to hear myself say, “She’s great but would become an amazing leader if she would be fired”.
While my response may sound mean-spirited, I can assure you that it was not. About 9 years ago I was fired (or released if you prefer the comfort of a euphemism) so my comment was rooted in personal experience. I learned that the person I was speaking to had also been fired and he knew exactly what I meant. My comment meant that being fired can teach you things that no other experience can. In many ways, being fired is something that I wish on no one. Conversely, I made the above comment because I have learned firsthand that being fired has made me a better person.
To be clear, I’m not talking about being fired because of embezzlement or some other criminal activity. Rather, I am referring to the kind of firing that makes you sit up straight as your dreams and ambitions crash around your ankles. The kind of firing that causes deep soul-searching and sleepless nights. The kind of firing that makes you reconsider numerous assumptions about life, work and your career that no longer work. I’m talking about the kind of firing that shapes and refines you like a fire refines gold.
Here are three lessons that a good firing can teach us:
- You are not indispensable: Humility is easy to speak about and difficult to practice. At some point, most of us get caught up in the lie that we are indispensable. We are not. Read that three-word sentence again – it’s important. I have learned that I gravitate to genuinely humble people. In fact, I want to be that kind of person. Being fired was a deep notch in the growth of my tree of humility.
- Adversity reveals character: When we shine a bright light on object it often reveals the flaws. Firing is a bright light. A really bright light! Some people respond to this light by trying to dim it and hide their imperfections. Others choose to humbly stand under the light, inspect their flaws and work to improve them. The adversity of a good firing will reveal your character. Your response (hiding or inspecting) will determine if it also develops your character.
- Why do you do what you do? We sometimes use the metaphors of ‘climbing the ladder’, ‘hopping back on the hamster wheel’ or ‘the road to success’ to explain our work. However, sometimes we get stuck doing what we do because it’s what we do. A good firing allows you to step back and re-examine why. I have spent large portions of the last two weeks with four different toddlers. All of them constantly use the word why. As parents, we speak about ‘growing out of this phase’. I wonder if we have it wrong. Why may be the most important question we can ask. If so, it’s a phase we should never grow out of!
Firing does not need to occur in the difficult way that I experienced. I have met three people in the last month who have fired, or are considering firing themselves! This courageous act often stems from a realization of one of the following things: you need change, you are under-performing, your company has changed, you are ready for new challenges or that you have successfully replaced yourself and need to move on.
I no longer mind telling people I was fired because I have learned to be thankful for it. Without doubt, I am a better person because of it. If you get fired, hang on! If you are thinking of firing yourself, keep asking why. A good firing can teach you a lot of things.
Note: In a recent blog I spoke about how Patrick Pichette fired himself from Google. You can access this content here.
Jeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman