There is no question that getting fired can be a life-changing moment. It can turn someone’s world upside down. The daily routine, the interactions, the successes, the stresses and the paycheck are suddenly gone. Questions of “What do I do now?” emerge, and worries can kick in almost immediately.
But there is always the chance to have a big second act. Valuable lessons can be learned from getting fired, and careers can skyrocket despite this setback.
There are plenty of examples of CEOs who were able to make big comebacks after being dismissed from a company. Some even get a second chance to run the business they helped build.
Perhaps the most high-profile example is Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. After he was fired in 1985, he started a new computer company, NeXT, along with influential animation studio, Pixar. He eventually returned to Apple, became CEO in 1997 and led the company to stunning new heights.
“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me,” Jobs said in his commencement speech at Stanford in 2005, as reported by ABC. “The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter into one of the most creative periods of my life. … I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love.”
The idea that getting fired can be a good thing may be hard to initially grasp. But the soul-searching and self-analysis involved can lead to better days. Here’s a look at how executives can regroup after getting fired and get their careers back on track.
The loss of a job may be much more than a temporary detour. Some people allow their identity to be largely defined by their work, which then takes a massive hit after a dismissal. In a Young Entrepreneur Council story for Inc.com, Fabrizio Moreira writes that making it to the CEO level requires commitment, and developing strong relationships with colleagues. So, the sense of loss can make for a difficult transition: “They will no longer be a part of your everyday life, and that hurts. It is normal and healthy to recognize that loss and to grieve.”
Though some will advise former executives to get right back on the horse and start the search for a new job, it may be smart to take a moment and step back, Moreira writes: “If you’ve just been terminated, spend a little time alone to regain your composure and begin processing this experience. Depending on your situation and how much time you have, it may mean taking an hour to walk in the park, or a weekend to binge-watch television. Use this period to get ready to start letting people know what happened, starting with those closest to you.”
Take the feedback
Few messages are as loud and clear as a firing. Though we may not want to hear that message or ponder what mistakes were made and how they could have been avoided, it’s important to take the time to dissect the feedback in planning for the future. Stephanie Vozza examined this in a story for Fast Company, which features Lewis Howes, author of The School of Greatness: A Real-World Guide to Living Bigger, Loving Deeper, and Leaving a Legacy.
“Whether or not the reasons you are fired are accurate or fair, the point is that those reasons are how you are perceived,” Howes says in the story. “Many people get hung up on whether what happens to them is right or fair. It’s more important to be open to the feedback you’re receiving so that you can adjust the image you are promoting to be aligned with the truth.”
Grace in troubled times
Here’s an interesting case of a high-profile firing. NBA coach Dwane Casey led the Toronto Raptors to the top record in the Eastern Conference this season. He’s the winningest coach in team history. He was named the coach of the year on May 9, but after the Raptors’ playoff woes continued — the team was swept by LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round — he was fired.
Casey’s public response was a graceful one and served an example of why he had experienced success as a leader. In a story for Inc.com, Scott Mautz featured a letter that Casey wrote to the Toronto Star newspaper, thanking the team for the opportunity and the Canadian community for supporting the team and helping his family to feel welcome.
Mautz describes the letter as “the epitome of an emotionally intelligent response,” including how he made specific points in expressing his thanks. Casey “chose the high road of showing nothing but respect for the opportunity he had been given — a powerful lesson for us all, and so easy to forget in the heat of the moment,” Mautz writes. “… We can learn from this. Start with gratitude, yes, but specificity of gratitude helps reinforce its sincerity and doubles its power.”
This is an area that can inevitably be damaged by a firing. Losing a job — especially one that was fought for, earned and appreciated — can be a downright painful thing to endure. So, it’s only natural that doubt, dread and anxiety can come into play. Marten Mickos, CEO of HackerOne, wrote about his experiences in getting fired in a story for CNBC. His second dismissal as CEO caused him to feel that he “was ready to give up.”
“I asked myself if I should abandon the role and just try something different,” he writes. “But I couldn’t. I felt I had to keep going. When I re-emerged, I was done with the self-pity. Giving up would have been like admitting defeat, and I had become CEO in order to win — not lose. I decided that I owed it to my younger self to show that the ambition that led me to become a CEO in the first place was not unjustified. I was ready to be CEO again.”
Mickos writes that self-confidence will eventually get a boost after a firing: “Sure, it’s a blow at first, but then you go through the stages of grief and come out stronger and more confident than you were before.”
As part of the confidence fallout from a firing, humility can come into focus. Business leaders may develop an inflated sense of self as their star rises. Those who put an emphasis on being humble can have a distinct advantage, as it may have a large impact on the people around them. A Forbes Coaching Council story by Cheryl Williamson makes this case: “I have learned that the best leaders are selfless and more concerned with the well-being of their team than with their personal titles. You cannot be an effective leader if you feel that you are better than your subordinates. Furthermore, teams under said type of leadership become hostile and experience low productivity and high turnover.”
Henna Inam wrote about humility and character in the wake of being fired in a story for The Balance Careers. She describes herself as a high achiever and said that she took on “a risky role in a challenging situation.” Her trajectory had given her plenty of self-confidence.
“What I lacked was humility,” she says. “I thought I was invincible and could single-handedly tackle any problem, no matter how complex or entrenched. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have experience in that business unit and the pressure was mounting on a quick turnaround. I realized I had been unprepared for the risks I had taken.”
After the emotions have been sorted through and the lessons learned have been established, it’s time to focus on re-emerging and landing a new role. Moreira’s Young Entrepreneur Council story for Inc.com notes that it’s important to be open to ideas and input from others in plotting a new course.
“The process of regaining your balance requires discipline if you want to get back on track, re-energize, and explore all of the opportunities that are open to you,” Moreira explains. “Consider enlisting the help of a professional thought partner to ensure your re-entry is well-planned and timed. Take the advice you would give to your best friend: Don’t hesitate to ask for help, be good to yourself, focus on staying healthy, and dream big. Know that there are great things ahead.”