On Getting Fired

I’ve had more jobs than I can count over the years. I’ve been “laid off” or fired from many of them.

Even when I absolutely loathed and despised my job, the moment of actually getting fired is never fun and it’s never convenient. One time I was laid off a week before Thanksgiving. That layoff was the most traumatic and ego damaging experience of them all.

I had just moved in with my boyfriend (now husband) that past April, and we were going to host Thanksgiving together for the first time. I was dumbfounded when I was told I was being let go. I was angry and resentful and I didn’t see it coming. Looking back, I can admit that I got myself fired from that job and from all the prior ones that ended the same way.

On the day it happened, I’d done all my work for the day. I was laid off on a Friday, so I had completed an entire week’s worth of tasks. I had a variety of tasks at this job and to me they were all ridiculous. It’s no wonder I got fired. I resented everything they asked me to do and I didn’t care if it showed.

One of my most important tasks was to shop for the groceries for the office. My day started at 9am but I was asked if I could have the groceries at the office by 9 or 9:30 on Monday mornings. It sounds simple enough, but it really wasn’t, especially for someone who resented every moment of it.

Not only were the groceries usually late, they were usually wrong. I always bought too many or too few yogurts, and or the wrong brand or flavor of rice cakes. I should have developed an efficient system for getting the correct groceries there on time. I just didn’t really care. I didn’t try to do a good job

Maybe I willfully refused to consider these things a priority. In any case, if I hadn’t gotten fired, I was going to continue sucking at stocking their kitchen. They would have all had to suffer with the wrong yogurts and wrong flavors of rice cakes indefinitely, because even though I was pretty bad at one of my essential duties, I had no plans to leave. Not only was I complete disaster, I was never pleasant, and I don’t think I ever looked happy. My discontent showed up in everything I did. Something had to wake me up because I’d become complacent.

Since this was a very small place, they hired someone to handle their human resources related business. I found it weird when he arrived that day. I was putting on my coat to leave when I was called into the conference room.Somehow, I knew it wasn’t going to be good news. The human resources person and the girl who originally interviewed and hired me, the personal assistant of the principal architect, were both sitting at the conference room table.

Although I was devastated, I remained composed as I was informed that I no longer had a job. The only person who spoke was the human resources person and he told me that it wasn’t working out. He also told me that in light of the economic climate they would be willing to tell anyone calling for a reference that I was laid off. But he wanted to make sure he told me that this wasn’t working out, that I was not a good fit. And that in reality, I was being let go. But, they would be willing to say that I was laid off, he reminded me once more. It was pretty harsh.

Getting fired doesn’t feel good. Somebody wants to let you know you are on the outside, not good enough, disappointing. It forces you to examine yourself.  I have learned a lot since that job.

The most important lesson I learned was that even if my job is “just a job” to me, I have to have some enthusiasm for it. Even if I don’t want to be there, I have to make the best of it. It isn’t enough to do all the things that are assigned to me and then sit at my desk seething, angry because I hate my job. Now I focus on maintaining a professional persona and a personal standard of excellence. I had to learn that I can’t show my anger and resentment in passive aggressive ways and expect to be employed for a long time. A company hires you for what you can do for them. This is what the person in charge of hiring thinks when they look at your resume: “What can she do for us?”  Not only what skills but also what energy and what attitude will she bring? What value will she add?

The nature of jobs is that most of us are replaceable. But if I were to get laid off or fired again, I wouldn’t feel the shame I used to feel. I felt ashamed because I was wasting my own time. I am the reason why I ended up working at the places I hated. I have a responsibility to myself to find work that I can stand and maintain and to put my best foot forward, even for the most mundane tasks. If I am spending the whole day waiting for five, I am only wasting my own time.

When I realized that a job wasn’t owed to me, I started having an easier time getting through my work day. I don’t think about how much I hate the place and what I’m doing anymore. I don’t blame my surroundings, instead, I ask myself, what would you rather be doing?

And that is the most important question, isn’t it?  If not this, then what?  If not here, then where?  What is it that I really want?

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