Two Words That Hurt More Than Sticks & Stones

Dec. 5, 2002

It was the day before my 36th birthday.  On this date, my CEO informed me I was being promoted to vice president of sales.

I felt the pride in my father’s voice when I shared the news with him that evening.  He had come to San Francisco to visit the previous year, and I took him to see “our” offices on a Sunday.  He was unusually quiet as we walked around. After the tour, he said he was “taken” by how much of my handwriting was on the whiteboards in the conference rooms we passed by.

Feb. 14, 2003  

It was my father’s birthday.  He turned 67 years old.  I had planned to call him that evening to wish him well, but I was too ashamed to do so.  On this date, my CEO called me into a conference room to tell me I was fired -- as I stared at the handwriting on the wall.  

Getting fired is almost always arbitrary.  There is rarely a business felony committed -- but instead, a wave of resentment fueled by personal feelings that rally to support a business decision.  Next thing you know, you get pushed out a door you were accustomed to entering every day of the week.



The day after you get fired is the worst.  You’re in shock.  You wake up confused -- and as the day progresses, you get angry.  You flash back to the signs you missed.  You focus on the secret meetings that must have taken place. Thinking about the blindsiding betrayal makes it hard to breathe.  

Your friends tell you it’s an opportunity.  They’re half right: It is an opportunity to feel as bad about yourself as you possibly can.  The worst part is, you believed you were doing a good job -- but it wasn’t good enough.

Weeks pass quickly and the self-doubt piles up. In my case, I decide to start my own company -- not because I was born to be an entrepreneur, but because I was too afraid of getting fired again.  

I ended up packing up my car, loading my injured feelings, and driving across the country back home to the East Coast.  I settled in at a college buddy’s apartment in Philadelphia, 90 miles away from the East Coast friends and family I was too embarrassed to face. I started burning through my savings. Worst of all: My father was worried about me.

Dec. 5, 2003

It’s the day before my 37th birthday.  My company is still an idea. I don’t even have business cards, and I am covered in self-loathing.  On this date, I get a call at 2:30 in the morning from my brother.  He tells me my father was rushed to the hospital and that I should drive up north.  He reminds me to pack a suit.  On this date, my father passes away.

What haunts me to this day is that he died while still worried about me because I got fired from a company that had my handwriting all over it.  I can never go back and change that.

Of course there are cases when a dismissal is valid. More often, though, it’s just the quickest and easiest solution to a problem, the way getting a divorce would be every time you have a fight with your wife.  

There are other options for problem-solving beyond firing someone. These however, take more effort by more people and are often dismissed in favor of the quicker and easier solution of “washing our hands of the problem” -- thus causing irreparable emotional and collateral damage to the person washed away.

If you are in the line of fire -- which is almost everyone in 2016 -- keep your eyes open for new opportunities at all times. Demand a contract if you sense any leverage, which will help protect you.  You owe your current company nothing but your best work -- but for some, that still won’t be good enough.

5 comments about "Two Words That Hurt More Than Sticks & Stones".
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  1. Shane Cunningham from Thomson Reuters, November 5, 2015 at 11:46 a.m.

    Great piece Ari. That is going to resonate with a lot of people out there.

  2. Nor Rafferty from Fordham University, November 5, 2015 at 11:51 a.m.

    Thank you for sharing this story Ari.  I often read your column and find it spot-on with insights and sound advice. This one is no different.  

    I was "job eliminated" in 2005 as my oldest of three children was entering college.  My husband was retired and I was the bread winner. Reading your piece it all came back to me and while I rebounded with a job in six months, the scars remain.  It happened again in 2008 and took a year to get another job.  This time I changed careers from sales to marketing.  I'm happy to say the change has been fantastic and it really is true that as one door closes another one opens.  I try to impart some wisdom to my children from what I learned but know they too will need to unfortunatly hear those two words and I pray they will rebound as you and I both did.  

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, November 5, 2015 at 12:48 p.m.

    Thank you. You are correct. No doubt we all have some horror stories especially from people in their late fifties or more, the great unhireables and are in no way in a position to start their own business or would ever want one. The best to you each morning.

  4. Chuck Lantz from, network, November 5, 2015 at 6:04 p.m.

    Ari: Thanks for allowing us an honest look into the dark side of "downsizing" ... (I hate that word)

  5. Howard Sholkin from Sholkin Group, November 7, 2015 at 3:21 p.m.

    I was dropped on my head four times in my 43 year career, three times in a six year period. Then, I learned that you have to be aware of not only how your company is doing but also how me or my position are viewed in a company. My next layoff didn't come again for 23 years when I had already begun to think about what I wanted to do next as I began a career phase out. This time I expected to be let go as the two executives who appreciated what I did had moved on. While the timing was sooner than I wanted, it was time for me to work for myself after 42 years working for others.

    I was fortunate that I could go on my own without financial pressures given my wife's pension and a good two decades of savings. I now teach at a local college, do consulting and marketing writing, and volunteer. This trifecta works for me now but would not have years ago. 

    In my next phase, I will have to decide when and how to layoff myself and end my many years of working for a living.

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