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.