When it comes to work, we tend not to dwell on the unpleasant aspects of workplace reality, but getting laid off or fired at least once in your life is more common than you think. Regardless of the circumstance, it’s rough to have to pick yourself back up, and there’s a somewhat long period where you feel ashamed, embarrassed, and/or nervous that your future career dreams have been flushed down the toilet. However, people often follow that sentiment up with feelings of hope and appreciation for the lessons they learned (even if they were learned the hard way). It’s a fairly common experience, and one I didn’t realize happens to a good deal of the workforce. Sometimes, going through something as traumatic as losing a job can make you stronger, wiser, and more skilled to handle difficult future situations. For me, I know big screw-ups feel earth shattering in the moment, but something positive can come out of them if you force yourself to find the silver lining. We don’t have to be defined by our failures, and it’s possible to move forward to overcome a professional setback.
I was able to wrangle eight individuals to briefly talk about their experience with either getting laid off, fired, or leaving a job under not-so-great circumstances. Personally, I think it’s essential to try and stay on top of your behavior, workflow, and relationships with mentors and supervisors to see where you can improve. For me, practicing a healthy dose of self-reflection and constructive criticism can be the difference between success and failure. Check out the stories below!
1. “Bad culture fit. I worked at a company for about two years before I really started noticing problems, and I later discovered that my employer did as well (but was never upfront with me about it). Once I really got to know the people surrounding me at the office, I realized how different I was from the rest of them. My values, morals, dreams, and goals didn’t align with theirs, and I always felt like a bit of an outcast. I was in a workplace where I didn’t feel valued, and it’s because I wasn’t. After our agency got bought out, I was laid off in the very first round of cuts. I was disposable, because I don’t think anyone felt they owed me anything. I wished I listened to my gut instinct when I knew the company wasn’t right for me, but I was too nervous to leave without having a great job lined up. Next time, I’ll access the company culture much earlier on in the process to make sure it’s the right fit for me,” — llana
2. “I couldn’t adjust to the demanding hours. They say you should be young and hungry when you’re in your twenties, and I certainly was, but I didn’t feel like 60-hour work weeks should be the norm. Regardless of how much someone gets paid, a job shouldn’t have power over your life and everything you do. When I was having a sit down with my boss at my year-end review, she explained to me that there were even busier times ahead, and we would all need to maximize our time in and out of the office. I knew things weren’t going to get better, and I was extraordinarily blunt with her. I told her the job didn’t mean enough to me to have to sacrifice my quality of life, and that I’d be putting in my two weeks’ noticed then and there. She was definitely a little shocked, but I knew I wouldn’t have the guts to do it again for a while, so I just went for it. I have to say, I don’t regret it at all.” — Erica
3. “A bad client snafu. I really kicked ass the first year of my first job out of college working as an account coordinator. I was quickly promoted to assistant account manager, and looking back on it now, I was in over my head. I was overeager to please and took shortcuts to get as much done as possible, so I didn’t fall behind. I would go through my emails quickly every night before I headed out to make sure I wrapped up everything before I left. Long story short, I accidentally forwarded a VERY sensitive email to a client that he was DEFINITELY not supposed to see. I actually didn’t even realize it until I came in the next morning and saw that I missed a shitstorm of emails going back and forth. They had to let me go because of how much my snafu cost the company, and I’ll never forget the lesson I learned at that job. Thankfully, this was years ago, and it hasn’t affected my career trajectory. But, needless to say, I go through emails much more carefully now.” — Jean
4. “They wanted me to move, and I refused. My story is a fairly simple situation where my company demanded, not ask, that I move for the job. Our company got bought by a different owner, and they consolidated all the New Jersey offices into one and moved us to the Financial District in NYC. I am a single parent, and it’s a two-hour commute from where I live to downtown NYC. I was honest with them about not being able to afford additional childcare services for a longer workday, and they weren’t sympathetic. They told me they couldn’t offer me a raise now, but they’d be happy to talk about it at the end of the year. It took me a while to admit defeat after attempting the commute for two months, but I just couldn’t swing it. The job wasn’t important enough for me to stay and sacrifice the needs of my family, and it’s a shame it didn’t work out. However, I feel like a much more valuable (and less exhausted) asset to the company I currently work for, and I love what I do. Honestly, I think it was a blessing in disguise.” — Stacey
5. “I failed to take initiative, and lead. In my research, this is one of the most common things people get let go for, and I, myself, was an example of how this failure can become a major issue. I was hired for a mid-management role for a company that was in the midst of restructuring. It was my first jump to a more significant management role, and a position I didn’t have a lot of experience with. However, they brought me on because I nailed my interview and laid out big ideas for the company, my department, and myself — I think they saw me as young and fresh. However, over the course of about a year and a half, it became clear I wasn’t effective at seeing projects through to the very end. I found myself getting sidetracked by too many moving parts, and my projects were simply taking too long to come to fruition. I tried too many different management techniques (I had over-prepared with book research), and lead with my own initiative. I think my bosses felt I lacked vision, because I got too caught up in the day-to-day workload. I also had difficulty handing things off. I got let go about two years in, but I don’t regret the experience. I learned invaluable skills while I worked there, and I’ll take them with me wherever I go.” — Maryanne
6. “I was super self-centered. I got let go from a job a few years back because of how I worked (or didn’t work) with the rest of my team. Looking back on it, I realized that I made everything about me. My behavior was damaging to the collective team spirit, and it inhibited growth. Subconsciously, I pushed my work to the top to try and get it to move forward, even if it clearly wasn’t the best example of what our team could do. This really drowned out other voices and watered down our presentations. I mistakenly thought I was advocating for myself and standing up for my ideas like I should be doing, but all I was succeeding in doing was coming across as hostile, selfish, and bratty. When one of our clients had to bring the issue up when I gave off bad vibes at a sales meeting, my employer knew it was time for me to go. I’ve come a long way since those days, and I’ve really learned the difference between ambition and being downright selfish.” — Aisha
7. “I was romantically involved with a co-worker. This is one of the silliest reasons to let yourself get fired from a job, but alas, it happened to me. I had always been very close with this guy at work, and when his girlfriend broke up with him, we quickly moved past just being freinds. Both of our work suffered because of the drama that occurred in and out of work — my work suffered worse than his unfortunately. I allowed myself to become distracted at work, neglect my team members, and grow hostile toward the people he really got along with. It didn’t take long for my supervisor to peg me for not filling out a relationship disclosure form, and he told me I was fired. I’ll never let something like that happen again, and I’m much more mature and wiser now. I’ve come to realize that risking your reputation at work is not worth a fling.” — Geena
8. “I was fired when my employer found out I was conducting freelance work from the office. It was one of the stupidest mistakes of my entire life. It was my first job out of college, and I thought I was invincible. Even though I was told by HR that any instance of conducting something like freelance business or work from the office would be a fireable offense, and no second chances given, I never thought I’d get caught. I sent a logo I had designed for one of my freelance clients (which I worked on in the office) to the printer very late one night while I was working. I didn’t realize the agency studio department kept a log of everything that went in and out of the color printer, and it got checked every week. I was called into my supervisor’s office the next morning and was (regrettably) fired. I’ll never pull something that stupid again — I’m still kicking myself over that one.” — Sam
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