On getting fired, and other life lessons

May 11, 2009

imagesThe Wall Street Journal today referenced a mental_floss column by Ethan Rex on successful celebrities who survived, even flourished, after being fired, including, of all people, Jerry Seinfeld:

Remember the ABC sitcom Benson? Seinfeld undoubtedly does. Early in his career he had a small recurring role as a mail boy on three episodes of the show from 1980-81. One day he showed up at work for a read-through, but he couldn’t find a script with his name on it. After Seinfeld asked what was going on, an assistant director told him he’d been fired from the show, but nobody had remembered to tell the young comedian. A humiliated Seinfeld trudged out and decided he was through with sitcoms unless he could get more control over the creative process. As you might have heard, he was pretty successful once that eventually happened.

Other famous firees included Michael Bloomberg, Rainn Wilson, Howard Stern (You think?!) and Robert Redford.

I was fired once. From my first real job. At age 16. We lived near my dad’s pharmacy on a busy state road, and there was a A & W Root Beer Drive In across the street. I thought the carhops — all girls — looked cute running back and forth from the tiny building to the cars with frosty mugs and little baskets of french fries, so when I turned 16, I applied, citing my close proximity to the drive-in as a hiring plus. I got the job. I was thrilled.

Major life lesson: In this little cosmos, the cooks and the night manager — all guys — ruled. And one of the first rules was that all “new girls” got hazed. They made my life there a living hell, barking at me, mixing up my orders, bad-mouthing me to the rest of the staff, and, worst of all, stealing money from me, which is what got me fired after a mere two weeks. It was devastating. I had been a golden girl up until then, good with people, successful with most everything I tried. And here I was, out in the job market, the real world, and I was a miserable failure. The owner couldn’t just let me go, he had to spend nearly a half an hour detailing all my inadequacies and questioning whether I would ever make it as an employee anywhere. (Ironically, the drive-in went bust not too many years later. I wasn’t sorry.)

After enduring his lecture, it was a long walk home. I cried my little teen-aged eyes out. I was convinced at the time that it was all my fault, and it was humiliating having to tell my family and friends that “it just didn’t work out.” It took several months for me to put it all together in my head, and then I got ANGRY. And I’m still a little angry about it. (To his credit, one of the more menacing cooks later told a friend that he felt really bad about what had happened and hoped that I didn’t hate him. I don’t think their hazing had gotten anyone fired before.)

It took me two years to work up the nerve to apply for another job. But I was good at that job, and I’ve been good at every other job I’ve held since then. Most of the men — and women — I have worked with have been steady, genuine people, and I’ve tried to be transparent and sincere. But I’ve always had my radar up, trying to nose out the hazers, the undercutters, the behind-your-back smirkers. When I’ve discovered whatever rock they’ve been hiding underneath, I’ve  confronted them (admittedly with mixed results), made some personal adjustments (like removing myself from their team) or gotten out.

So, like Seinfeld, maybe my getting fired was ultimately a good thing. But I don’t think I could ever convince that good-hearted but devastated little 16-year-old of that probability.

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3 Responses to “On getting fired, and other life lessons”

  1. OUCH!! You poor thing!

    I have a hard enough time on a job search as it is. I don’t know if I could have EVER gotten myself to apply for a job if I had experienced something like what you did.

    I want to tell you that it is clear to me that their treatment of you and others was the reason the drive-in went bust. It’s a part of the law of restoration. In the larger scheme of things, you were a test to them to prove them to see how they would treat a good person. Obviously they failed the test. Remember Ammonihah? When the wicked kick out the righteous there is nothing to protect them from destruction.

    I’m impressed that you’ve made it a point to confront hazers, undercutters, and behind-your-back smirkers.

    Way to be!

  2. Tracy Pattin Says:

    Thanks for your story and Jerry Seinfeld’s! I do think that getting fired can open the doors for more adventures in our lives. It pushes us to step out of our comfort zone. That’s where the real deliciousness is. Jerry’s getting fired from Benson, and setting the intention to be more in control of the creative process was clearly the best thing that happened to him!
    Here’s to more adventures. Especially in midlife!

  3. Double Nickels Says:

    So how do you start over at 55? I was just fired after 10 years because of a personality issue with the president who originally referred me to the position when he was vp and also was a member of my church. In the last couple of years, he quit our church and has pretty much “quit” all of his associations there. He did not even do the firing – he had his “gal pal” exec vp do it who just so happened to be my supervisor. Now, I’m trying to “reinvent” myself and start over and try to make the comparable salary that I was. Any suggestions? Thanks!

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