Want a Better Life? Get Fired
By Ken Magill
Worried about losing your job? Don’t.
Getting fired is particularly terrifying for those who have never been let go. But those of us who have been fired can tell those who haven’t: “Relax. It’ll be tough but you’ll get through it and once you do, you may even be better off than you were before you lost your job.”
I’ve been fired five times over the years—I can be a real asshole—and each time my life turned out dramatically for the better.
Understand one thing: When someone gets fired—not laid off, fired—it’s usually because the wrong people dislike them. Ever notice how the mediocrities are always the ones moving ahead in corporate America? It’s because they don’t piss off or threaten those with the power to move them up.
Also, I can say from experience that getting fired is never a surprise. A sure sign is when co-workers start avoiding you like you have a contagious disease.
In any case, my first few firings happened when I was in my twenties working various construction and garage jobs. The job losses convinced me to go to college. As a result, my career prospects improved.
The last time I was fired turned out to be the best thing that could have possibly happened. I was working in the creative services department at a business-to-business cataloging firm in the early to mid-nineties.
I had unwisely accepted a promotion to run the department—a promotion that resulted in my previous boss reporting to me.
Not surprisingly, my previous boss undermined me. Surprisingly, however, the CEO also undermined me. Every day he would tour the various departments and buddy up with the staff.
My first managerial problem was a perfect example of the ridiculousness the CEO fostered by pretending to be pals with the staff.
The CEO called me into his office. As I walked in, he was looking down at his desk with the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger.
“You know what Kim [not her real name] just told me?” he asked.
“No, what?” I responded.
“She just told me that when she has her baby she’s afraid you won’t let her express her milk in the office,” he said.
“Express her milk? What the hell does that even mean? She can do whatever she wants with her milk. I just want her to shut the f*ck up about it,” I said. I was not yet a father and was unfamiliar with the verb “express” as it relates to mothers’ milk.
Turned out I had earlier told one of the designers I wished Kim would stop talking about her plans to pump her breasts in the office. The designer interpreted my statement to mean I didn’t want Kim pumping her breasts in the office.
Rather than talk to me first, Kim went to the CEO. They were buddies, after all.
I called the designer and Kim into a conference room and closed the door.
“Did you tell Kim I don’t want her pumping her breasts in the office?” I asked the designer.
“Yes,” she said. “I thought you didn’t want it.”
“I never said any such thing,” I said. “Kim, you can pump your breasts all you want. I just don’t want to hear about it. Got it?”
With that, I left the conference room. I should have left the company.
Instead, I stayed—complete with my office right across from the ladies’ room. After Kim had her baby, I was treated multiple times a day to the sound of her breast pump whirring in the restroom just across the hall.
During Kim’s breast-pumping sessions, it was me looking down at my desk with the bridge of my nose between my thumb and forefinger.
Then we got a new vice president of marketing. He interviewed everyone in creative services and they all made it clear how much they hated me. Frankly, they had some good reasons. I showed them no respect, for one.
The new vice president of marketing promptly canned me, or rather, had human resources can me.
The day I was fired, I remember getting out of my car in front of my apartment. As I carried my box of stuff to the door, a homeless man asked me for money.
“No,” I said. “Go away.”
“Come on,” he said. “Just spare me a little change.”
“Look, I just lost my job. Leave me alone,” I said.
“You’ll get another job,” he said as I walked into my building closing the door behind me.
He was right, but it would be some long, hard months before things improved.
One day, I was sitting in my apartment in a panic over how I was going to make rent and my car payment when the mail came. In the stack was that week’s copy of DM News.
“Hey,” I thought. “I have a degree in journalism. I understand direct marketing. I should call them.”
That phone call to DM News’ then managing editor Dan Harrison would change my life. I freelanced for DM News for some months, then moved to Jersey City—called New York City’s sixth borough by some—and began working for DM News full time.
It was 1996 or ‘97 and no one in the newsroom wanted the Internet beat because not much exciting direct-marketing-wise was happening online yet. I was the new guy, so I took it. I would love to say I had vision. I didn’t. I wanted the catalog beat.
In any case, my success as a trade writer, meeting my wife and having our son all came about because I was fired multiple times and forced to reinvent myself each time.
If you’re reading this you’re in Internet marketing, a growing industry. If your present job is shaky, you have nothing to worry about. Getting canned may just be the best thing that could happen.