“What is the one piece of advice you would give my friend who just got fired?”
People often ask me this question once they learn that I mentor executives toward honorable closure when a career phase has ended. It came up at a birthday party last week while I visited with my friend, Iris.
As this story goes, the executive was beckoned to HR where she received her walking papers. It wasn’t a complete surprise, though her release was not performance-based. There had been tension with another executive, and that executive “had the bigger budget and trendier product line.” This person wasn’t prepared for the embarrassment of being escorted back to her office to collect her personal items and then be accompanied to the door. Oh the humiliation!
This drama plays out every day in corporate America. Most successful executives know it could happen to them, regardless of how well they perform. Office politics, a new CEO, or poor quarterly earnings can bring swift, sweeping change. The strong-arm exit is driven by fear that a spurned executive will impact morale or share the recipe of the company’s secret sauce with a competitor. This feels like an insult to anyone with integrity. The stakes are high and it can be shocking to find yourself on the outside.
To anyone going through similar circumstances, here is more than one piece of advice, because I can’t help myself:
Consider the possibility that this could be the best thing that ever happened to you. That may sound harsh and insane, but I wish to jar you out of any self-pity and have you start expecting Lady Luck to come around. Lucky people expect to be lucky and they live in alignment with that expectation.
If this suggestion angers you and the termination is still fresh with feelings of fear, embarrassment, a sense of betrayal, so be it. You’re probably worried about your bank account, kids college fund, or being diminished in the eyes of others. We’d be worried about you if you didn’t have those feelings and concerns. Take time to mourn and rant and process. Go ahead and binge watch an entire season of Scandal, because, if not now, when?
Maintain perspective. Give as much attention to what you have, as to what you have lost. Anne Lamott once said that her mind is like a dangerous neighborhood; she should never go there alone. When boogey-man thoughts arise, bring yourself back to the moment, This Moment Right Now, and notice that you have everything you need. Truly. You live in the first world and can afford chocolate bonbons.
To support living in the moment and being grounded, continue—or begin—a spiritual practice like meditation and prayer. Neuroscience now confirms these practices really work, which is why they’ve been around so long.
Be a compassionate observer of your experience. How would you speak to your best friend if she were going through this? Speak that way and say those things to yourself. Do you feel disrespected by your former employer? If yes, write down what it looks like to treat yourself with respect, then do those things.
Now, come back to this question: how might this work out even better for me, even if I can not see it right now?
Being terminated often propels people into overdue soul searching; it brings clarity to where they stand and what contribution they want to make. I see this often in my work and admire the grace and grit that emerges. Maybe you’ve been secretly yearning to pursue another direction but were afraid to pull the trigger. Here’s your chance. Don’t wimp out.
Regardless of the direction your career takes, bring Honorable Closure to the past. Integrate the learnings from this experience and you will open the way for deeper satisfaction in your next job.
My Four Steps for Skillful Endings are:
1) Tell the Old Story in a New Way
2) Resolve any Regrets
3) Let Go and Let It Be
4) Invent the Next Story
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