By Neil Senturia
Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, May 10, 2021
Former President Donald Trump made the phrase “you’re fired” a catchphrase of “The Apprentice” TV show. I never liked the sound of the words; they felt final and hard, uncaring and harsh.
Recently, I was hired to do a significant six-month consulting contract — and I was fired 11 days after the contract was signed. No, I didn’t do anything wrong or stupid. The CEO faced an internal uprising. He needed to keep peace in the corporate family, and I took the fall.
But getting fired forced me to think about all the other people who have lost their jobs, approximately 22 million over the last year of COVID-19. What is the impact of a termination and could there be a positive effect?
Initially, I was dumbstruck. I had the perfect skill set, and it was no fault of my own; yeah, tell that to the judge. And then, I went through the five stages of grief.
Denial: He must have dialed the wrong number.
Anger: I hope he and his project die and pound sand.
Bargaining: Maybe I quoted too high a price; I wonder if I should renegotiate against myself.
Depression: I am unemployed again.
Acceptance: I will move on and seek redemption and revenge.
Being fired has a significant impact on both your self-worth and self-image. No matter the illegitimacy of the decision, you feel hurt and gobsmacked. But does getting terminated, fired, displaced, rejected, denied, humiliated and told to not let the door hit you on the way out — could it lead to an entrepreneurial epiphany?
How many companies or products get started because someone lost their current employment? Herewith a few folks who rebounded after being tossed. Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison (fired by Western Union), Walt Disney, Mark Cuban, Michael Bloomberg, Julia Child (gross insubordination), Jerry Seinfeld. OK, you get my drift.
Now to be fair, I am fortunate and won’t miss a meal. But it is soul-searching and heart-rending to stand for a moment in the shoes of the other guy, who does not have a safety net. I talked to a comptroller who was let go. He started his own business and became a CFO for a public company. I talked to a fired e-commerce executive who built a shoe empire on Amazon.
Not everyone has the drive, the DNA or the economic luxury of being their own boss, but the upside of being fired, is that you are forced to “think again” to quote Adam Grant. You don’t look at new opportunities if you are perfectly happy with the opportunities already on your plate, but when you are put in the penalty box for five minutes for high sticking and must stop skating for a while, stuff crosses your mind.
If you are already running 200 mph laps on the current racecourse, you don’t have time to think about what comes next. Certainly, one potential outcome from being fired is a rekindled entrepreneurial desire: “I’ll show him.” Prime example is Tom Brady, NFL drafted 199th — you know the rest of that story.
One of the themes that haunts you in those first few weeks is the thought that you will never get another job. You are toxic, radioactive and doomed to the trash bin of failure. It is in that terrifying moment of loss and fear, that there is also the possibility of discovering something you never would have considered, that you never would have chosen. But you need to carry on, and in your mind, whatever comes next can’t be worse than the current state of affairs. Relentless pursuit of the endeavor.
Finally, the feelings. There were no expressions of comfort or regret by the CEO, just goodbye. I commit now and forever that if I am ever again in the role of doing the firing, I will do it with grace and a deep understanding of what it feels like to be told that you are off the team. And now, a final piece of humanity for your consideration. Do you want the company to succeed and do well, or is there just a little part of you that wants them to fail?
Neil Senturia and Barbara Bry are married, serial entrepreneurs who invest in early-stage technology companies. You can hear their weekly podcast on innovation and entrepreneurship at imthereforyou
baby.com. Please email ideas
to Neil at [email protected].
Rule No. 666
The wheel is always spinning.