It's Okay to Fail Sometimes - Your How-To Guide After Getting Fired or Let Go

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I'll never forget the day that I was let go from what I thought was my dream job. I was in my mid-20s and I had no Plan B and no rainy day fund. I was a magazine editor, and I loved my job (or at least I thought that I did at the time). So much of my identity and self-worth was tied up with what I did for a living.

A funny thing happened when I was let go.

I felt an enormous sense of relief. Sure I was scared about finances and my ego felt a huge blow, but I had known for some time deep down that the cutthroat world of women’s magazines was not for me. I had just been too scared to do anything about it. Losing my job was the push (or rather, the shove) to start evaluating what I really wanted to do.

A few months later, I landed a great job as a writer/editor at a law firm. This job was a much better fit for me because it encompassed everything that I loved about what I was doing in magazine publishing minus the mean girl culture. 

Losing my job was the push (or rather, the shove) to start evaluating what I really wanted to do.

Many years later, I now head up the marketing department of a mid-size law firm in New York City after working in law firm marketing at a number of major firms. You could say that getting let go launched me on the right career path (yes, that’s true) and everything was smooth sailing since then (not exactly). Why? Because I’m not perfect, and I make mistakes, and I’m guessing that you do too. 

A lot of people don’t like to talk about their faults but the reality of life is that occasionally each of us will experience failure.

When the failure is work related, and it’s a big one – such as getting fired or let go – sometimes it’s just that it wasn’t a good fit. Other times it’s because of something that you did that led to things not working out. And then there are times when you lose your job due to circumstances that are out of your control, like for example your job was eliminated or your new boss doesn’t like you and pushes you out. 

Each of these scenarios stinks, but the bright side is that you can emerge from these situations as a stronger, better version of your professional self and use these failures to propel you to work situations that are a better fit for you – just like I did. Just know that you will still make mistakes along the way – and that’s okay, just as long as you continue to learn from them. 

I wrote this article because a few superstar friends of mine have recently lost their jobs and hearing that brought me back to when I was let go and the important lessons that I learned as a result because I believe that every dark situation has a silver lining.

I also wanted them to know that they were not alone in experiencing speed bumps along their career paths and that you can fail but still have a successful career. Remember – just because it didn’t work out for you in one position doesn’t mean that you are doomed for your entire career! 

It’s okay to admit that you failed. We often feel shameful about being let go from a job and some of us won’t even admit that it’s happened. But here’s the thing, no matter how brilliant, hard working or passionate you are, you will fail at something at some point. In fact, when I googled failure, one of the top articles that came up discussed the major disappointments of some of the top business people of our time – Steve Jobs and Oprah among them – and how those failures propelled them to great successes. 

...you will be okay.

Our identities are very much tied up with our careers, I know mine is as I mentioned earlier. In fact, what one does for a living is a commonly asked icebreaker question. When you are going through a crisis that cuts right to the core of who you are, it’s important to remember that you are not the first or the last person who will lose their job (remember Oprah and Steve Jobs did and look how they bounced back!). And you will be okay. 

Have a pity party (but with an expiration date). If you’ve been through it, you know that the first few days after you lose your job are surreal. If you are like me and crave order and routine in your daily life, it is disconcerting to say the least to have nowhere to go while everyone you know is at work.

Take a few days to feel sorry for yourself, and then focus your attention on more productive tasks and strategies. No one is going to help you but you, and you don’t have time to waste. Spend time self-reflecting as you would after the breakup of a relationship to determine why you were let go so that you don’t repeat the same actions, but try to be kind to yourself at the same time. If it was your mistake, learn from it. If not, learn from the situation. 

Do something productive. I don’t do well when I’m not taking productive actions so sitting around watching TV would not be how I would be spending my unemployment period.

Instead, use the time to develop an action plan to find a new job. Take the time to think about what you want out of your next position. What is your ideal work environment? What kind of boss do you want to work for?

Make a list of people who can help you – former colleagues and classmates, supervisors and headhunters, and reconnect with them only when you are feeling up to it (Note: Do not reach out to anyone when you are down in the dumps or feeling desperate– it will show and you will repel people. Wait until you are feeling more confident and back to yourself – trust me on this). Refresh your resume.

Also, now is the time to establish or reinforce your position as a thought leader in order to build your brand. If you are a published author, write as much as you can on LinkedIn Publisher and right here on JD Supra. If you haven’t published content before, try it, you’ll need to find your voice first. (Stay tuned for an article on how to get started as an author.) Now is the time to do this while you actually have the time! By taking all of these actions, you will be well on your way to finding your next opportunity.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – really. I know it sounds cliché (and it is the title of a Kelly Clarkson song) but what doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger. Use your failures to help you to achieve your goals.

Failure makes you less afraid and more willing to take chances

One positive side effect of failing is that you’ll realize that if you can survive your present situation, you can survive anything. Failure also makes you less afraid and more willing to take chances. There’s a reason why so many people use that other cliché about dusting themselves off and trying again!

Continuously build your network. When you are looking for a job, you will need to draw upon every resource possible and every connection that you have. Actively cultivating your connections before you ever need them is one of the smartest things you can do to keep your relationships “warm.”

Make sure your Outlook contacts are up to date and that you are an active user of LinkedIn – in fact, LinkedIn should be your best friend. Why? Because it enables you to build relationships – and your brand – quicker and faster than ever before.

In addition, when you’re seeking a job, LinkedIn will be a valuable job lead and competitive intelligence tool. Remember, strong professional networks don’t just happen – they’re strategically built. 

See yourself without rose colored glasses. One of the hardest things to do is to receive constructive feedback, but more importantly to act on it.

Many people can’t take it well or brush it off. Even if you disagree with most of the feedback, I guarantee you that there are shreds of the truth there and some areas of improvement for you. So really listen to what others are saying about you and how they really see you. To do this, I sought out former supervisors and colleagues, and asked them for their unfiltered thoughts about me.

...really listen to what others are saying about you

Even though some of the feedback was hard to hear, I made it a point to truly listen to this information – because I needed to hear it in order to change my behavior. 

Practice makes perfect. Every mistake you make is an opportunity to learn and grow, but you must commit to actively changing self-sabotaging behavior, and break negative patterns and bad habits. There are a lot of techniques to do this, but one that has worked for me is to set aside some quiet, reflective time each day to think about what went well and what I wish that I had done differently.

A former boss once said to me that I often get in my own way. Those words are now emblazoned in my head. Being mindful and more self-aware has been one of the hardest and most important lessons I had to learn in order to grow, and it is not easy.

Don’t burn bridges (unless you really have to). It’s never a good idea to burn bridges, gossip or bad mouth anyone, no matter what the circumstances are regarding your dismissal from a position because our industry is tight knit and you never know where from your next recommendation or job will come.

Try your very hardest to maintain a civil relationship with ex-colleagues, bosses and even human resource departments even though you may want to shout from the rooftops about the unfairness of your situation. Everyone talks, period.

(Tip: Cute dogs work wonders for releasing stress in situations like this – so borrow one from a friend if you don’t already have one.) 

Don’t be a mean girl (or guy). If you’ve personally lost a job, you know firsthand just how much it means to have a strong support network around you. I will never forget those who were there for me (and those who were not) when I was I unemployed.

So, take that call from a friend who’s floundering after losing their job. Reach out regularly to check up on them. Don’t treat them any differently than before. Don’t gossip about them behind their back. Go out of your way to help them – connect them with a recruiter or someone who you think they should meet. These actions won’t be forgotten when they land back on their feet. Be kind to everyone because it is just the right thing to do. And you just never know whose help you may need somewhere down the road.

Everyone thinks something bad like this can’t happen to them until it does – no one is invincible.

Failure makes you more empathetic and humble - and enables you to appreciate what you have.

The best thing about failure is that when you wind up back on your feet again (and you will!), you’ll appreciate what you have more than ever.

The hardest times in your life are often those when you grow and learn the most. Remember that just because it didn’t work out at one employer or in one career doesn’t mean you’re a failure! Every bleak situation always led me to a better place, and I’m confident that it will lead to a much better one for you as well. Remember, setbacks are just speed bumps along a successful journey, so hang in there, because you got this!

*

[Stefanie Marrone helps law firms effectively tell their stories and find their unique voices. Over the last 16 years, she has been working with some of the most prominent law firms in the world, developing and executing global revenue generating, business development, internal and external communications strategies, including media relations, branding, and multi-channel content marketing and social media campaigns. She has a diverse range of experience in both Big Law and mid-size/small-law firms. Learn more.]

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