It was just like any workday, login into your system follow the routine, check e-mail, attend meetings, handle security incidents, triage, and close tickets. But on this particular day, I had issues with my login, I tried everything I could but unfortunately, I had to get my manager involved. I had to go to a bank branch nearby to fix the issue.
I had a one-on-one scheduled with my manager, we finally had the one-one later in the day but it was not what I expected. In our previous, monthly one-on-ones, it was held on skype, no video call but on this faithful day, my manager had his video on, I did not perceive anything was going to happen but shockingly it did.
He blurted it out: management has decided to terminate your position. Management had earlier announced that there was going to be a 5% cut in the organization’s 42,000 employees pool due to automation, covid-19, and digital transformation going on within the bank.
It was tough to hear him say those words, I felt betrayed by my manager and in the following days, I went through a host of emotions such as anger, shock, worry, anxiety, abandonment but in the end I had to come to terms with the new reality. it happened so fast in less than 3 minutes, I was off my CyberSecurity gig in one of the biggest financial institutions in North America. It’s been a rollercoaster ride since I got laid off in October 2020. I am in a great place now as it made me look inwards and focus solely on my entrepreneurial journey.
The experience of being laid off has brought me to learn a lot about myself, people, and the world at large. It is often said that “You know your friends during adversity and your friends know you during prosperity.” I have found that to be true as I had friends that gave me the silent treatment, family members that were waiting to be told, colleagues that never reached out, and hearing ignorant statements like Why did you not tell me? I guess it is times like this that the American civil rights movement leader Martin Luther King Jr. was referring to when he said “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”.
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”. –Martin Luther King Jr.
As hard as the experience was I gave myself solace by remembering all the great business executives that were fired earlier in their careers and some even got fired from the companies they started. I was in the company of great men such as John C. Bogle (Vanguard Mutual Fund Group), Steve Jobs (Apple), Micheal Bloomberg (Bloomberg), Ted Turner (CNN), James Dyson (Kirk-Dyson), et al. Getting fired is one of the toughest situations anyone can go through.
Media Mogul Ted and founder of the Cable News Network Ted Turner had to resign from the organization he started as a result of the AOL/Time Warner Merger in the early 2000s. He wrote about his ordeal and the toughness of going through a life event such as getting fired in his book, Call Me Ted, he noted:
It was a really rough time. Psychiatrists will tell you that the two most traumatic things that can happen to a man are going through a divorce and losing his job, and these two things were happening to me at the same time. And I couldn’t sell my stock as the company’s value plummeted. I was like Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, watching all that gold dust slipping through his fingers.
Psychiatrists will tell you that the two most traumatic things that can happen to a man are going through a divorce and losing his job.
It is tough to get fired as an employee but it is tougher to get bouted out of the company you started as was done to Ted Turner at CNN, Steve Job at Apple, and James Dyson at Kirk-Dyson. One of the most fascinating stories from reading the autobiography of British Inventor and Entrepreneur James Dyson is the story of how he lost the patent to the Ball Barrow (his company’s first major invention), lost the patent, and also lost the company.
In his autobiography, Invention: A Life, Dyson writes:
In 1974, when I had wanted to do the Ballbarrow, my brother-in-law very generously offered to part-fund it and I had rather stupidly assigned the patent of the Ballbarrow not to myself but to the company. We borrowed £200,000 but, now at 24 per cent, the interest rate was phenomenal. As we borrowed more by bringing in new investors, so my percentage share of the company fell. The business grew to an annual turnover of £600,000. It captured more than half the UK garden wheelbarrow market, but even so we didn’t make money from it.
I couldn’t have been more surprised, though, when in February 1979 my fellow shareholders booted me out. There was no apparent reason for this. I later discovered that the son of the other major shareholder had taken over the running of the business. I had lost five years of work by not valuing my creation.
I had failed to protect the one thing that was most valuable to me. If I had kept control, I could have done what I wanted and avoided a big interest bill. I learned, very much the hard way, that I should have held on to the Ballbarrow patent and licensed the company.
“In the event, I lost the license, the patent, and the company. What made it worse was that because Andrew Phillips was the company lawyer, it was he who did the firing and I was now without a lawyer. I was clueless about compensation for loss of office and my shares were worthless.
Keeping the company private
From now on, though, I was determined not to let go of my own inventions, patents, and companies. Today, Dyson is a global company. I own it, and this really matters to me. It remains a private company. Without shareholders to hold the company back, we are free to take long-term and radical decisions. I have no interest in going public with Dyson because I know that this would spell the end of the company’s freedom to innovate in the way it does.
I want to think about the future and to keep going forward with invention, engineering, design, technology and products even if this means sailing against the prevailing tide and into those uncharted waters I find so enticing.
It is tough dealing with a challenge like getting fired as it might affect someone’s self-esteem and outlook. In my case, it happened so fast and I was numb for a while. As Psychologist Dr. Gordon Livingston noted in his book, Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now – Only bad things happen quickly. He writes:
When we think about the things that alter our lives in a moment, nearly all of them are bad: phone calls in the night, accidents, loss of jobs or loved ones, conversations with doctors bearing awful news. In fact, apart from a last-second touchdown, unexpected inheritance, winning the lottery, or a visitation from God, it is hard to imagine sudden good news. Virtually all the happiness-producing processes in our lives take time, usually a long time: learning new things, changing old behaviors, building satisfying relationships, raising children. This is why patience and determination are among life’s primary virtues.
When we think about the things that alter our lives in a moment, nearly all of them are bad: phone calls in the night, accidents, loss of jobs or loved ones, conversations with doctors bearing awful news.
In his book, Enough: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life, founder of the Vanguard Group John C. Bogle wrote about his firing:
By late 1974, as the bear market took its toll and large numbers of our shareholders took flight, the assets under our management had plunged from $3 billion to $1.3 billion. Not surprisingly, my partners and I had a falling out. But my adversaries had more votes on the company board than I did, and it was they who fired me from what I had considered my company. What’s more, they intended to move all of Wellington to Boston. I wasn’t about to let that happen.
“The great game of life is not about money; it is about doing your best to join the battle to build anew ourselves, our communities, our nation, and our world.”
As a BNN Bloomberg opinion piece noted: John Bogle Couldn’t Really Succeed Until He Got Fired. Bloomberg Opinion columnist Justin Fox commented:
It was certainly opportunistic, though. Before being pushed out at Wellington, Bogle had been critical of the concept of an index fund, which was first floated in the pages of the Financial Analysts Journal in 1960 (Bogle wrote a pseudonymous rebuttal) and first put into practice for institutional investors by Wells Fargo in 1971 (which was the beginning of what is now BlackRock’s giant index investing business). If his career hadn’t been derailed, Bogle likely would have just kept doing what he had been doing. “If I were still running Wellington Management, it wouldn’t be no-load, and I would probably be rich as Croesus,” he once put it.
Instead, he became possibly the most important and influential financial-sector figure of the past half-century-plus.
Bogle gave some great advice in his book about providence, boldness, second chances, and living a life of contentment. He writes:
It is all true, and my own life has been the proof of it, better than any dream. Whenever I have committed myself with boldness, providence has followed, whether it was the providence of stumbling on that Fortune magazine article on the mutual fund industry way back when I was searching for a topic for my senior thesis, and then committing myself wholeheartedly to the project; the providence (yes, the providence!) of being fired by my Wellington partners that demanded of me the commitment to recapture my career in the industry and gave me the opportunity to start Vanguard; the providence of receiving a new heart, just as mine was about to expire; and the commitment to making the most of my second chance at life.
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now. – William Hutchison Murray
Former CEO of Apple, Steve Job shared his story of been fired from the company he started and how that experience became a stepping stone for his bounce back. He delivered an inspiring commencement speech to the 2005 Stanford University graduating class about his experience and lessons learned.
I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents’ garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4,000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.
How can you get fired from a company you started?
I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down — that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.
I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.
I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.
During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the world’s first computer-animated feature film, Toy Story and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.
I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.
Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.
Getting fired can be a setup for a comeback as Steve Jobs and John C. Bogle’s story shows. It can also be a sign from the universe that it is time to move on to greater things. American Businessman and Politician Micheal Bloomberg wrote in his autobiography Bloomberg by Bloomberg about the thrill of getting fired:
“So there I was, thirty-nine years old and essentially hearing, “Here’s $10 million; you’re history.” One summer morning, John Gutfreund, managing partner of Wall Street’s hottest firm, and Henry Kaufman, then the world’s most influential economist, told me my life at Salomon Brothers was finished.”
“Was I sad on the drive home? You bet. But, as usual, I was much too macho to show it. And I did have $10 million in cash and convertible bonds as compensation for my hurt feelings. If I had to go, this was the time. I was getting my money out of the firm then instead of ten years later. With Phibro paying a merger premium, I was doubling my net worth. Since somebody else had made the decision, I’d even avoided agonizing over whether to stay at Salomon—a timely question, given my then-declining prospects in the company.”
“Afterward, I didn’t sit around wondering what was happening at the old firm. I didn’t go back and visit. I never look over my shoulder. Once finished: Gone. Life continues!”
I was never embarrassed to say that I’d been fired and was now running a small start-up business. I’m tougher than many others (or, perhaps as a psychological defense mechanism, I convinced myself not to care what others thought). But I was worried that Sue might be ashamed of my new, less visible status and concerned I couldn’t support the family. A sable jacket seemed to say, “No sweat. We can still eat. We’re still player.”
No sweat. We can still eat. We’re still player.
Life is a roller coaster of challenges, ups, and downs, storms, trials, and tribulations. Whatever would go wrong would eventually go wrong (Murphys Law). You are either heading into a storm, are in the middle of a storm, or just coming out of a storm. The storm of life is never-ending as it comes in different forms and shapes like getting fired, loss of a loved one, divorce, terminal illness diagnosis, depression, and all the tough times. As British writer Vivian Greene rightly said “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.”
The key to navigating the vicissitudes of life is to radically accept whatever happens to you, grief your loss, pick yourself up, fall down six times and bounce back seven times. As American Novelist James Baldwin once quipped “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” As the Buddhist meditation teacher and author Tara Brach advised in her book, Radical Acceptance: Awakening the Love that Heals Fear and Shame:
We suffer when we cling to or resist experience, when we want life different than it is. As the saying goes: “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.
Radical Acceptance enables us to return to the root or origin of who we are, to the source of our being. When we are unconditionally kind and present, we directly dissolve the trance of unworthiness and separation. In accepting the waves of thought and feeling that arise and pass away, we realize our deepest nature, our original nature, as a boundless sea of wakefulness and – love.
We practice Radical Acceptance by pausing and then meeting whatever is happening inside us with this kind of unconditional friendliness. Instead of turning our jealous thoughts or angry feelings into the enemy, we pay attention in a way that enables us to recognize and touch any experience with care.“Nothing is wrong—whatever is happening is just “real life.” Such unconditional friendliness is the spirit of Radical Acceptance.
Like every aspect of our evolutionary design, the unpleasant sensations we call pain are an intelligent part of our survival equipment: Pain is our body’s call to pay attention, to take care of ourselves.
As the stories and life experiences of the above business executive show, life happens to us all but what distinguishes the successful from the unsuccessful is the way they react to setbacks. The successful see every disappointment as a blessing, every wall as a door, and every setback as an opportunity for a comeback. Like this business executive, I have used my getting fired moment as fuel to become a better version of myself by staying committed to my craft through this blog, working on my writing skills by writing daily, focusing full time on my entrepreneurial journey, and showing up daily through my habits, routines, and disciplines. Am I a New York Bestselling author? not yet but watch out for this and remember my name as you would be hearing more from me.
Life is tough breathen and If I can convince you about anything, It is that: This too shall pass, there is nothing in life that you can not weather, you just have to keep the faith, bet on yourself, ignore the naysayers, trust the process and you shall overcome. You’ve got this, you are down but you are not out.
All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.