After I got fired from my very first professional job, I was a wreck. Like, if I didn’t jump off a bridge in the immediate aftermath of said firing, it was just because I was too much of a mess to locate an actual bridge, you know? I was not well.
Never mind that the job I was fired from was basically a prison made of sadness and mean office gossip and Lean Cuisine. I didn’t consider myself lucky to be gone. I didn’t use my firing as a chance to re-evaluate my goals, or have some plucky, Anne Hathaway-in-a-rom-com-style realization that I had inherent worth as a human being, and I should expect more from a job than crawling around behind my boss’s desk, searching for her dropped Blackberry charger, getting dust all over my skirt.
No, instead, for the next six (profoundly unemployed) months: I drank. A lot. I woke up in weird places with weird bruises. I dated guys who turned out to be homeless, or on hard drugs, or former members of Sugar Ray. I did that thing where you don’t actually try to kill yourself, you just run around making such exquisitely poor decisions that you hope the world will finish you off. I hated myself.
Getting fired from my first job made me feel worthless. I had worked so hard to land it, after a year of post-grad unemployment and weird Craigslist temp jobs, and then, poof! It was gone…along with all of my value as a human being.
Of course, that was complete nonsense (or I would be writing a very different essay, possibly from an insane asylum, or from the bottom of the sea). Getting fired from my first real job forced me to learn about who I really was, what I really cared about, and what work I should actually be doing. Getting fired from your first job doesn’t have to hobble you professionally for the rest of your life, as you may fear — instead, it can give you inner strength, open your horizons, and force you to grow in important ways.
You don’t realize any of that until years later, of course, after that firing is nothing but a faint memory of a weird time in your life. “Why was I drinking so much back then that I got permanently banned from that one Taco Bell by the train station?” you’ll think to yourself, and then you’ll remember, “Ah, that was right after I got fired.” You’ll remember it almost fondly, like a dumb but very lovable pet from your childhood.
But if you’ve been recently fired, you might not feel any of that yet. You might be feeling like your life is over, like you’ve messed up in a way that can’t be fixed, like you’re not going to be given any more chances. Fuck that. Consider me your Ghost of Firing Future. Take my hand, and I’ll give you a guided tour of all the reasons that getting fired from your first job is a beginning, not an end.
1. If you didn’t do anything fireable: Your boss was a total monster.
There are people in this world who only hire inexperienced recent college graduates as their employees. In fact, I was hired by one. These bosses are the workplace equivalents of 28-year-old dudes who only date high school girls, and you want to get away from them as fast as humanly possible.
These bosses are emotional vampires, who feed on the hopeful, uncrushed spirits of recent college grads, because they are afraid that someone with more work experience would call them out (which they totally would!). So, they’re attracted to your inexperience — the way you look up to them, even if they suck at their jobs; the way you think all the bullshit they throw at you is “just what work is like”; the way they can fire you whenever they feel like it, and chalk it up to your “lack of experience.” These bosses can often be spotted in advance, because all your new co-workers will let you know that you’re the boss’s fourth new assistant in the past two years.
But the thing is, not all bosses are like this! There are also really wonderful bosses who want to help you succeed. Consider this firing a gift — you are now free to go meet some of those wonderful bosses.
2. If you did do something fireable: Congratulations! You now know what not to do at work!
Of course, there is a chance that you deserved to be fired. In fact, I did. Yes, my boss was a high-maintenance basket case who would ask me to “guess” what kind of salad she wanted for lunch, make me order it for her, and would then throw it out, right in front of me, if I guessed incorrectly. However, I was also immature, unreliable, almost always hung-over, and often dressed for work like I was about to go appear as a background extra in a Whitesnake video.
At first, I thought that getting fired from that job meant that I sucked as a human being. That was wrong. What getting fired from that job meant was that I should not do the things that I did at that job ever again. And I haven’t!
You know how some people are perfect at dating from day one, but most of us need to have a truly terrible relationship in high school or college in order to figure out how to have a good, healthy one in adult life? So it also goes with jobs.
3. Your first job was probably not all that great.
Just as the first person you slept with turned out to not actually be your soul mate (even though it reeeeeally felt like it on that one camping trip), your first job was probably not the absolute professional “make or break” that you thought it was when you took it.
We’re all under enormous pressure to make decisions about choosing careers mere seconds after graduating college, and sometimes we make the wrong call. It’s easy to then get stuck in the wrong field, because you are then too freaked out to leave the decent pay, decent health benefits, actual office with closeable door, etc. — only realize much later that a career you loved would have been worth the risk. Consider this firing some enforced soul searching.
After my firing, I finally realized that the job I was fired from had nothing to with what I actually wanted in a job, or from life. Eventually, I got a new job, and have achieved a variety of fun and exciting things in said job, all of which would have been impossible were I still awake all night every night, worrying about my old boss and her fucking salads.
4. You’re not damaged goods now — you just took a chance, and lived to tell the tale.
You may be worried that people will run from your failure — that you have a scarlet “F” on your chest that will keep everyone away. That, my friend, is not true. The only people repelled by any failure are people who have never tried to do anything meaningful in their entire fucking lives. And those people are bitter cowards, and you don’t want a thing to do with them.
Failing at jobs, or relationships or whatever, won’t drive your friends away. Failure is not only a part of regular life; failure shows that you are trying new things, taking risks, and evolving as a human being. These are appealing personal traits! Put them in your dating profile.
No one left my life because I got fired, though I’m sure that I shut a lot of people out when I was trying to repress all my feelings about it. Once I was able to truly process what had happened — to admit to myself that I had tried something, and it hadn’t worked out — I opened up a lot more emotionally, and if anything, it made me more attractive to other people. In fact, if I hadn’t been fired and had to deal with all the issues it brought to the surface, I don’t think I would have been ready to have a real, serious (ly awesome) relationship with my boyfriend when he showed up in my life. The only true failure in life is bitterness — and sadly, you can become a bitter shithead without ever taking any chances or failing at anything.
5. Failure is actually an important element of success.
I don’t know how you were raised, but growing up, I was discouraged from failing. Sure, I was urged to try new things (because it would look good on my college applications, natch), but I was expected to be at least okay at all of them. I was never expected to fail.
When I failed Algebra I in high school, for example, my parents acted like I was a crack-addicted murder-whore, and locked me away from the outside world, and made me spend my Saturday mornings with a math tutor named “Sparky.” Though your own childhood trauma mileage may vary, I am going to guess that you were probably also not blessed with parents who let you fail frequently, and absorb the lessons.
Our culture isn’t very interested in letting us learn the positive power of failure when we’re young — the competitive high school / college admissions arena doesn’t have much room to admit that unless you fuck up and fail a lot, you’ll be afraid to try new things or realize any of your dreams.
But fucking up and living through it is the best and probably only way to ever realize any of your dreams or goals, especially ones that don’t happen in an office, or aren’t really valued by society, or can’t be easily explained to your mom. Achieving these kinds of dreams involves a different skill set than the one they teach you in school, and the only way you’re going to develop it is through failing.
In a world like ours, the ability to fail and still get back up is practically a superpower. Well, consider this firing your radioactive spider bite.