Career disruptions have a way of making you see the world more clearly. That’s exactly what happened to me when ESPN sold off my division of the company and the new owners decided my part of the business was expendable.
(This is the second and final piece on how I personally benefitted from being fired. Here’s a link to the first blog.)
“Ronell, can you step into my office for a second?”
My last day at work was surreal. I experienced emotions—or lack thereof—that were totally unexpected. I’d figured that at some point I would get sad, afraid when thinking about what was to come next. It never happened. In fact, I felt surprisingly happy, even euphoric. I didn’t know what was next, but knowing what wasn’t next buoyed me in a way that is tough to describe.
“I want to thank you for the way that you handled this. I don’t think anyone could have handled this any better than you have.”
There is, to my mind, no way to “prepare” for being fired or the events that unfold thereafter. They just happen, and you go with it. For me, as I sat there in the room with my boss, three things came to mind, then left my lips:
1. “You didn’t take anything that was mine. It’s not like you came to my house and ransacked the place. This is a business, and my being fired was a business decision.”
2. “Let’s face it, if this stops me from being successful, I wasn’t going to be s–t anyway. Things happen. It was just my time.”
3. “I’m going to be successful, no matter what. Let’s be clear, I don’t say that out of arrogance or cockiness. Right now, I have little to be cocky or arrogant about. I just know me, and I know what I won’t settle for.”
It was weird saying those three things in succession, for I had never thought those exact words before that moment. They just felt right, like what I needed to say, wanted to say at that moment. Maybe, however, they came about from the “thought experiments” I’d engaged in during the days leading up to the meeting.
Business strategy and writing are my two professional loves. I’ve known this since college, even as I tried to ignore such knowledge. After getting the news of my dismissal, I was finally ready to do what I always knew I should be doing: helping small businesses and writing.
I had no clue what form those thoughts would take, or how I would arrive at the desired destination, but I was resolute in my belief that the separation would be the impetus for reinventing—to borrow a term from prominent writer and business strategist Dorie Clark—my career.
The revelations I had from this bit of clarity were eye-opening, to say the least.
#1 – We often unfairly limit ourselves to known options.
Within four hours of getting the news that I wouldn’t have a job beyond two weeks, I had two job offers. Within two days, the number of offers was up to four, with a fifth being discussed.
What shocked me was that none of the jobs I was being offered were things I’d ever considered doing, but the folks on the end of the line were “selling” me on how great a fit I was for the job and for their companies.
In the end, I took none of the positions—some because I was not willing to relocate, others because I had better ideas. Even so, I’d been made aware of options that, until then, were unbeknownst to me, and I never looked back.
#2 – Following your passion after a career disruption is scary but necessary.
I remember going to an event in February of 2011 and saying to myself, “I need to start my own thing, my own business.” I was afraid, however. Not of failure, mind you.
I’ve fallen down often enough to know how to get up. I was afraid of making the wrong decision, of choosing to do something that could flop. In the end, however, I knew I wouldn’t be happy until I was doing what I wanted to do and doing it for myself.
I did some research, then charted a path that has become more clear with each passing day. I’ve never looked back or been happier. I get to spend my days writing and consulting to small businesses, and I absolutely love what I’m doing.
#3 – You learn what really matters when distractions are removed.
I’ve never fashioned myself as one who needed/wanted many friends. I love getting to know people, but becoming close to everyone I meet has never been a priority.
I remember, however, being so wrapped up in my job that I’d cancel trips, blow off meeting friends for dinner or drinks and forget to return calls from family members. Then, one day I got a voicemail from a close friend.
His message said it all. “Brother, I know you love your job, but don’t throw away your friends and family. We love you and want to spend time with you. Jobs come and go. One day, you’ll be given your walking papers from that job, but we’ll be here for you.”
I’ll never forget those words. Jobs do come and go, but the important people in your life remain. It’s a lesson I won’t have to learn twice.
“The way these things work out, this will probably be the best thing that ever happened to you.”
I disagreed. I’ve had a lot better and a lot worse things happen to me. What I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt was that the experience would make me better, not worse. I was right. One thing I learned along the way is that most of us will have our career disrupted at some point; it’s best that you disrupt yourself, as writer Whitney Johnson put.
What are your thoughts on career disruptions?