After graduating college, I have worked for 5 companies. 2 of these companies have fired me. Thus, 40% of my previous employers like to end my employment with them by kicking my ass to the curb. Ouch.
I feel for anyone who loses their job. It’s not fun feeling unwanted. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of receiving a pink slip, the experience is very similar to being dumped (come to think of it, my “dumped” rate is pretty high too – is someone trying to tell me something!?) When you get fired or dumped, there’s a tendency to look at the negative and think, “everyone hates me.” Of course, this isn’t true. It’s just the one boss at that company or one girl you were with, who hates your guts (they probably don’t hate you, but thinking that while listening to heavy 1990’s Alt Rock can be comforting). On the positive side, there are millions of companies and billions of people who might want you and your talents. Dusting yourself off and finding the next job or partner is the challenge.
I consider myself to have a healthy ego (one I’m trying to reduce through meditation) and my mom would probably say I’m a bit too confident in my abilities at times (like Fresh Prince told us, parents just don’t understand). With this said, getting fired has put my self-worth to the test. Without an employer to identify with, the only identity left to take is usually, “unemployed” or “currently looking” or “sitting on my ass watching Price is Right and browsing LinkedIn.” Who wants to identify with that!? However, our identity of being employed was never real to begin with. What we believe, becomes our reality. Therefore, if you believe you’re employed or valued, no one can tell you otherwise. This is just a long way of me saying, no one can take your self-worth away, certainly not some piece of shit boss who probably fired you to save their bonus.
If you have recently been fired or dumped, scared about being fired, or are going through a tough transition, here’s a story to give you some hope everything will turn out ok. If you are still feeling bad after reading this, I recommend pulling up Rage Against the Machine on Spotify, jacking the volume up to 11, and thinking about your ex while shadow boxing in front of a mirror, in your underwear. Works every time for me.
This is the story about the first time I was fired.
My first job after graduating college was working for Viacom as an Administrative Assistant in their Government Affairs Office. At the time, Viacom was the parent company of CBS, MTV, Comedy Central, and Paramount Pictures. Even though I was a lowly assistant, I had the responsibility of handling all the “gifts” we would provide to Politicians in DC (whether or not this was bribery, I’m still not sure). These weren’t boring gifts like pens or t-shirts, we’re talking about tickets to the Kennedy Center, movie premieres, big time concerts, and the freaking Super Bowl.
In March of 2002, I had the pleasure of distributing stacks of NCAA March Madness tickets to Senators, Congressmen, and FCC Commissioners (I am sure Viacom was expecting nothing back in return). A week before the Final Four, we had 4 unclaimed tickets to the semifinal games. As a Maryland Terps fan, I asked one of my bosses if I could have two of the tickets with the other two going to my office buddy, Ethan. Our boss agreed and we assumed the $100 ticket cost would come out of our paychecks.
WE WERE GOING TO THE FINAL FOUR!
After a day of searching for flights and hotels in Atlanta (where the game was being held), nothing was available. On second thought, I guess we’re not going to the Final Four. Extra sad emoji face.
Having had some success selling concert tickets in the past, I thought it would be a good idea to put our Final Four tickets on Ebay and make a couple of bucks as they were now our tickets and we needed to recoup the cost.
At the end of the first day of bidding…
…the auction was up to $1,500 for the four tickets!
WOW – this is looking better than I imagined!? Let the daydreaming commence with thoughts of how the profits would pay for an upcoming vacation to Jamaica!
At the end of the second day of bidding…
…the auction was up to $4,000 for the four tickets!
BOOYAH SHOCKA, IT’S CHRISTMAS IN MARCH!!!!! Now, in my head, Jamaica is paid for and I’m getting a sweet new mountain bike too!
Half way through the third day of bidding…
…a guy from Indiana (we’ll call him Bobby K) sends me a private email and offered $10,000 for the four tickets!
WE’RE RICH, WE’RE RICH, WE’RE SO FREAKING RICH!!!!
This is what it feels like anyway when you’re about to get a check for a third of your total salary.
After telling Ethan how filthy rich we were, I sent an email out to a bunch of friends and started lining up a March Madness keg party of epic proportions. This party wouldn’t have kegs of Beast Lite, oh no, we were going classy and getting Rolling Rock!
After receiving some shipping directions from Bobby K, I ran out of the office to ship him the tickets using some fancy one day FedEx shipment method that he paid for. The next day, I would receive a check for $10,000 dollars. This must be the reason Congressional aids were always hitting us up for tickets…
The following day, I took the Metro into DC with a gigantic smile on my face. Pharrell even saw me on the train that day and later wrote a song about me. You might have heard of it before.
About 5 minutes after getting to my desk, as I’m just about to rip into a pre-celebratory Smoothie and Bear Claw donut (think the size of a Football and enough calories to give you diabetes), I get a call from our New York office.
“Hi Dan, this is Big Wig So And So, VP of Human Resources here at Viacom Headquarters.”
Uhhhhh. This doesn’t sound good.
“We were recently informed that four tickets from your DC office are currently being sold on Ebay for $4,000.”
Oh shit. This isn’t good at all.
“Please look into this and get back to me immediately.”
I guess we should have asked someone if it was ok to sell the tickets!?
Panicked, I ran to Ethan’s office. SOB was late and wasn’t there. I sat back at my desk, sweat now seeping from every pore of my body (yeah, it was as gross as it sounds).
Where the hell is Ethan!? Where the hell is Ethan!?
After enduring the longest 5 mins of my life, Ethan finally rolled in with a huge smile on his face (Pharrell probably wrote a song about him too). Well, I was about to smack that grin off his face…
“DUDE, THE NEW YORK OFFICE KNOWS ABOUT OUR TICKETS ON EBAY! I GUESS WE WEREN’T ALLOWED TO SELL THEM!? WHAT DO WE DO, WHAT DO WE DO, WHAT DO WE DO!?!?!?”
Ethan, always cool and collected, was the voice of reason. “Don’t worry man, selling tickets isn’t illegal (it wasn’t). Let’s just tell our Boss.”
Feeling like a teenager who has been shown a positive pregnancy test by his girlfriend, only to have the Doctor say, “nope, not pregnant today,” I marched in triumphantly towards our Boss’ office. We came clean, telling her the entire story. She was as cool as Ethan and told us she would call the New York office to smooth things over. In the meantime, she told us it would be best if we got the tickets back.
Right, get the tickets back. The same tickets I sent the previous day to Bobby K.
Just then, a delivery came. It was the check. The $10,000 check from Bobby K.
Not knowing whether to be elated or devastated, I wrote Bobby K an email explaining the situation. 30 mins later and no word back, I called him on the phone. No answer. Throughout the course of the day, I would email or call him every couple of minutes. Every time, nothing.
At around 2pm that day. My Boss got a call from the “Big Boss” in the DC office. The “Big DC Boss” had received a call from the “Biggest NY Boss”, Les Moonves. The same Les Moonves who is frequently listed as one of the most powerful people in Hollywood (he runs all of CBS today). Supposedly, the NCAA was cracking down on sponsors selling tickets that year (it was a company rule we weren’t aware of) and was not happy about our outstanding Ebay profits. That was enough to encourage Mr. Moonves to put his power to work and call for two peons (Dan & Ethan) to get the boot.
My boss, with tears in her eyes, told us we were fired.
Dejected, Ethan and I cleared out our desks as our shocked co-workers looked on. Our nerf basketball set, bobbleheads, and other valuables were put in a box and we furiously deleted all the music we had downloaded from a plethora of file sharing websites (this was post Napster and pre-Itunes). Taking our box of things, we walked outside, found a local basketball court and contemplated the lack of future our lives now held. Things were about to get worse…
Ethan, “That sucked.”
Dan, “Yeah man, fired from our first real job can’t be a good look for the resume.”
Ethan, “Yeah. But, at least we still have the check to make things easier.”
Dan, “Uhhh, about that check.”
Ethan, “Did you leave it inside?”
Dan, “Uhhh, noooo.”
Ethan, “Where’s the check man?”
Dan, “I gave it back…”
Ethan, “You what?”
Dan, “I sent it back to Bobby K when I was trying to save our jobs. I was hoping he would mail back the tickets.”
Ethan, “Soooo, Bobby K got four tickets to the Final Four for FREE?”
Dan, “Uhhh, yeah.”
You’re probably wondering how a story about losing my first job out of college, failing to collect a $10,000 profit, and letting my friend down is supposed to provide an uplifting message. Well, here’s where it gets good.
Shortly after disappointing Ethan, we got a call from that VP of HR in New York while we were shooting hoops like the unemployed losers we were. Someone had called in a favor (one of our bosses perhaps) and the VP of HR said she would accept letters of resignation if we got them to her immediately. We could tell our next prospective employers we resigned rather than be fired!
A couple of weeks later, I attended a presentation by Tom Peters (management guru) and met him after he spoke. As he signed my book, he asked, “who do you work for?” Feeling bashful, I answered, “I don’t work for anyone.” “Good”, he replied. “You don’t have any shitty company holding you back from doing big things.” The words provided such a confidence boost and the advice still rings true today.
Soon thereafter, I would run into a neighbor who owned a company specializing in Project Management and Engineering. He took a chance on me (thank you Mr. B) and gave me a position as a junior Project Manager. Having no previous understanding of Project Management, my career took a huge 180 turn and was now off to the races.
Without putting those tickets on Ebay, my life is not what it is today. Different career, different wife & family, different everything. It was the best accidental decision I ever made and provided so many happy and rewarding experiences.
Ethan and I are still good friends today (the firing helped him significantly as well) and we often joke about our ticket scalping days. We look at the lost check as payment – payment to put us on better paths.
A message to Les Moonves:
I just wanted to tell you that your super powerful self, made a mistake in 2002. You inappropriately fired two faithful employees. We didn’t violate a company policy and sell Final Four tickets on Ebay. We used the tickets the way they were intended to be used – as a gift.
To resolve this situation, you can have your VP of HR send me a check. You know the amount.