Writer’s Workshop: You’re Fired!

I took a workshop years ago, and one of the things our trainer said was that his company never hired anyone who hadn’t been fired from a job at least once. He said the reasoning was they didn’t want anyone working for them who was afraid of losing his job.

It made sense to me, although I was one of those people who was afraid of losing his job. It’s tough when you’re the sole breadwinner; you realize that if you lose your job, you have to get a new one, or you’ll starve, and take your spouse with you. That, and my mother always had a bad reaction to people not having jobs. I don’t know how many times I heard her say, “My God, he has no job!” I guess I internalized that to the point that I stayed in jobs years after I should have left.

I guess you could say I was fired from the job I had from 1984 to 2004, but that wasn’t exactly how it worked. I was given thirty days to “straighten out my act,” as my manager put it, after a demo/training session went sideways at a user conference, and I decided that, after twenty years, it was time to move on anyway. Over the next month, I looked for work and got my resume in order, and I also thought about what I had just done. I don’t mean quit, I mean stay at that company for twenty years. I started reviewing those twenty years, and identified about a dozen points at which I should have quit, but didn’t. And I remembered something Uncle Jack told me many years before: “Back when I was starting out, the object was to get with a company and stay there until you retired. Nowadays, they expect you to leave after about five years.” Looking at things that way, I should have had four jobs in those twenty years.

Nowadays, someone between the ages of 18 and 55 has about eleven jobs. That’s about three years per job. In a way, you’re always looking for a new opportunity, even after you start a new job. Back when I started, that was considered “job hopping” and was supposedly career suicide. How things have changed in forty years. Now, it’s standard operating procedure: you’re supposed to leave after three years, or less. The longer you stay, the less valuable you are to the company. This is now a world of “free agency,” as Dan Pink calls it. You no longer work for a company, you work for yourself and sell your services to a company.

So being fired is actually your company doing you a favor. Might not seem that way at the time, but it is.

Today’s prompt (at least the one I used) was “Write a blog post inspired by the word: fired.”

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Author: John Holton

I'm a writer and blogger who writes and blogs about things that interest me.

35 thoughts on “Writer’s Workshop: You’re Fired!”

  1. I’m of that same “job hunting is bad” generation. I did get fired from my first job after college and I learned a lot from that experience. It’s a way different world now., though.

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  2. Interesting. Never thought about the value of being fired. Never been fired, but have walked away from some jobs because there was nothing more to see there. Keep moving, keep moving.

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    1. I did such a bad job of keeping track of what I had done, when it came time to write a resume, I got stuck. As a result, I only wrote one when it was absolutely necessary. That was probably a contributing factor to my staying with that company for 20 years: too intimidated by the process of writing a resume. Kind of hard to keep moving in a situation like that.

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  3. I had eight design jobs in 25 years in the semiconductor industry, 1978-2003. I worked for AMD twice, 1979-1984, and 1986-1990, designing ICs for vastly different application spaces, but worked for uniquely different companies everywhere else. I left music synthesizer maker Sequential Circuits (makers of the Prophet V, the first polyphonic synthesizer) after six months because they had too much unsold inventory of a new product and I didn’t like what I was doing. But most everywhere else, it was because I had just finished a design and either released it to production or gotten it close. My biggest success was the first 100BASE-TX wired Ethernet chip my design group and I released in 1995, Micro Linear’s ML6692 product family. If you bought a Cisco or HP hub or router in 1995-6, it had our part in it. But after a 1996 head-on auto accident with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and thee month medical LOA, plus a later accusation of being unable to retain my staff, I was demoted and looked for another job..

    I was fired from my last semiconductor design position at Linear Technology Corp for taking too long to finish a design (following an earlier exhortation to be careful and get it done right to begin with), and a couple memory lapses over instructions about the test program. My father had had three strokes in two years, and died seven weeks before I was fired in early 2003. For good measure, just four weeks before the firing, I broke ribs and collapsed a lung in a bicycle accident. LTC released the battery gas gauge chip (LTC4150) I had mostly finished shortly thereafter. After that, I had had it with the semiconductor industry.

    Being self-employed is hard, as I then discovered. I got poorer photographing wildlife but had fun and got published. I did financially better ghost-writing technical articles and technical marketing copy – but it wasn’t as much fun. A two-year park management degree later, working for parks was steadier, but as I knew beforehand, didn’t pay well. At least I got to work outside more of the time.

    Could I have done things better? Of course, but hindsight is always 20-20.

    You can work an entire career for one company, or you can hop around. There are ups and downs either way.

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    1. “Take your time, but hurry.” That’s a familiar expression…

      There are distinct advantages to either approach. If I had it to do over, I’m not sure what I’d do, although I know I’d find a way to do more than I did…

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  4. I’ve been in the same job for 36 years. In fact, many people here at the company I work for have been here a long time, but I’m the one who’s been here the longest. I don’t love my job, but I don’t hate it. At my age, I cringe at the thought of starting over…unless I could make a good living with my writing and editing. 🙂

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      1. They would be in big trouble if they laid me off. In fact, I’m not sure what they’re going to do when I retire. LOL. But when I DO retire, I’m planning on doing exactly what you said. Writing and editing.

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  5. I was fired once from a job I had held for 18 years. Sued the company for wrongful termination and won. I have only had 5 jobs in my entire working career (46 years) and the last one has been working for myself for the last 16 years! I think pretty soon it will be time to fire me.

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  6. I know I stayed where I was last too long. I grew up with the same ideals. Bottom line is employers don’t want you around a long time, because the longer you are there the more expensive you are to them. There is no such thing as loyalty in the work place any more. If you saved the company five years ago, it means nothing, it is “what did you do for me last week?”
    Faith: #TheWordonWords at Life & Faith in Caneyhead.

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    1. More importantly, “what will you do for me next week?” Companies are moving away from hiring based on past achievements and are now using what you could potentially bring to them as the basis for hiring.

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      1. That and hiring managers that only know to ask what software you used, not “do you know & understand what is behind the software and can you quickly learn and use any”. Then they end up with dumb little shits that can’t track down why something is off!😠

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  7. I can relate to what you are saying. I did move around when I was younger and then stayed at jobs too long as well. I remember when it supposedly looked bad it you moved too much and now it is not considered such a big deal or even bad if you stay longer. I think our generation had this idea of loyalty to our jobs and thought our employers should be loyal to us as well, that no longer applies. 🙂

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    1. We took a lot of that attitude from our parents, that if you were loyal to your company, the company would be loyal to you. When the world moved away from that ideal (30 years ago or so), it was hard for many of us to adjust to the idea of moving around frequently, let alone “free agency.” Thing was, we could see the people who were getting ahead by changing jobs frequently and looked at them with equal parts jealousy and disdain…

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      1. And it seems like employers expected loyalty while not feeling the need to reciprocate. I think I had this work ethic that I wanted to do a good job and not quit. Change is hard and I did not size up the situations I worked in very well either. It is hard to anticipate what will happen about lay offs and all. A company I worked for was bought/merged and my position was eliminated. I was fired from one job, that I had stuck with because I did not want to give up and acknowledge that it was not a good fit, I kept trying to make it fit. It was a pretty impossible situation. When I look back on my experiences I would say it is better to look for the best fit, but those were different times. And the pressure to make a living for one’s self and family was real so that made risking job loss to make changes very hard.

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  8. Bill was let go from his job of many years. It was 2009, and the broken economy shut down many manufacturing places here in the US. He lost it all: pension, 35 years of a career. There literally were no openings in manufacturing. So, as that company proceeded to go under, he re-invented himself. That was when he started trucking. He was determined to help move the economy in any way he could. He said it was better than sitting on his fanny. (Okay, I said fanny; he used another word.) This was the only job he was ever let go from. He was 55; not a good time to start a new career. But, he made the best out of a really bad situation.

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    1. I know the word he used. 😉

      Having a steady job was vital to men in our generation. Later generations are a lot more fluid about things. I think I was born too early…

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  9. From the moment we met (I had not interviewed with her for the job) my direct supervisor hated me. When our satellite office was closing, the one I worked at, she was very pleased to lay me off. I used to work in radio too and they always said you weren’t anybody until you got fired.

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  10. Great post, John. SO much to think about.
    I’ve yet to be fired, but I’m not sure that’s normal, more being out of work for 10 years … But, I’ve had the thing where I was the temp and they hired another, which FELT like firing, thank you very much! In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t get that job. I got offered a better job and I would have wanted out of the former.
    The Mister’s job losses have been alright apart for one. That first layoff was heinous. It took forever to get back to flush.
    Apart from the military, 3 years sounds about right for him, too. Few places reward loyalty and steadfastness in a monetary way anymore. Job shopping is a thing.
    I know just what you mean about your mother’s shock at “He doesn’t have a job!” A few years ago in a hen-house meeting of sorts, one of the older women leaned over to me and said, “I just don’t like her marrying him. He’s out of a job.”
    I smiled and asked, “Was your late husband employed the entirety of your marriage?”
    “No, no he wasn’t.”
    I KNOW. lol The man in question had a job when he proposed and a job before the wedding, so you know, the neighbors had to find something else to talk about. 😉

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    1. Back in the day there was a stigma attached to being out of work, like it was all your fault: you must have been drinking or using drugs, screwing around with the boss’s wife or daughter, stealing, murdering one of your co-workers, etc. No doubt there were plenty of people fired for that, but just as often it was a case where a person drew the short straw when a project went sideways or a sale failed to materialize. In my case, I failed to put enough lipstick on the pig…

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  11. Hmmm…. That’s an interesting idea but I think overall it’s not really smart. I have NEVER been fired from a job, and I’ve had many. I actually take pride in having applied myself so much, even in jobs I did not like, that no one ever even thought of firing me.

    Taking a hardline approach like the trainer’s company did means that had I ever applied for a job with them, they would not have hired me. Meaning, they would have blown the chance to hire an excellent employee who would have been a real asset to their company.

    Taking an “etched-in-stone” approach to almost ANYTHING is usually a bad idea. Nothing wrong with a “rule-of-thumb” philosophy, but in a world like this, with so many variables, some flexibility is pretty much essential.

    ~ D-FensDogG
    [Link:) Stephen T. McCarthy Reviews…

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    1. I don’t think getting fired is essential to having a good career. However, it can (and should) give a person cause to reflect on whether what they were doing was the right thing for them at that particular point in time. I had been a trainer/consultant for 14 years and hated it for almost 12, but stayed in the job because of the “golden handcuffs” and reluctance to go somewhere new, learn something different from what I knew, and start at the bottom. Which was just what I ended up doing anyway, and believe me, it was a lot harder at 48 than it would have been at 38.

      I’m sure that company has said no to a number of people who would have been an excellent fit, and I’m just as sure they believe that their approach is the right one. They’re still in business and still doing well…

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  12. I have never been fired but I have walked away from a few jobs. Back in my day longevity was much appreciated, however, today it’s a different story. In my last job, which I am retired, I survived 5 layoffs due to a buyout situation. I consider myself very lucky in many ways.

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    1. I lost track of the number of layoffs I survived. They really did me no favors. I had a friend who was so tired of watching the people he workd with get laid off that he told his boss that he wanted to go with the next round.

      I was one of those people who had a “Greatest Generation” attitude toward work (get a job and stay there for life). I knew guys who changed jobs constantly and always seemed to do better. I used to think they were fools; now I envy them.

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  13. I am of your generation I guess. I was born in 1964 and was brought up by a father born in 1913 and a mom born in 1928. My parents owned a sawmill business and we valued loyalty and had our head sawyer who had been with us since he was 17 and stayed all the way through. I have been very lucky to be with my job for 26 years. In fact there are 5 of us I. Total and the youngest job holder has been there for 12 years. I would be very sad if I lost my job actually.

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  14. I’ve been fired twice from 2 jobs; the other 4, I left by choice for various reasons. There aren’t very many civilian companies you can still work at for 35 years, then retire on a pension paid by them. That used to be standard practice in the 50’s, 60’s, 70′ and has gradually become less and less a corporate practice, though there are still exceptions, such as the auto industry, which my Hubby’s brother retired from Chrysler with a full pension in the late 90’s. My Dad and Hubby’s Dad both retired on corporate pensions during the 80’s. But the attitude back then was “you put up with your job, provide for your family so you can have the good life later on that pension.”

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    1. 401(k) plans got very popular in the mid-Eighties, and most companies migrated their pension plans to them. It made sense when people started changing jobs so frequently. Unions still have them – Mom was a teacher, and had a good one – but they’re becoming less prevalent for the rest of us. I started working in ’78, when things were just changing.

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