I have a confession to make and I’m doing it on LinkedIn, the global networking platform for professionals, in the hopes I’ll be able to encourage other successful professionals, like you, to join me in shaking off a stigma.
Here it is: I was fired twice in my 40’s.
The first time I was 43 and had been a successful, award-winning journalist for 20 years, the last 14 of them as an on-air correspondent for CNN in Tokyo and Beijing, as well as at the State Department and on Capitol Hill. But in 2007, the new president of CNN wasn’t a fan, so he fired me.
The second time I was 45 and working in my first post-journalism job, in an entirely new career, as senior vice president of communications at a cause-oriented public affairs firm. I’d been there almost two years when the president and COO of that company told me it wasn’t working out.
I won’t lie, each time it was humiliating and demoralizing, but that’s probably not surprising. This, however, may be – in both instances, I quickly realized that getting fired has been an unexpected and extraordinary gift. One for which I’ll be eternally grateful.
If you’re wondering why I’m sharing all of this ancient history now, that’s a good question.
College graduation for the Class of 2020 is rapidly approaching.
And no doubt, all over the country hundreds of thousands of eager, yet equally anxious college seniors are scrambling to figure out what careers to pursue when they graduate in order to land good jobs and start paying back thousands in loans.
One of the many online resources they’re probably using in those job searches is LinkedIn.
Here’s the problem:
More seasoned professionals like you, and me, have darn near perfected the art of polishing our LinkedIn profiles and CVs to a high gloss.
So, when these soon-to-be college graduates and young professionals scroll through our LinkedIn profiles, and read about all of our accomplishments and see our impressive titles, should it be any surprise that they’ll feel even more intimidated, anxious and insecure?
All they’ll see is our steady progression up, up, up the corporate, nonprofit and government ladders.
What they won’t see are all the missing rungs, the step stools and broken ladders we’ve left behind. What they won’t know is that so many of us have experienced some spectacular fails, in addition to hard our won successes.
And yet, instead of being transparent and embracing our careers crises and hiccups, we do our best to cover them up.
I know that’s what I did. Until today.
For the first time, right here, right now, I’m publicly embracing my failures, including getting fired twice, for what they really were – invaluable, albeit painful experiences, and unexpected gifts, that helped me level-up my grit, confidence, determination and resilience.
I’m going to go even further and say that if I hadn’t been fired, and subsequently pushed myself well outside my comfort zone on multiple occasions, I doubt that I would have had the courage to start building my own social enterprise two years ago.
And I believe this not just due to my own experiences.
I’ve heard similar stories, over and over again, from many of the hundreds of professionals – in dozens of different careers – that I’ve interviewed on my podcast Time4Coffee, a free resource for college students and young professionals to help them turn their degrees into careers they love.
Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way:
- Fully embrace the pain associated with failure, don’t numb yourself to it using your drug of choice, and then move on.
- Getting fired isn’t a death knell, it’s the starting gun in a professional marathon, giving you the opportunity to develop the grit and resilience you’ll take with you into subsequent jobs and careers.
- Fear is a common emotion we all have, trust me, just don’t let it paralyze you or prevent you from following your interests where they lead you.
- Develop and cultivate a robust and authentic network, inside and outside your workplace, because those relationships will often be the ones to open doors for you to future job opportunities.
As the great South African civil rights hero, Nelson Mandela, once said: “The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.”
So, please join me in solidarity and start sharing your own stories on LinkedIn and elsewhere, with younger colleagues, of times you failed and most importantly, how you recovered and any lessons you may have learned in the process.
Together we can eradicate the stigma associated with professional failures, including getting fired. Let’s call it — an early graduation gift to the Class of 2020.