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You’re Fired What to Let Go When You're Let Go

I never thought I’d ever have a thing in common with J.K. Rowling, Lady Gaga, Madonna or Mozart. But I do. I was fired just once in my career, and so were they.

Fortunately for me, this wasn’t a financial blow, just an ego bruise. But even though it didn’t cause financial hardship and a lot of time has passed since I got the ax, the thought of being told to hit the road still smarts. It’s an emotional elbow in the side. Damn it, they fired me before I got the chance to quit! Checkmate. They got the king. I’m stuck holding the pawn.

Making matters worse, I unexpectedly got the pink slip via email. Sacked and shown the door in an electronic message. It seems that face-to-face conversations are so passé. Technology has changed all that, and email firings  are now de rigueur. My boss could have been at home in her PJs sipping cabernet and eating pizza when she hit the “send” button that pulled the plug on my employment. I guess it could have been worse. She could have canned
me in a tweet.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think firing someone via email is cowardly. It makes me wonder what other kiss-offs are delivered so spinelessly — “Henry, I want a divorce,” or “Your test results came back positive; you’ve got six months max.” Whatever happened to conveying bad news mano a mano?

I was happy to read that human resource pros agree with me. They say firing by anything electronic is the number one no-no. Ditto for dishing the heave-ho via FedEx, voicemail or Facebook. Former Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz was fired by phone. I read about a woman who was terminated via a hand- delivered letter while she was in the hospital attached to a hemodialysis machine. Ouch! So far, there have been no sightings of Pinterest or Snapchat firings. Not yet.

At the time of my demise, I thought about hiding the nasty fact — tell friends that I quit or needed a change. But truth is always best. Word would seep out anyway, so I decided to go cold turkey and tell all. Each year, thousands of people face job cuts. If they can swallow their pride, so can I.

For some people, getting fired is a blessing in disguise. Just ask Bill Belichick. He was fired from the NFL’s Cleveland Browns before becoming one of the league’s most successful head coaches with the New England Patriots. Or Gen. Stanley McChrystal. After his exit, he went on to write a best-selling book, had a movie made about him starring Brad Pitt and now teaches leadership at Yale. While I may not ever feel blessed about facing the corporate guillotine, I’ll pick up the phone on the first ring if Anna Wintour gives me a call.

So, what did I do that made the company show me the door? I strongly — perhaps too strongly — expressed my thoughts about what I viewed as the company’s tasteless presentation at a fancy fundraiser. Really, bare-chested men wearing nothing but white twisted tulle to cover their significant body parts? Apparently so.

Important broken rule: Never criticize the boss’ taste, or lack thereof. In doing a mental postmortem, I could have toned down my words. But I don’t regret my beliefs and what I try to stand for — quality standards and good taste. If defending those principles gets me booted out the door, I gladly say, “Sayonara.”

Even though my ego wound will never fully heal, I do recommend getting fired at least once. Getting dumped has brought me down to size and given me more empathy for anyone else who’s told to hit the road. It’s one humbling experience. And my freedom enabled me to do what I love doing — write more stories about happy, sad, surprising, heartfelt or amazing experiences.

As much as my bye-bye email may be a thorn in my side, it’s nothing compared with how FBI director James Comey must have felt when he got news of his demise. While standing at the podium giving a speech in Los Angeles, TV screens began to announce his departure to the world — before he knew about it. Fired by tickertape headlines. Maybe Snapchat is next.

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