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How I Rebuilt My Career After Getting (Rightfully) Fired

I got fired from a job, and it was my fault. My performance was poor. My enthusiasm for my work was non-existent. As my supervisor delivered the news, I cried. Not because I was mourning the job, but because I knew I deserved my termination. I’d failed. In that moment, my professional confidence broke down and disappeared.

But it didn’t stay gone forever, and this story has a happy ending. It took a while, but getting fired gave me the opportunity to pursue a new career path that I truly love.

The time between getting fired and starting my current job was transformative. I made a lot of important decisions. Some of them were helpful, and some of them weren’t my finest moments. When I walked out of my former office for the last time, I felt a lot of fear about my future, shame about my actions, and a lack of control over my life. If you’ve recently gotten fired, you might relate to those feelings. Here’s what I learned about moving past them, taking care of myself post-termination, and recovering my confidence after a professional setback.

Step #1: Take some time

Immediately after getting fired, I drove to a nearby parking lot. I downloaded every job listing app I could find and sat in my Ford Focus for forty-five minutes, indiscriminately shooting out my resume. I wanted to a fast fix. I also thought because I’d gotten fired, I didn’t deserve to be choosy about where I applied. This was a bad instinct, and earned me nothing but a few staggered rejection emails.

When I finally calmed down, I went to my parent’s house, where I stayed for three days. Going back to my childhood home sort of felt like hitting the reset button. I reconnected with who I was before I started working that job. I remembered that I’m creative, smart, and ambitious, and also that I get bored easily, that I don’t feel fulfilled when my work isn’t creative. I realized how much of a departure my old job was from what I already knew I wanted out of my life and work.

After you get fired, you need to take time to let your negative emotions de-escalate. I was lucky to have a place to go, and I’d encourage you to get out of your normal environment if possible. Go somewhere you can slow down. Start thinking about what you want, out of your life and out of your next position. Keep in mind that you’re still deserving of a job you can be successful in.

Step #2: Be honest with yourself

While you’re out there reconnecting with your dreams, you should also face your flaws. If your firing was a result of your job performance, like mine was, figure out what went wrong.

I determined that I was bad at my job because I avoided tasks that didn’t come easily to me. Then, if things come too easily, I got bored and neglected those tasks as well. I’m still learning how to manage this, but realizing it was an important step towards taking back my confidence. Yes, I got fired, yes, it was my fault, but I can trace that fault back to behaviors that I can correct.

By being honest with yourself about why you got fired, you’ll reveal how you can get out of your own way. That puts the control back in your hands.

Step #3: Figure out a new budget (that doesn’t make you miserable)

Perhaps the crummiest thing about getting fired is that you’ve lost your source of income. It’s important to dedicate time to plan how you’ll support yourself until you figure out the next step.

If you have an emergency fund, create a realistic budget. My biggest mistake after I got fired was making a super skinny budget that was impossible to stick to. Maybe it was a form of punishing myself, but I didn’t allow any wiggle room for day-to-day purchases.

This led to a self-imposed misery, and I ended up blowing through money. I fed myself flimsy justifications (I need this $90 gel manicure so that my hands look nice in case I land an interview!). But really, I was doing it to make myself feel normal, to participate in consumerism the way an employed person would. If I’d allowed myself some joy by budgeting for a latte here and there, or a trip to the movies for a film I’d been excited about for months, I could’ve avoided a lot of emotional spending.

Step #4: Simplify your lifestyle

The budget I made after getting fired ended up reframing the way I lived my life. I ended up canceling all my subscriptions, including streaming services for TV shows and movies. After those were gone, I realized I was barely using my wi-fi for anything. So, I canceled that, too.

Now, I’m not suggesting that it’s possible for everyone to give up their internet, and yes, I do have wi-fi now. But, I do think that unexpected positive change is often the result of an unexpected action. Not having an internet connection at home forced me to go to my local library nearly every day. That’s where I did my entire job search. I had to get out of bed, get out of my house, sit down somewhere, and work. I credit that routine for preventing me from getting into a depressive slump.

Losing your job is just that, a loss. You might find some peace by experimenting with letting go of other things, too. This is a great time for a social media detox, trying a vegetarian diet, or getting rid of clothes or furniture you haven’t used in years. You need room to grow after a setback, keeping things simple gives you space to do that.

Step #5: Learn something new

After thinking about what I wanted, I decided to go after a job in marketing. I started reading books from the library, and pursued free certification courses and webinars. I went to free events in my city that were intended for working marketing professionals. When I needed to put down a company name to sign up, I’d make one up. (In retrospect, I could have been honest about being a job seeker and done some valuable networking… but that sounds way less fun.)

I put myself through a self-designed marketing boot camp. Honestly, I didn’t retain most of it, but it was enough. I got in the door for a handful of interviews, and eventually, got an offer for a position I knew I could succeed in.

Even if you’re not looking to switch fields, there is no downside to learning new things. Choose the thing you loved the most about your old job, and become an expert in it. Assign yourself a specialty.  Take in so much information that you start to have qualified opinions. It took a long time for me to feel comfortable with applying for jobs in marketing. I knew I was ready when I read someone’s take on certain best practices, and had informed reasons to disagree with them.

Remember, getting fired is a major event, and it’s normal and natural to feel afraid or ashamed. In fact, those feelings are a good thing, because they mean that you care. You’re affected by the mistakes you made, which is an incentive to grow and learn how to do better. Celebrate your strengths, confront your weaknesses, and give yourself time and space to grow. Something good is waiting on the other side. You got this.

Natalie Kay Wilson is a fiction writer turned digital marketing professional. She documents the new things she learns about her field at nataliekaywilson.com. Her favorite things include fancy chocolate, good dogs (read: all dogs), and peony bouquets.

Image via Unsplash

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