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Getting fired.

Recently, a close friend-and an excellent association person-called me and said, "Martha, I really need to see You, and the sooner the better."

Sure," I said, knowing his office was only a few blocks from mine. "Come over now, and we'll go for a cup of coffee."

I could hear it in his tone of voice, as I have heard it in the voices of three other good friends-good executives-in as many months: He'd just got the F-word. He'd been fired.

It doesn't matter how they deliver the news: We're letting you go" sounds like you've just been granted parole; We're downsizing" brings to mind the picture of a work force of employees five-two and under; and There's been a reorganization, and your position has been absorbed by two other offices" preludes visions of a giant sponge just before the air threatens to leave your lungs forever. No matter how they deliver the news, it always produces a nine on the Richter scale of insecurity.

Why did these friends call me? Because I too have had the Letting-GoDownsizing-Reorganization Blues" sung to me. The chorus is always die same: "Amscray."

Five stages of loss

Because we Americans are so success-oriented, failure in the form of job loss often represents a loss of identity, death. So we must go through the stages of grief, just as if we had lost a loved one. And in a sense, in losing a job, we lose the one we used to be. However, these stages of grief work the same whether you have lost a job, lost a chance to win the Irish Sweepstakes, or lost all you had and loved. They force us to finally accept what has happened and prepare us for the task of rebuilding.

Shock. Shock is the first stage of grief. You're numb. There's been a direct hit somewhere in the center of your being, but you didn't quite gather the importance of the event. This shock causes lots of bizarre reactions from meticulously finishing your day's work with your head held high to going on a mind-bending, budget-busting spending spree. But whatever you do, give yourself time to absorb the blow, feel the pain. When the pain starts to recede, you're ready for the next stage.

Four. It happens so quickly: one moment you're calm, rational, numb. The next, you're riddled with fear. "How will I pay the bills? What will I tell people? What if no one ever calls me again?" Fear builds on fear, piling up in the shadows, lurking, ready to grow into full-scale panic. Fear reminds us of a time-childhood, perhaps-when we were at our most vulnerable, and we don't want to relive that. Fear can paralyze us and prevent us from acting. That's the danger of it. The trick here is to break each fearful encounter into a manageable challenge. When you look for issues for which solutions can be found, rather than looking at your joblessness as a giant glob of galvanizing fear, you become so much more capable of finding the right answers. Once you start finding the answers to your problems, you begin to value yourself again, and you're on the threshold of the next stage.

Anger. As long as anger is a passing stage-sort of a midcourse correction for a strong ego that has suffered a potentially devastating blow-it can be very rewarding. From flights of fantasy that allow us (within the confines of our wildest imagination) to do irreparable harm to our previous employers to those fantasies in which we envision ourselves living better than we could have if we'd actually been stupid enough to stay in that dump, indulgence in head games of anger and revenge serve a purpose. Turning hot anger into cool outrage can be both restorative and extremely useful.

It's when we dwell on anger and self righteousness that we make premature decisions that hurt us further, get stuck in the past, unable to move forward or stall our progress into the next stage.

Shame. Or better: What will they think of me? This is the stage where you want to pull the covers over your head in the morning instead of bounding out of bed; the stage where-real or imagined-everyone treats you gingerly, like a carrier of some communicable disease; the stage when being broke and terrified will not (repeat: NOT) deter you from speaking with optimism in your voice. There's no use pretending this is the grandest time of your life. But you can say with confidence that the future never looked better. The best antidote for shame is activity, and activity gives rise to increased self-esteem. You may even pass the final stage. But chances are, you may not.

Despair. The bad news is that despair seems like an endless downward spiral when you doubt your self-worth and your ability to provide a better future. The good news is it's self-limiting. And those people who have hobbies or interests other than their job will experience it even less. What if you were your job (and your job was you)? Now is the time to find out what volunteering can mean. Use it to learn a skill, give something back, or make some contacts. It will make you a more interesting person when that interview comes through.

These stages of grief are as predictable (and as personally varied) as the seasons of the year. And like the seasons, they pass, leaving you changed and ready for the next stage. How long it takes depends on the individual. I remember taking only three weeks to go from losing a job I thought I could never match to finding one that offered me as much compensation, more opportunity, and better (for me) co-workers than I had ever had. I also know a time when it took more than eight months to find the opportunity of a working lifetime. It all depends.

The point is not to get stuck in a stage. Use each stage as a stepping stone between hurt and wholeness. There will be plenty of time later to figure out whose fault it was. .

Whose fault is this, anyway?

I have no scientific facts to back up this list of Top Ten Reasons Why People Get Fired" other than listening to people on both sides of the firing line the firer and the firee. And there is no one reason that stands out more than any other.

Poor interpersonal skills. If you can get along with others, you'll probably always have a job. Maybe it will always be the same job. But if you're the thorn in everyone's side, you're going to get fired every time.

Wrong fit. It doesn't matter if you're the brown shoe in a tuxedo world or the other way around, you're going to be the first to go. And there are some jobs that just will never be easy. For example, if you're an artistic person, and you are constantly finding yourself in organizations that are run by engineers or scientists and just as regularly finding yourself fired, it might be time to take a look at why you chose those jobs.

Lock of commitment. The job description (or leadership, or hours, or location) changes and you can no longer live up to expectation-yours and those of everyone else in the organization who is depending on your performance.

Bad luck. You go to work for a fast track organization and six months later they declare bankruptcy. The guy who is your patron saint dies. Someone who wanted your job stabs you in the back, and, zingo, he or she has your job.

Self-destructive behavior. You consistently show up late when your boss is a punctuality freak. You knowingly take on lost causes. (Anyone want to be the public relations chief for the Buggy Whip Manufacturers Association?) You do it your way, when the members want it done their way.

Scattered focus. Either you don't carry out assignments, or they don't use your skills to the utmost. In any case, the focus isn't there, and pretty soon your job isn't.

Isms sexism, agoism, racism. Just because these charges are hard to prove, doesn't mean they don't exist. Should you hire a lawyer? That's the stuff of another writer's article, I'm sure. Even if it's subtle, you can only recognize the ignorance of the person doing the firing and get on with your search, your career, and your life.

Poor management. (This is my personal favorite.) Of course there was no way for management to recognize you and your work's true worth, they were too busy (fill in the blank). And sometimes they actually do fire the wrong person. Only time will tell. But by then, you'll be ensconced in your next position.

Hanging on. There are two sides to the hanging-on dilemma. One is when a person outstays his or her usefulness with an organization and there is no choice but to fire the person. The flip side of this, seen less often in the 1990s than in the past, is when a person has been with an organization for 30 or 40 years and the boss can't bring himself to retire" the longtime loyal employee. So he fires someone with less seniority.

And, finally, the most baffling reason why people get fired: no reason at all. Sometimes competency isn't enough. Or cheerfulness. Or punctuality or attendance or dressing for success or members who love you. Coping

While you're coping with joblessness, the grieving, and the search, it does no good to know that people change jobs 8-10 times in their lifetimes and switch careers three times. And there are enough books and magazine articles about launching, coping with, and conducting a job search, so I won't bore you with things you already know. Rather, I'll relate some of the things that occurred that made the waiting better.

I got by with more than a little help from my friends, my family, and my network. A very smart woman, and a fellow CAE, took time out of her busy schedule at one of the ASAE meetings I forced myself to attend (I was still in the shame stage). She told me that getting fired is not a failure. It's an event. Part of life. just like tying my shoes or breathing or eating lunch. Then she showed me how brilliant she really is: She told me the name of the book in which she read that. It's in When Smart People Fail, by Carole Hyatt and Linda Gottlieb. There are other books, too. Your local library can help.

And while I'm on the subject of books, I would encourage you to set aside some time every day to read-not only the newspaper, but other books you've been meaning to read, or inspirational books by Robert Fulghum, or fun books by Andy Rooney, or a good read that you enjoyed too long ago. Now is the time to give yourself that gift of perspective.

Another association friend called me to say, "I'm not calling you to find out if you've got a job, because I know that you will call me when that happens. I'm calling because I was just wondering how you are doing."

Finding support groups for people without jobs was a disaster for me. There was one group in which everyone genuinely felt sorry for himself or herself. Boring. However, a support group discussing issues of self-esteem (not just job loss) proved to be beneficial while I was looking for the right job.

I also used the time to volunteer, learn new skills, and find out which types of people I work well with and which types work well with me.

Another jobless friend said she knew she was in trouble when she started planning her day around Phil Donahue and Oprah Winfrey. "I'd let an entire event define my day," she later told me. "On Tuesday Phil is going to have on the transvestite monks of Tibet. After that I'll get showered and dressed and do the grocery shopping, and I'll be home in time for Oprah's'nun's With a Gambling Habit'." Surely, she was exaggerating at least a little bit.

Good-bye Phil, so long, Oprah

Congratulations. You've been hired. The search and the waiting is over. Now is the time to prepare for the next time you hear the F-word-whether directed at you or one of your peers.

Crisis Hotlines

To indicate crisis, the Chinese combine the characters for danger and opportunity. Crises are dangerous because we feel there's a frightening gap between our resources, our familiar ways of coping, and the overwhelming problems and emotions that are engulfing us. Crises become opportunities when their pain, confusion, and challenge push us to reach out to new people-for example, colleagues, mental health professionals, spiritual advisers, or friends and family members.

The following (not-all-inclusive) list of crisis hot lines in metropolitan Washington, D.C., (compiled by members of the board of directors of the Bill Myles Education Foundation, Alexandria, Virginia) offer assistance with problems ranging from alcohol dependence to depression and suicide. Other excellent sources for crisis or emergency assistance include major hospitals, both general and psychiatric.

AIDS Hotline (operated by America's Social Health Association) Telephone: (800) 342-AIDS.

Hours: 24 hours, seven days.

Fees: Free.

Services: Information on AIDS.

Alcohol and Drug Control Office

Telephone: (703) 696-3266; (703) 5456700 (general information).

Hours: 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Fees: Free to eligible individuals.

Eligibility: Active-duty Army, retired military, civilian employees of the Department of Defense, and dependents of all categories. Appointment necessary.

Services: Provides outpatient evaluation and treatment for alcohol and drug problems using group and individual counseling. Referral services for detoxification and inpatient treatment.

Alcohol and Drug Hotlines

Telephone. (202) 783-1300.

Hours: 24 hours, seven days.

Fees: Free.

Eligibility: All.

Services: Information and referral service for people with concerns related to alcohol and drugs.

Alcohol Help-Line and Referral Service

Telehone. (800) ALCOHOL.

Hours: 24 hours, seven days.

Fees: Free.

Services: A national information and referral service. Makes appropriate referrals to inpatient or outpatient treatment, Alcoholics Anonymous, and so forth. Not a listening service but can handle crisis calls.

Alexandria CAIR (Crisis Assistance information and Referrals)

Telephone. (703) 548-3810.

Hours: Noon to midnight, seven days.

Fees: Free.

Eligibility: All.

Services: Crisis listening, information, and referrals. Deals with all crises.

Arlington Alcohol Hotline

Telephone: (703) 522-8750.

Hours: 8 a.m.-8:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Fees: Free.

Eligibility: All.

Services: Referrals only.

Cocaine Hotline

Telephone: (800) COCAINE.

Hours: 24 hours, seven days.

Fees: Free.

Eligibility: All.

Services: A national information and referral service. Counselors can answer questions concerning cocaine and refer callers to local treatment centers. Not a long-term counseling service.

Counseling and Assistance Center

Telephone. (202) 433-2034.

Hours.- 24 hours, seven days.

Fees: Free to eligible individuals.

Eligibility: Active-duty Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard personnel; dependents; retired personnel; civilians employed by the Department of the Navy.

Services: Provides individual and group counseling; Antabuse; Alcoholics Anonymous open discussion group; treatment program for alcohol and drug abuse. Outpatient program with follow-up. Education, screening, evaluation, and referrals. Crisis Center Telephone. (202) 467-HOPE; 965-8400. Hours: 24 hours, seven days; walk-in 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Fees: Sliding scale, not ongoing therapy.

Eligibility: All.

Services: Short-term counseling for individuals or families in crisis. Deals with a wide range of problems, including those related, to drugs or alcohol.

Main office located at 2141 K St., N.W., Washington, DC 20037. Other locations in Greenbelt, Maryland; Annapolis, Maryland; Lexington, Maryland; Tysons Corner, Virginia; and Burke, Virginia. Sponsored by the Psychiatric Institute of Washington, D.C.

Montgomery County Community Crisis Center

Telephone: (301) 656-9161.

Hours: 24 hours, seven days.

Fees: Free.

Eligibility: Montgomery County, Maryland, residents.

Services: Provides walk-in counseling. Also provides telephone services, assessment and referrals, and short term crisis intervention; has a mobile team.

Montgomery County Hotline

Telephone. (301) 738-2255.

Hours: 24 hours, seven days.

Fees. Free.

Eligibility: All.

Services.- Provides crisis counseling, information, and referrals.

Northern Virginia Hotline

Telephone. (703) 527-4077.

Hours: 24 hours, seven days.

Fees: Free.

Eligibility: All.

Services: Provides crisis and noncrisis telephone counseling, information, and referrals. The only local hotline accredited by the American Association of Suicidology.

Prince George's County Hotline

Telephone. (301) 577-4867; (301) 6998605; (301) 731-0004.

Hours: 24 hours, seven days.

Fees: Free.

Eligibility: All.

Services: Emergency crisis listening, information, and referrals. Case-by-case walk-in service.

Samritans for the Suicidal and Depressed

Telehone. (202) 362-8100.

Hours: 24 hours, seven days.

Fees: Free.

Eligibility: All.

Services: Provides telephone counseling for suicidal, depressed, and despairing people. Provides referral services.

Youth Crisis Line

Telephone. (800) 422-0009 (25 years old and under).

Seeing It Coming

No matter how quickly you duck, you can't avoid the axe if it's headed your way. However, if you see it coming, you might be better prepared to move on when it does swing in your direction. While no one warning sign means definite disaster (and not all warning signs can be pinpointed), any combination of the following shouldn't be ignored:

* Regularly being excluded from meetings or memos.

* Your boss talks directly to your subordinates; staff bypasses you and goes to the boss.

* Being passed over for promotion in favor of someone a notch lower on the organization chart.

* Being given fewer assignments or having your priority projects reassigned to someone else. The converse-being given someone else's "garbage list" of to do's-also rates up there in the early warning signs.

* When the room becomes drop dead silent when you walk in, or people don't attend your meetings, or no one will go to lunch with you.

* A shift in management or a new CEO could spell trouble, especially if combined with a belt-tightening program and you are in one of the association's higher-paid positions.

* When the boss stalls making a decision that you need made in order to proceed with a project or program.

Four Favorites and a Few More

If you are out of a job, and if money is very much an issue, books from the library can be your passport. Besides, it's always nice to take home something free. (Just don't forget to take them back.)

When I am job hunting, there are four books of which I am especially fond, and which I recommend to my job-hunting friends. They are

Congratulations! You've Been Fired, by Emily Koltnow and Lynne S. Dumas (1990, Fawcett Columbine). Although this book is billed as "Sound advice for women who've been terminated, pink-slipped, downsized, or otherwise unemployed," it is a book for anyone who has ever found himself or herself in that position.

Robert Half on Hiring, by Robert Half (1985, Crown Publishers, Inc.). The head of one of the nation's biggest recruiting firms talks to those on the hiring side. It's good, basic knowledge and will give the interviewee a better break in the interview. I'm especially fond of chapter seven, "On What Questions to Ask in the Interview,' for anticipating the question that may throw you off guard.

When Smart People Fail, by Carole Hyatt and Linda Gottleib (1987, Simon and Schuster). This book should be on everyone's bookshelf, whether you've ever been fired or not. It's great for those of us who suffer occasional pangs of the impostor syndrome' and other phony diseases to which we become vulnerable when setbacks beset us.

Wishcraft, by Barbara Sher with Annie Gottleib (1979, The Viking Press). This is a reinvent-yourself book. It takes some time to work with it, but it's interesting and worth it.

Also read just about any author you enjoy. Now can be a good time to not read all the required reading you stacked up for when I have time." My current favorites are any of the three books by Robert Fulghum, All I Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten, it Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It, and Uh-oh.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related articles
Author:Lockwood, Martha J.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Words:3321
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