How to Prepare If You’re Worried About Getting Fired
Lessons from my own termination
“Hey Todd. First, I should say Kathy is on the line.”
“Cool! Hi Kathy!”
There was an enormous pause as my brain scribbled arrows between Kathy, the connection to her last name, her position in the company, and why in the world she would be on this call with my manager that was supposed to be a one-on-one meeting.
Finally, lightning struck.
“Oh. Kathy from HR”
I grabbed a pen and paper as fast as I could. There were exit interviews, leftover sick days, and a 401K account to consider. My mind wouldn’t be able to keep any of the details in. All I could hear for 15 minutes was the blood rushing in my ears. I wrote it all down, but I don’t remember the conversation.
That’s not entirely true. I remember one sentence very clearly.
“Your position has been eliminated.”
It’d be nice to assume this whole COVID thing is over, and that if you are still employed at this point, you’ll stay that way.
Sadly, your comfort may be naivety. I confused the two and soon found myself sticking ID badges in a box for Cindy from UPS to ship off. Cindy made my day a little bit better.
She didn’t get my job back, though.
Maybe right now you are looking at a “Message from your CEO” that says everything is a little behind schedule, but they’re saying “we expect to outlast this crisis and come out stronger than ever.”
A reminder: “we” means the company. You’re not necessarily included in that.
Big companies often use the word “we” to make you feel better.
I should know. I’m the guy who wrote those bulletins.
You may cruise through this economic downturn unscathed. I hope you do. If you think there’s even the slightest chance you might NOT do so, though, I hope you’re alert enough to learn from my mistakes.
What I did
Although these choices were largely coincidence, this first group of actions may have saved my life whenever I got my termination notice.
I started a side hustle
“But Todd, aren’t you supposed to double down on your current job if you want to keep it?”
No. You are supposed to perform well, AND build your own escape plan. Here’s how that worked out for me.
In 2015 I started blogging alongside my full time job. In June 2016 I released a book. In early 2017 a fan of that book gave it to a popular blogger. In late 2017 the assistant of said blogger struck up a friendship with me. In 2019 I met Michael Thompson, who reconnected me with several other bloggers I had met and forgotten.
None of those choices took away from giving my best effort to the full-time company. In fact, up until the end of my employment, I enjoyed consistent raises, earned promotions, and even a work assignment in Paris.
But when I got fired, guess who showed up to help?
It wasn’t my corporate friends. It was my side-hustle friends.
The FIRST opportunity to recover my income came from Michael himself. The SECOND opportunity came from a fellow writer I’d met through a response to one of my articles. The THIRD came from that random assistant I met in 2017, and who is now my closest friend in the world.
In a scary time, employees are trying to hold on to what they have (scarcity mindset), while people who side hustle are looking for ways to use this crisis to their advantage (abundance mindset).
Start a side hustle as soon as possible. It pays in more than just money.
I refinanced my home
(Not financial advice)
Days after the firing, I was mostly stable. I assumed my life could go on as normal. Then, I told a friend of my plans to continue shopping for a house.
“Uhhh, yeah man. I hate to break it to you, but you probably won’t be able to buy a house, even if you’re still making money freelancing,” he messaged me.
I stared at the bubbles on my phone, waiting for better news. It didn’t come.
“Banks are asses,” he said.
They aren’t, but they do follow strict policies based on mostly outdated criteria for lending. People with “real jobs” have an easier time getting loans.
Crushed as I was that my dreams were on hold, I was also instantly grateful that 12 days before my termination, Kate and I signed papers on our refinance. We’d reduced our monthly payment by a full $200.
Turns out we’d need those savings more than we expected.
I kept my network reasonably strong
With the exception of one person, all my chances at recovering a normal life came from people who I was already in regular contact with.
As my friend Jordan Gross likes to say: “People love helping.”
It’s true. People do love helping. However, those same people have a hard time helping a person they barely know or — worse — a person who only comes to them when they need money. Even the nicest people are repelled by the smell of desperation.
The old cliche “dig your well before you are thirsty” really is true. This doesn’t mean you have to do capital N “Networking,” though. That stuff is gross.
Nametags and free snacks don’t facilitate much real friendship. What does? Weekly conversations. Nice text messages. Generosity. A email “was thinking about you when I read this.”
When you’re flat on your back, you’ll need people who want to pick you up.
Things I didn’t do
This next list was much easier to write. When you get laid off, your mind can’t help but wonder how you could have prevented the pain. Why did this happen? What could I have done differently? How could I have expected it?
Your brain, being sweet, will come up with all the mistakes you made leading up to the termination. Here were my big errors:
I didn’t look for signs
In Tennessee summers, storms strike suddenly. If you look up when one is coming, you’ll see a seemingly impossible vision: one side of the sky is entirely clear. The other side is armageddon.
Thunder is rolling. Lightning is flashing, and yet if you’re facing the wrong way, you will assume there is no reason to worry.
You don’t need a weatherman to know if a storm is on the way. Just look up.
I didn’t own a single project at work
Here’s a little hint. If you are “supporting” projects. It means you are expendable to those projects. If you are waiting for a person to tell you what to do, beware.
I thought I’d keep my job because I was likable and helpful. Turns out staying employed has nothing to do with how well-liked you are.
Looking back on the time right before I got canned, it was clear I owned nothing. I was fooled by my past and stopped looking at the present.
- I spent a lot of time appearing on camera in years past — that was gone.
- I’d worked closely with executives to craft messaging for the company — that had dwindled down.
- I used to edit lots of video and audio —even that stopped.
“Ah well! They must not want me working outside my best competency: writing!”
They didn’t want me working at all.
I didn’t get crystal clear on my values
Absent a job, I had almost no idea who I was. I slept away the mornings. I checked email for no reason. I wandered to the coffee shop and drank too many Monkey Mochas. (Coffee. Banana. Whipped Cream. Yum)
Whether or not you get fired, take some time to define your true values.
Believe we should be saving the planet? Your joblessness shouldn’t change that. Think you’re a generous person? You may have to prove it soon. Is unemployment only for the weak? Let’s see how you feel about that when you’re looking at a bank account that no longer grows.
It’s cliche, but crises really do show the kind of person you are.
Be ready to stick to that best version of yourself.
Reviewing this, a final thought comes to mind:
Your job is not your identity.
That doesn’t mean the work you do is not important, or that you should think less of how you spend a large chunk of your time. It means long before you ever thought about work, before you applied, before you got the job, before you settled in, you were something else entirely.
You were just a person. No status or title or paycheck had to justify that.
As a reminder, it’s okay to be just a person.