Updated: Jan 24
A few people who read my last blog asked me what to do if their reputation was blemished. Many were unable to find a job because something negative had come up about their past in a job interview. Some had been fired from their previous jobs and were publicly shamed via press releases or off-the-record comments to the media. I’m not going into the details of my discussions; however I’ve met many competent professionals that had either made a mistake through lapses in judgement, or they were in the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up being a lightning rod and fired for political reasons.
There are a lot of people whose actions were so egregious that they needed to be fired. This blog is not about those people. This blog is for people that fall somewhere in the “gray” areas and their firing or forced resignations can be viewed as wrong by both sides. I refer to this period in some people’s lives as “career purgatory.” This is where you have so much talent to offer but you’re labeled as “damaged goods” and cannot find a job that fits your skill-set because of your past.
7 Steps to Getting out of Career Purgatory:
Acceptance: Realize that whatever the circumstances that led you to lose your job has already happened. There’s nothing you can do to change this. You can’t go back in time and change the past. Sure you can file a lawsuit, write angry letters and play the “victim,” or you can accept what has happened and move forward.
Know That Life Isn’t Fair: We’re not little kids anymore where everyone gets a trophy at the end of the season little league soccer party. We can’t always have it our way and win every battle. Once you realize that life isn’t fair, it’ll be easier to accept what has happened to you.
Be Accountable, Own It, & Don’t Make Excuses: Whatever got you fired regardless of how unfair it may seem, you have to be accountable to the situation you’re in now. Own up to your firing and don’t make any excuses. I’ve coached many people that cannot let go and accept what has happened. They hold on to the past and ruminate over and over about the “should have, would have, could have” scenarios. It’s very rare for someone to be fired for no reason at all, so there’s some accountability on your part to own up to your mistakes and not make any excuses. This is very important for second chances to come your way.
Let It Go: No matter how hard some people try, it’s really hard for them to let go of the past. They build incredible grudges for the people that “screwed” them over, or the organization that let them go. It takes a lot of energy to hold a grudge. You need to nurture the grudge, care and feed it, and it’s like a scab that you keep picking at and it’ll never heal. If you’re able to find a way to just “let it go” you’ll have more time to come to terms with your situation and move forward with your life and career.
Keep Positive Surroundings: Misery loves company. If there are any negative people or circumstances in your life try to get away from it as quickly as possible. Nothing is worse than not knowing how negative you are because your surroundings make you that way. People will pick up on that real quick and this will only keep you in your career purgatory.
Watch Your Health: No matter how hard it may be, get out of bed, open the blinds, and move. Try to eat right, go to the gym or just walk around the neighborhood and get into a rhythm. Get adequate sleep, take some naps when you’re tired, but keep yourself busy and on a schedule – even if that schedule is to take out the trash. You want to ensure you feel you still have purpose in your life.
Don’t Be Ashamed to Seek Professional Help: Many people that I’ve spoken to that had been fired – especially if it was the first time they were ever fired – suffer from major depression. Depression is real and not just something you can shake off. Finding the right professional to help you through your career purgatory can expedite your path to a new career.
The Power of Second Chances – Make Yourself the Underdog:
Why are there so many movies about underdogs? Because people love underdogs. Underdogs can even be someone you don’t necessarily like but they become more likable as you see them grow and learn from their mistakes.
You’d be surprised at how hard people work when they are given a second chance at a career. They know how bad it was being in career purgatory and they never want to feel that way again, ever! The one thing career purgatory people have over people that were never fired is “perspective.” They have a perspective of how miserable life was when stuck in career purgatory. This feeling will be with them for the rest of their lives and for the majority of them, they genuinely know they will give their all for a second chance. They just need someone to give it to them.
Many hiring managers will quickly discount someone that was fired from their last job. That’s why they are “managers” and not “leaders.” It takes a very savvy and mature leader to recognize great talent even if on the surface the talent is labeled “damaged goods.” These leaders know how to look at the person’s entire body of work and not only the negative stuff. They know underdogs are hungry and want to prove to everyone that they are not damaged goods. They have so much to offer – and only need a second chance. There are too many success stories to mention about people that were fired that are extremely successful now after getting a second chance. You need to keep this in mind when you start feeling down in the dumps. Know that others have been in your shoes and succeeded. You just need to remain positive and keep moving forward.
This is where “networking” is so important. No matter how bad your situation is, do your best to continue to network within the industry you want to work in. Be sure to leverage the 7 steps and being accountable, open, and honest with your network about your situation, people will see you as an underdog and start rooting for you. Many will want to champion you and before you know it an opportunity will present itself and you’ll be on the road to career recovery. Once you get back in the saddle and successful again, you’ll see yourself “paying it forward” to help someone in need.
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