Life at Work

Got Canned? Join the Club.

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 15, 2006

It's a kick-in-the-gut, suck-the-air-from-the-room, I'm-hearing-voices-and-they-are-echoing-in-my-head kind of experience.

You've been fired.

Even if you knew it was coming, even if you prepared for the possibility, that life-changing moment can leave you motionless -- unable to call friends, unable to believe there is another chance out there for you. You question your abilities. You think you'll be marked for eternity, the Hester Prynne of the workplace.

But here's something to think about: Many, many people have been fired. The boss who fired you was once probably canned. Dinged. Tossed out. The person who may interview you was probably let go at some point. It's devastating, it's traumatic, but it's fixable.

The day Richard Manganaro was fired as a recruiter for a New Jersey transportation company was the start of a new life. But he did not realize it as he looked at pictures of his family and wondered how he could tell his wife and children he no longer was employed. He said the firing was absolutely "traumatic."

"You start to doubt yourself," he said. He took some time off to get back together. It would have been impossible at the time, he said, to immediately get out and interview and "garner enthusiasm."

He found solace in the fact that he had networked and had volunteered with organizations that were filled with people who helped him get back to work. He started consulting and won clients who hired him to do their hiring and recruiting. Today, he's a children's program manager with a mental health association. In his spare time, he talks to people about trying to find a job after they've been fired.

Even if employees sense they aren't long for this office world, it's not simple.

"I could see the train was pulling into the station," said an international development consultant, who years ago pre-empted her boss shortly before she thought she would be terminated. "I said, 'Look, this is clear it's just not a good fit. Here's what I propose.' " She asked to stay for another month to give herself time to find a new job and tie up loose ends -- while earning a paycheck.

She always keeps in touch with the people in her field of international development. They help her, and she finds that she is thrilled to help them. "I'm constantly helping friends with crafting résumés. I constantly have friends passing on openings to me, and then I pass them on to other people. It's just like good karma. It comes back."

Not to put too shiny a light on being fired. It's a real confidence deflator.

"I never looked at it as a positive experience," said Scott, who spoke on condition his last name not be used. He was fired 10 years ago. "The whole thing was so ugly. They didn't like me. I didn't like them. And it was just an ego blow."

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