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."

But getting fired also got him out of a job he hated as a salesman in the hospitality industry. The problem was that once he was let go, he couldn't figure out what to do next. After dawdling (which he highly recommends that no one do), a friend told him about job openings at her temporary-placement firm. He took a job at a technology company in Northern Virginia. It hired him full-time five months later and, shortly thereafter, started promoting him. He is still with the company today.

Getting fired provided Scott with another useful thing. On days when he might feel like goofing off, he remembers what it's like to be fired. "It keeps me motivated because you know it can happen," he said.

Mary Dillon knows how much a firing can hurt someone's self esteem. After she was fired, she immediately started to work. She was a poll worker during elections and took a temp job just days after termination. The jobs kept her busy, kept money flowing in and reminded her that she is a smart, capable woman. Once she was hired full-time, it took her a full year of work to feel professionally secure again, she said. But through it all, she learned what sort of position she really wanted. "I realized I had been getting myself into positions doing more things I wasn't interested in." She is now a director of accounting for a D.C. association. And incredibly happy.

There is the put-me-out-of-my-misery firing, too. When one advertising executive was told by her boss that it wasn't working out, that natural shock was closely followed by relief. She had been told there were issues to work on. She worked on them. Hard. "I thought it was unfixable, but I wanted to do what it took," she said. "It was sort of a relief, because I had been questioning my abilities.

"I had gone from a place where I had been tremendously successful to a place where it wasn't a great fit. My mentality was, 'I'm going to make this work. Of course. I don't fail.' " She realized quickly that it was good that someone killed the relationship for her.

Leaving was hard. She couldn't get excited about finding a job at another firm. She felt she was in such a specific field within advertising that there would not be many options for her anyway. And the transition was rough: She had never not worked. She had to buy her own computer to start the job search. She didn't know how to start a day without going to an office.

But then she was hired to do some freelance work that "put me in touch with being good at it again." The experience reinforced that she really had just been at the wrong job.

Soon, another friend introduced her to the president of an advertising firm. They hit it off and she moved from Boston to New York to take the job she has today. "As I started to talk to people about my experience, it's like everyone's been fired," she said. "There really is life after it."

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