When Grace Mirabella of New York was fired as editor-in-chief of Vogue, she had led the upscale women's magazine to a circulation of 1.2 million in 1988 from 400,000 in 1971.
The firing came as a shock, but within a year the veteran editor bounded back as publication director of a new and dynamic magazine, Mirabella.
Mirabella, who was "eager" to leave but never had the "guts," sees her life after being fired as an "adventure" -- a successful one.
Last spring, Dayton Hudson Corp. bought Marshall Field & Co., and one of the 850 executives and managers in Field's Chicago corporate offices let go in the management consolidation was Gayle E. Hanley, former vice president and divisional merchandise manager of the department store.
It was a downer for the respected retailer, but she was snapped up by Henri Bendel, the prestigious specialty store, and named managing director of its new Chicago branch.
"A thousand horses could not have made me leave my fabulous job at Marshall Field's -- and then suddenly it was over," said Hanley, previously general manager of Saks Fifth Avenue in Pittsburgh and a vice president of Bloomingdale's in New York. "The door closes, and you think it's the end of the world. And then another door opens to let in the bright sunshine: a great, new entrepreneurial opportunity at my longtime dream store, Henri Bendel."
No one's saying that getting fired is fun, but it isn't necessarily the end of the world. For some women, such as Mirabella and Hanley, losing their jobs is serendipity.
"Wonderful things can come out of being fired," said Emily Koltnow of New York, president of Women in Networking Workshops, a support group for currently and soon-to-be unemployed women. "Women don't start out feeling that way, but they often end up thinking that in retrospect. You should be upset; it's a natural reaction. But being fired has helped so many women change their lives for the better."
Koltnow is one of those women. In 1987, she was fired from a job she had for five years as vice president of merchandising for a women's apparel company. Her salary was more than $100,000 a year.
"My training is as a fashion designer, and in 18 years I'd been fired at least five times, which is not unusual in my field," said Koltnow, who has a bachelor's degree in fine arts from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. "That last time was the toughest, though, because it was my favorite job, but I also felt a sense of relief."
She was so relieved she started her business. With no background in counseling but savvy in negotiation and empathy, Koltnow offers six-week networking seminars at $375 a person to help unemployed women in middle and upper management "get on" with their careers.
Koltnow wrote a new book with Lynne S. Dumas that sums up her attitude toward disengagement. It's titled, "Congratulations! You've Been Fired: Sound Advice for Women Who've Been Terminated, Pink-Slipped, Downsized or Otherwise Unemployed" (Fawcett Columbine, $8.95).
In support of her theme, Koltnow says she did a national survey of more than 400 women who had been fired. They reported their first reaction was a feeling of relief.
"Don't internalize firing as a rejection," the author urged. "Very often, one of the reasons you get fired is you aren't in love with your job anymore but don't want to make a change."
She insisted she's not being facetious when she says congratulations. Being fired, Koltnow said, forces people "to consider options they've ignored before because they had to go to the same office every Monday morning."
Koltnow added: "Don't feel ashamed if you lose your job. Being fired doesn't mean a scarlet letter F is embroidered on your blouse."
Unfortunately, women are more devastated by being axed than men are, claimed Marilyn Moats Kennedy, managing partner of Career Strategies, a Wilmette, Ill.-based career planning group.
"When men are fired, they don't take it personally, even if the boss says, 'I am personally firing you,' " said Kennedy, who also is job strategies editor for Glamour magazine. "Men say it was fate and move on. Women do terrible, lengthy, ego-bashing post mortems about if only they had done things differently."
Kennedy said their reaction makes "women helpless for weeks" after being let go. "Think of being fired as being mugged, which it feels like," the consultant said. "Do the requisite deep mourning, but not for too long. Refuse to dwell on the past."
Kennedy said if you follow her advice, you'll be able to job hunt in a week or two, which, she said "cuts off six weeks of beating yourself up."