The Washington Post

The upside of getting fired

“I need you to come with me,” the prim, bow-tied HR specialist said flatly.

The air suddenly froze around me as I looked up from my desk. I loved my office with its huge wrap-around desk, small conference table, corkboard, and colossal dry erase planning board, which I had filled with color-coded goals and deadlines. I had finally achieved the salary I had sought for years. This job offer had seemed an answer to many prayers. But the three weeks on the job had been a sort of hell.

“What? Am I being fired?” I joked, nervously.

“Follow me, please.”

An employee staff meeting. (RICKY CARIOTI/TWP)

In a brief meeting with the HR specialist and one of the other managers hired with me, I was handed my walking papers.

“You know this is an at-will is being terminated,” I was told. “Effective today you will be on administrative leave for two weeks. At the end of those two weeks your position will be terminated.  Sign here please.”

“I will review this with my attorney, and get back to you,” I said. Privately, I hoped I could find an attorney interested in justice.

I got no explanation. No hint at what they considered my mistakes or failures, something I might correct or improve. Neither the director, nor deputy director had the gumption to even face me on this. The HR specialist walked me back to my office so I could hand him the agency-issued Blackberry and iPad, along with my keys and employee ID. He was kind enough.

“Any further questions you may have should be directed to me,” he said. “If you need to return to get something, call me.”

I began collecting papers and notepads off my desk.

“That is government property,” he said.

“The materials are yours. The intellectual property is mine,” I said calmly, making up laws based on something I probably saw on TV.

He said he would inquire about that and let me know.

I felt embarrassed – like I had failed. Betrayed and wounded, I was outraged that this could be done to me or anyone.  It had all happened so fast. I was dazed and numb. I am not sure how my feet carried me to my car, how I managed to drive home. I fumed and fussed to friends over the next few days. Every past failure came back to haunt me. The possibility of future failures taunted me in dreams at night.

But, less than a week after getting fired, I was browsing in a bookstore and noticed a sign for a job fair there. I was hired on the spot for a part-time job. The salary is a pittance compared to my last job, but the personal gratification is magnified. I get along very well with management and my colleagues. It doesn’t take me almost an hour to get to work. It takes about five minutes.

The expectations--unlike the job I was fired from--are clear and reasonable. For a few hours a day I am in heaven, surrounded by books – a wealth of ideas, inspiration, humor, other people’s tragedies.

I have generated a list of books I can produce myself. It’s only a seasonal job, and I knew this going in. The lack of job security in this position heightens my awareness each day. When straightening the books in the children’s section, for instance, certain titles hearken me back to some of my fondest childhood memories and inspire me to pen new tales from those familiar themes.

I became one of millions who have been or will be fired during in our economic and political upheaval. The new trend of making government positions “at-will” to avoid staffing government agencies with complacent, unproductive employees will claim many casualties before all the kinks are worked out. More people will be displaced, downsized, fired with no explanation. It will be up to us to make the best of it.

I read an article in O Magazine that added value to my experience:

At work in the bookstore, I noticed Tavis Smiley’s book, “Fail Up,” and “The Blessing of a B Minus,” by Wendy Mogul. I considered compiling my own failures into a book. After the numerous books on “How to Succeed,” now come the books of our times, including “Failing Forward,” by John C. Maxwell.

Steve Jobs told a graduating class at Stanford that his very public, very humiliating firing was the best thing that could have happened to him. It propelled him to successes he could not have imagined.  I became one of more than four million to tune into his Youtube video at

The Root DC

What my grandmother taught me

Send us your parenting questions

Kick the emotional eating habit



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Be a man and cry
Program turns prisoners into poets
Unconventional warfare with a side of ale
Play Videos
The signature dish of Charleston, S.C.
For good coffee, sniff, slurp and spit
The most interesting woman you've never heard of
Play Videos
How to prevent 'e-barrassment'
The art of tortilla-making
A man committed to journalism, caught in the crossfire
Play Videos
Tips for (relatively) stress-free dining out with kids
How to get organized for back to school
How the new credit card chip makes purchases more secure