4 Lessons I Learnt from Getting Fired 4 Times

by Isabel Brighton Elliott


“Could you come into my office,” your boss asks without a look.


You heart pounds in your ears. Your mind races through everything you’ve done recently. Finally, he blurts it out. You’re fired.


Now, imagine going through this same experience four consecutive times.


That’s what happened to me.


To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, “To lose one job may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose four looks like carelessness.”


And it’s not that I wasn’t any good. Or that I was difficult to be around.


But sometimes, the worse thing that happens to us turns out to be the best thing that could ever happen.


Because getting thrown outside your comfort zone forces us to review our assumptions, which is the beginning of all great progress.


And in this post, I’m going to share with you the lessons I learned from getting fired four times and how you, too, can use setbacks to turn your life around and find work you truly love.


Lesson #1: Nothing Is Terrible But Fear Itself

The first time I was fired was on a Friday. I spent the whole weekend crying. I’d been let go by one of the top 5 best US companies to work for, according to Fortune. I could never find another job like that.


I’d left with a 6-month-pay severance package that had been negotiated by the departing CEO. The reality of my situation was a lot better than what my feelings told me. And I learnt how much generous employers trump penny pinchers and to keep that in mind in my job search.


My next employer wasn’t a Fortune 500 but the atmosphere was festive and fabulous. The co-founders treated work as play and my colleagues became some of my best friends. There, I learnt the value of work-life balance.


By the time I lost that job, I knew I’d find another one. So I made sure I didn’t waste the free time I suddenly had. I used air miles to job search remotely as I traveled to New England and Sweden, staying with friends.


When my boss fired me from my third job, he was more upset than I was. And by job loss #4, I knew I’d be alright. There was no need to fear the future.


Fear tends to exaggerate the risk of a situation. But in the words of Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” My friend Mary taught me this over 20 years ago and it’s always proven to be true.


Lesson #2: How Not To Make It About You

The first time I was fired, the entire subsidiary closed. Accountants had taken over the company after the co-founders retired. But the new management had more tax optimization skills than business acumen. In a few years, the firm tumbled from 5th best U.S. company to work for to 31st, 42nd, 65th and 83rd.


Companies #2 and #3 failed to sell enough products. Not because they weren’t good but because they were too early for the market. So they drastically downsized and then sold the business. Three-quarters of start ups fail in the first three years, so the odds were alway against us.


Still, the first time I was fired, I took it personally. I tended to feel guilty about everything anyway. I believed I wasn’t good enough no matter what I did and that I didn’t deserve what I aspired to.


Losing four consecutive jobs confronted me to my misguided guilt and shame, which I gradually shed for a more realistic outlook on life.


The world is not out to punish us.


Lesson #3: How to Pursue Your Dreams

Most of my bosses were fantastic people who were sorry to fire me. The last one was the exception. She had fits of rage over trivial things. I was getting ready to leave and she beat me to it.


But looking back, none of these jobs were right for me. I loved the Fortune 500 company but not the work I was doing. Having a prestigious name in my email address was cool. I thought if I stuck to it maybe I’d start liking the job too. But I was fired.


In my second job, I branched into technical marketing because it was highly respected. I ignored colleagues who said I had a knack as a copywriter. Then I was fired again. Fate was really trying to tell me something.


I doubled down in the next two jobs, still hoping I would take to marketing. My career choices followed what available jobs looked hip rather than personal preference.


In my fifth job, I realized I was in the wrong career. I’d loved writing since I was nine but I didn’t know I could make a living out of it. As a child, I was told studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths was the only path to a good job and that arts led to poverty.


Finally, I gave myself permission to pursue my true vision.


I think the majority of people do work they don’t love. Instead, they do what’s expected of them, by their parents, their family, or society. But it doesn’t have to be this way.


It may take some trial and error to find it but our vision is out there waiting for us.


Lesson #4: You Are Enough

I left the Fortune 500 company in a strong financial position. And yet I was desperate to find another job as soon as possible. I went to one interview after another, without success.


Finally, I saw the light. I don’t need my work to justify my existence. I am enough. As soon as I understood that, I got hired by my next employer.


The truth is, there are good jobs out there for those willing to believe it.


And I know I only want to work with people who value my contribution and who’re willing to pay me accordingly.


How to Raise to Life’s Challenges and Win

Getting fired four times could have destroyed me. But as the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.


In the end, I was lucky to get fired because it helped me make necessary changes in my attitude and beliefs and pushed me to aim higher.


I learnt to

Not take setbacks personally
Let go of your fear and trust the future
Value yourself and your contribution to this world
Listen to your intuition
Not compromise on your true vision


Clearly, I needed to hear this message several times before I got it. But I wasn’t fired from my fifth job. I quit to become a freelance writer.


One verse has always helped me find solutions in adversity:

“Seek and you will find.”


It’s been my motto for over 20 years and there’s always been a good answer, one which has dramatically improved my life.


Your job, too, is to look for the right answer.


In some ways, life’s like a computer game. Once you’ve completed level 1 you’re ready to move to level 2. Likewise, every time you’re faced with a hurdle, you get the opportunity to learn something that will lead you to a better life.


So listen to your intuition, change your outlook, try something different and don’t give up until you’ve found the solution.


Your life will start to change. You will see that the world is full of possibilities and that you don’t need to live in constant fear of tomorrow.


Imagine if every time a door closes, a new one opens on a better job, a more suitable career, a healthier relationship. Every time you lose something, you gain something better, and you become happier.


There’s a great life out there for you if you’re willing to seek it.