I’ve been fired twice.
You wouldn’t have picked it. I’m hardworking, punctual and committed to doing my best at all times. I know this about myself, yet I’ve been harbouring my dismissals like a dirty secret. Buckle up, because I’m ready to dish the dirt.
The first time I was fired was from a marketing role. It was my first job out of uni and I reported directly to the Big Boss. His background was in sales and he had very little marketing knowledge. I was vastly under-qualified but I was all they could get for their humble salary offering. I fumbled my way through budgets, campaigns and even a major AFL sponsorship.
Then I was tasked with a mail drop of 120,000 catalogues, which I executed under directions from the Big Boss.
The week following the sale, I sat in the boardroom at our Monday meeting. I was the only woman and the only person under the age of forty. It was an uncomfortable ritual. Eight men sat around the table, seven of them white. When we got to the sales results, the Big Boss got angry. The sale had been a flop; targets were not reached. In front of everyone, he asked to speak with me after the meeting. Sympathetic looks followed me out of the room.
I walked into his office, heart in my throat. I didn’t know how to be fired… would I cry? A women from finance was present for the dismissal, presumably to deal with predicted crying. The Big Boss said I’d messed up the mail drop and they needed someone more senior. Actually, he needed a scapegoat for the bad sales figures and I was an easy target.
I didn’t cry until I was safely in my car.
The second time I was fired was because I spoke up for my rights. I was working across multiple clients, delivering specific copywriting targets each day. I took home close to minimum wage and worked unpaid overtime to meet the targets. This Big Boss was a ‘feminist’ who only hired women. To maintain her public image, I was expected to model in her business communications for social media. I wasn’t paid for this time and had to cover my own travel costs to and from the shoots.
There was no flex if I was sick, I had to work from my bed. I even had to take my laptop to the hospital when my dad had a stroke.
Eventually, I wrote her a letter highlighting my rights to sick leave and requesting a raise to account for all the overtime. Here’s what she replied:
“It has become apparent to me that we are misaligned professionally in several critical ways. Most importantly, I am unable to meet the wage expectations you have expressed to me recently. It is clear also that you are deeply unhappy with the culture of my business… I have concluded that we must now part ways... I wish you nothing but the very best for what I am certain will be a stellar career.’
It was a sugar-coated version of ‘if you don’t like it, piss off. There’s ten more where you came from.’
I considered taking this employer to Fair Work, but it was early in my career and I needed the reference. She agreed to give me one in exchange for keeping quiet. And even though I knew that I was unfairly dismissed, my confidence and self-value took a serious hit.
What’s the moral of these stories? In both instances, I got a significantly better job within one week of my dismissal. In both instances, I was happier and more productive in my new role.
Career success isn’t only about finding a rewarding job. It’s about knowing when the fuck to get out of a bad one. And when you don’t have the courage to leave, getting fired is the next best thing.