Getting sacked can be a shitty way to learn, but there are some lessons you can only learn from being cut.
By Emma Taubenfeld, Pace University
If you’re someone who considers yourself to be a hardworking, dedicated individual like I do, it will probably come as a surprise when your boss calls you into their office and tells you that you’re being terminated.
Actually, the word “surprise” isn’t strong enough. When it happened to me, I was absolutely shocked; my eyes wide with utter disbelief and confusion. I always imagined the people who got the boot were either the lazy, always-late type with a poor attitude, or the corrupt, secretive type you see in television dramas. Never someone like me.
The summer after my freshman year of college, I decided that I needed a little extra spending money and landed a job as a cashier at a local grocery store. I was handed an official name tag and went through a “formal” fifteen-minute training session with my supervisor before I was sent to stand behind the register.
The job was high stress, overwhelming and ultimately, the few minutes of training wasn’t enough. I received harsh comments from customers, along with inappropriate statements from co-workers, and it was a rarity that someone would even smile in my direction. Nevertheless, I clocked into work on-time for every shift with a smile on my face and tears stinging the back of my eyes.
One Sunday night, a couple of my supervisors called me into the back office in the middle of my shift. I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach as I walked over, and I had a hunch as to what was to come. They showed me an error I made on a sheet of paper with a lot of numbers that I didn’t understand. Basically, I punched an extra zero by mistake into the cash register. It was a mistake that was “too big” to let slide. I signed the paper to make my termination official, and decided to finish my shift that night with my head held high.
While I felt pretty defeated after the initial hit, I felt nothing but relief after I went home and honestly, it was probably one of the best things to happen in my professional life. Here are the seven most valuable lessons I learned from getting fired.
1. Own Up to Your Mistakes
No one owes you anything. It was an inconvenience that I would be unemployed for rest of the summer, but that was not my supervisor’s problem. All my supervisor cared about was how I made a mistake that was detrimental to the company, so in order to do what was best for the company, he had to let me go.
I didn’t intentionally try to cause harm, but I did. As much as I hoped that I could take the mistake back, I couldn’t. So, instead of arguing in defense of myself, I accepted the error that I very obviously made and walked away. Owning up to your mistakes indicates maturity and has you leaving on a positive note, rather than being escorted out by security.
2. You Really Can’t Be Good at Everything
Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. While I firmly believe that you can learn to do anything if you want to, sometimes it’s best to just stick to what comes naturally to you and try to improve upon those skills.
My brain doesn’t process numbers as easily as others’, so it took me a few seconds longer to punch the digits into the register and give people back change, especially with the customers distracting me. And oftentimes, the position called for yelling across the room to my supervisors to get the discount card, but I have a quiet voice.
I was even asked one day by my supervisor if I was afraid of being loud. I told him that I just don’t have a very loud voice, to which he responded that I won’t be successful if I don’t work on it. Screaming across the room wasn’t part of the job description, nor have I ever heard of yelling being part of any job description, unless I’m applying to be a drill sergeant. It just wasn’t my thing, and it’s okay to admit that.
3. Failure Leads to Success
I think I learned more from this customer service job than all of my internships combined, mostly because I failed. Failure is a way to measure your progress, and, a lot of times, it takes many failures before reaching success.
Failure is an opportunity to learn what went wrong and how to fix those mistakes for next time, and it’s the biggest motivator for pushing to do better.
In order to get the results that you’re looking for, you need to step out of your comfort zone, which is probably why you failed in the first place. But that means that the next time you step out of the box, you have some knowledge of what it’s like and will be stronger because of it.
4. Sometimes the Job Doesn’t Deserve You
I consistently exceeded job expectations at work. I clocked back in from my break at fourteen minutes instead of fifteen in order to make sure I was on time. I followed the script taped to the back of the register that advised me to ask customers about their experience in the store, and acted like a professional while most of the other cashiers goofed off.
I was teased by coworkers and even supervisors for actually giving a hoot about the job. Ironically, I feared making a mistake.
Even though I deserved to be let go for my slipup, maybe I should have never been working for people who didn’t appreciate my efforts in the first place.
5. Work Doesn’t Have to Be Miserable
You shouldn’t have to figure out new ways to fight back tears every day during work. Of course, jobs will sometimes feel boring, tasks will be stressful and co-workers may be mean, but work should never make you cry, feel uncomfortable or hinder your growth.
If this sounds too familiar, getting fired relieves you of that misery, and all of a sudden, life feels a whole lot better once you leave.
6. You Learn to Move On
You’re allowed to grieve the loss of your job. You’re allowed to freak out and feel like worthless trash. But then you have to pick out the important parts of your experience and move forward with them, while leaving the rest behind.
Take forward with you the experience of handling a bad situation or dealing with all different types of people, and leave behind that one rude comment your boss made to you that makes you want to march back in and scream at him. It’s all a learning experience, and now you have more skills for your next opportunity.
7. You Are Not Doomed
So many people get terminated, laid off or even just voluntarily leave their jobs because it’s about finding the best fit. Maybe something that seemed like the perfect piece to the puzzle just wasn’t right.
There will be an employer who looks at the qualities that your former boss didn’t like and see them as strengths. The jobs I had after my job as a cashier loved that I wasn’t good with numbers because they were looking for a more creative person, and those jobs worked out so much better for me.
They helped me grow in different ways than the failure did. Getting fired is not a death sentence; it’s what you make of it.