“We’d like to help you transition out of the company.”
As the conversation progressed and reality sunk in, my ears slammed shut and blood streamed to my head. And since I neglected to bring a jacket for what I thought was a routine Friday morning coffee meeting with my CEO, it was cold and now I was shivering like a dumbass.
I joined the company eight months ago when it was just three guys with laptops, and I’d watched it successfully launch, raise $3.7M in funding, and expand from 3 employees to 13—three of which I’d recruited and hired. I was proud of my first 8 months at work. I ran a viral email campaign that signed up a person a minute for the week preceding launch, and then generated a firestorm of media coverage when the product opened for business. Shit, I had just released a new version of our website two days prior that improved on-site conversions by 400%.
It’s painfully simple. I excelled at the company’s growth stage because I had a ton of hustle, a lightning fast ability to learn, and the entrepreneurial wherewithal to juggle 30 skills at once. Now, the company had blossomed, hired a new VP of Marketing with twenty-five years experience, and had reached a point where it “needed specialists instead of generalists.”
The irony did not escape me: as the company’s Director of Growth, I grew the company to the point where it had outgrown me. Twelve days before Christmas.
The walk back to my apartment was long. I called my parents in tears and relived every misstep, looking entirely out of place in the midst of the morning hustle and bustle. When I got back to my apartment at the ripe hour of 9:30am, I strongly considered draining a bottle of whiskey on my balcony and blacking out before noon. But after a hefty lunch, where I specifically asked for a dinner plate “with extra gravy,” that plan changed. Dramatically.
Here I am one week later. I’ve had a dozen interviews, a job offer, and am now actively turning down work instead of looking for it.
It’s possible that getting shit-canned was the best thing to happen to me in 2013. Here’s why:
1. Getting fired lights a fire
This is not the first time I’ve been fired. It’s the second. After the first, I fulfilled a lifelong dream to start my own company (it also inadvertently inspired another epic undertaking). This was not a coincidence. Every late night was fueled by a frenetic energy to prove those doubters wrong. I wanted them to view letting me go as the biggest mistake in their company’s history. It wasn’t of course—not even close—but after every personal victory, I still felt like Reggie Miller raining 3’s in Spike Lee’s weasely face.
I would go so far as encouraging everyone to get their ass handed to them along with an Employee Termination Letter at least once in their life. It’s an unforgettable feeling, and getting kicked in the gut by the unforgiving boot of unemployment is a beautiful thing. As long as you have the resilience to counter it with a roundhouse kick to the face.
2. I learned to appreciate my friends
You remember friends, right? Those things you pushed aside in favor of late work nights? You know, something other than your laptop’s blueish hue? I thought I did too—but after getting canned, that view changed.
After that fateful Friday lunch, I immediately started calling friends. Close friends. Old friends. New friends. Friends in high places. Friends in low places. I talked to over 40 people in 4 days. So many were unbelievably willing to help. They readily dispensed advice, made intros, and lent sympathetic ears. It was tremendously humbling
Those friends knew friends—CEOs, recruiters, employers, and more. That led to job opportunities, which led to interviews, which led to offers. I knew this intuitively, but it’s true: jobs come from people. Not the internet. Not job boards. And if nothing else, when’s the last time you grabbed a consolatory beer with a Craigslist post?
3. I’m a jack of all trades, but a master of none.
This was a tough one to swallow. But look at the facts: I’m a math major who writes in his spare time for fuck’s sake—I wear more hats than a balding magician. Although I’m very good at a dozen different things, I’m an expert in none of them. And that’s dangerous.
Yes, employees are greater than the sum of their skills, and most organizations—especially small ones—need people who can fill the roles of 2 or 3 people. But get this through your head: if you’re not the best at something, you’re replaceable.
This was brutally true for me. Other than being an affable goofball, there was not one thing I was best at in this last company. Our designer is a better designer. Our engineers are better coders. Our CEO is a better marketer. Our Chief of Staff is a better leader. Yes, I was very good at those things, but was I the best at any one of them? No. Painful, but true.
In other words: I was expendable. That phrase “we need specialists instead of generalists,” already haunts me. It will also be the last time I hear those words. Think I’m going to become a master in my next job? Yep. Better fucking believe it.
4. The grass is greener, goddamnit!
I can’t tell you the number of times I heard some variant of that phrase in the last week. “Something bigger and better is out there waiting for you.” “These things happen for a reason.” “You’ll find something even more exciting.” At first, I wrote it off as conciliatory bullshit. Those pearls of advice are so hackneyed that my stomach acid swirled at every utterance.
But when I took stock of my life and reflected on every failure, there’s a pattern: I’ve rebounded like Dennis Rodman on amphetamines. That failed Chemistry class? Highest GPA next quarter. Fired from my first job? Started my own company. Lost control of that company? Life-changing three month journey through Europe.
So contrary to my cliché aversion, I know this time will be no different. The signs are strong. I can’t see it yet, but I can feel the florescent green, Hulk-strength grass ready to shoot through the soil.
Over the last week, I’ve viewed this exit from every angle. Losing your job will facilitate that type of introspection. But one thought has prevailed over all the self-pity, anger, and dejection:
What an amazing Christmas present.