I’ve been fired. Before. It’s not something I’ve talked about too much on this blog, or in public generally, but I was pretty much fired from my first job as a lawyer. I say “pretty much” for a few reasons. In the end it was a mutual parting of ways as I’d found another job and was moving on to that new gig, though my then-terminating employer definitely pushed me to find something. Also, it wasn’t a firing exactly. Things just really weren’t working out at the firm – they were ready for me to go – but they also tried their best to be humane and supportive. Simultaneously, I was really unhappy but, at the time, I continued to hold on to the job because I didn’t have the wherewithal to figure out what direction to go. And that was the hardest part. It definitely hurt to look in the mirror and own that, at least in someone else’s eyes, I just wasn’t cutting it. However, struggling to pick myself up and put that critique into context was extra sucky.
Interestingly, it was about the time of my firing that I became familiar with the band Fun.
Now, I want to take a quick pause on this narrative about one of the most disruptive things that can happen to a person in their lifetimes, losing one’s job, and be sure to clearly establish that I was a fan of Fun before they made it big with their hit “We Are Young” feat. Janelle Monae. I first heard the song “Light a Roman Candle with Me” from their first album, Aim and Ignite, on a Pandora station back in 2009. I want it made clear that I’m not some bandwagon Fun fan. Now that we’ve taken care of that, back to the story.
Fun was not the first musical venture for lead singer, Nate Ruess. In fact he was in a modestly successful independent band, The Format, just before he formed Fun. This article which I found and read back in the day talks about how quickly Ruess assembled the trio we now know as Fun after the end of The Format. He starts out talking about phone calls he received immediately after The Format broke up:
“‘People called and said, “I don’t know what you’re gonna do now,”‘ Ruess says. “To me, it was like, are you kidding? I know exactly what I’m gonna do! In the back of my mind, I’d always wanted to work with other people . . . ”
[The article continues.]
Just one day after being told The Format was no more, Ruess reached out to multi-instrumentalist Andrew Dost. . . . Ruess [also] dialed his longtime friend, guitarist Jack Antonoff of Steel Train. . . . A week later, Ruess and Dost were in New Jersey, where they set to work in Antonoff’s parents’ living room.”
Career transitioners, take note!
First, when you’re in the midst of a career transition people will say: “I don’t know what you’re going to do next!” While these people are well-meaning, this is a terrible thing to say and a harder thing to hear. You’ve got to be ready to deal with it though because you’ll hear it both from other people and from inside your own head. What can you say in response? Enter Nate Ruess.
“To me, it was like, are you kidding? I know exactly what I’m gonna do!”
Wow! Being fired threw me for a big old loop. I spent a lot of energy worrying about what went wrong. So much, in fact, that I completely lost sight of working on how I was going to move forward. It took me a long time to regain clarity about that. In contrast Ruess knew exactly what he wanted. Right out of the gate.
Finally, Reuss called up his first new bandmate and started building a new band the next day. And, a week later he was in New Jersey working with Fun. He didn’t waste a minute getting started with what was next. In hindsight this story may look rosy. “Sure” you might say “easy for Ruess. He went on to found a very successful band.” I agree, but Ruess had no idea that Fun would be that successful when he founded it. And as an early Fun fan I can attest that I read this story before Fun got huge. And back then it was still just as inspiring because it’s not that he went on to huge success that’s so remarkable. it’s how quickly he was able to find his footing.
How many of you – how many of us – if told our jobs were ending today or tomorrow would be able to say “Are you kidding? I know exactly what I’m going to do!” in response to the scary question of “What are you doing to do next?” How many of us have a short list of the people we’d call up the next day to ask about working together? How many of us could, within a week, be surrounded by those people working on a new project?
There’s some part of a career transition that you can control and some part you can’t. It really stings when someone tells you that despite your best efforts, they just don’t think that you are providing value. But keeping one clear eye on what you want on the horizon is very helpful when all the other things that are keeping you stable are pulled out from under you.
There’s an open question, and one that probably merits further thought, regarding the health of constantly planning for your exit while working full time for an employer. I’ll be honest that I’m not exactly sure how to balance that and I’d love to see some response posts or feedback on social media about whether I’m telling people to adopt a bad career mindset. I can say that, for me, this horizon-centric career approach has been very valuable.
Back when I lost my job I told an older, wiser friend about my bad fortune. He smiled and replied very kindly “Oh, you haven’t really lived until you’ve been fired.” While I’d never wish a career transition on anyone it gives me heart to see how different people deal with it, even modestly (at the time) successful now hugely-successful rock stars. I hope this story about Fun and some part of my own story are helpful to you. I hope you can find it in yourself to say, even quietly, “Are you kidding? I know exactly what I’m gonna do!” in the face of your career transitions. Even better, for those of you who are secure but also know you want more, I’d challenge you to think about what it is that you’d want if you did need to make a transition and what the first steps you’d take would be.
I’m building a community of agile, excited, inspired legal professionals. People who are constantly looking to the horizon and keeping one eye on the prize, on their prize. People who, even if they can’t do it perfectly emotionally, respond to change by saying “Are you kidding? I know exactly what I’m gonna do!” Are you one of them? If so, sign up for the Right Brain Law newsletter and we’ll build something awesome together.