How I got fired, despaired for 6 months, and then learned from my mistakes

Getting fired is never fun. I only got fired once in my life, and that was definitely not the exception to the rule. If anything, I pretty much couldn’t feel a thing as it was happening. I barely remember the moment I was told I was out. Here’s the story of how I got fired, pretty much died inside for half a year, and then got offered a little lifeline after learning from my mistakes.

Long and hard I fought myself over whether I should post this. I mean, it’s not exactly a shining time of my career, something I can boast about. It might even kill off my freelancing career. And then I considered whether anyone would be interested enough to read this (depressing?) post. Who would? But the truth is, it’s a post I’ve been writing in my head for a year now, and it needs out, because we’re all human: we all makes mistakes. No one is untouchable.

How I got fired

I’m not going to make excuses. I’m not going to blame the boss or whine. I am, however, going to explain things from where it all began. It still doesn’t make how I acted or thought okay, but there’s the background from my actions.

I was 26. Two years or so before, I’d been amicably laid off from a job at a newspaper company that was moving out of town, with the certainty that I had another job lined up: the job of a lifetime. My sister likes to call the next two years my “college years” because of the sheer amount of partying that resulted in lots of photos on my facebook timeline. Let me just be clear that I didn’t drink much; I’ve never had a taste for drinking myself silly.

Basically, I moved abroad to teach English in South Korea for two years. There, I had a kind of freedom I’d never tasted before. I traveled to Thailand, to the Philippines, to Japan, to Hong Kong, etc. I learned a new alphabet (Hangul) and a new language (Korean) to get by. I lived by myself for the first time in my life. Every day was interesting, fascinating, amazing. I had an easy job (sat at my desk from 9 am to 1 pm, then actually taught from 1:30 pm to 7 pm) and a meagre salary, but I lived life to the fullest and had interesting, life-changing experiences as well as indelible discussions with people from all over the world who marked my life forever.

Coming back home was essentially traumatic. Sure, after the cramped buildings and lit-up business signs everywhere, the wide open expanses of Montreal’s undeniably underpopulated (by comparison) streets were a breath of fresh air. I’d begun to feel claustrophobic. No, coming back home was traumatic work-wise.

Wouldn't you feel claustrophobic?

Wouldn’t you feel claustrophobic?

See, I’d lost all of my carefully cultured business ethics while I was in Korea. Did I mention I had an easy job? Did I forget to mention that I lived near the sea? I really had a good life there. Sure, it was a slightly polluted beach and they installed buoys super close to the shore because they didn’t want you drowning (even though I almost became a lifeguard a while back… so swimming is no problem for me haha) and I barely had any days off. You think we don’t have enough holidays in the western world? Think again! Go live in Asia and then come back and tell me how I’m right. But I’d begun to grow lazy over the two years. It’s kind of insidious because you have to go in to work to basically sit at your desk and pretend to be up to your elbows in work. During my second year I lived just above my school so I basically played video games right up till the moment I had to go in to teach the rugrats (however, yes, I did arduously prepare a teaching schedule every week, and I had to do a lot of diary corrections every night, so don’t give me that look, I needed to give my brain some slack after staring at hardly comprehensible English).

I remember having conversations with my good friend Patrick, he too a graphic designer, who felt afraid of returning home because he’d gotten so used to his Korean lifestyle: slacking a bit and work was basically having fun with kids. Who wouldn’t grow used to that? Who would prefer sitting at a blasted desk all day being someone’s underling with no hope of ever seeing the sunlight? Pssh! We could sit at our desks and stare at the sun or watch movies or post on facebook for most of the day without anyone ever breathing down our necks or telling us we were fired for slacking at work. We had language on our side. We were the native speakers. We were the authority when it came to English. Our Korean co-teachers needed us. We were treated like kings. We were untouchable (unless we took drugs, in which case, anyeong~!)

This is not to say that we or I were terrible employees. Like I said, I dutifully typed up my schedules, figured out activities to do in class so as not to bore the kids, ways to engage the students and communicate, to interest them and to fight for their futures in an increasingly competitive international business world (think of it this way: the business world speaks English, Koreans don’t. They mostly work their butts off trying to up their games in order to better their lives and get a raise, yet can’t comprehend that they need something called practice). As a native French speaker myself, I probably understood more than any of my fellow teaching friends the struggles these kids (and adults) were going through.

So no, I was a hardworking, dedicated teacher. Untrained in the education department, granted (even though I did get a TEFL certificate to better my chances of getting the job in the first place), but I worked my little butt off trying to give my students a chance. But, I did develop bad habits: playing video games to pass the time at home, watching movies while correcting my students’ work, thinking I could delay a task because “I can do it later”…

I spent two months or so looking for a job after I came back home. In the end, I landed one, in the web/graphic design field. Things were all right, not perfect, I easily got bored doing the same repetitive stuff over and over, and I made mistakes because I wasn’t paying attention. In Korea, this would have been brushed off as a cute clumsy trait of character. Here? Not so much.

What went wrong? I wasn’t used to the corporate world anymore. And I also wasn’t used to web design anymore. These did me in, as I made work etiquette after web design mistake over and over again during the three months of probation I spent there.

(I originally wrote some of the reasons I think I was fired but realized I started this off by saying I wouldn’t try to blame my ex-employer. Oops. So I’ll lay off on the angst.) I was fired on a Friday almost-noon of August, pretty much the day my three months’ benefits would have started rolling in. It was going to be my day off early. The company had a “reward” system in the summer (only) whereby we would alternate Friday afternoons off. I think that the day before I’d fucked up our homepage royally because I’d thought the CEO had approved an element, but in the end, he hadn’t, and besides I’d stretched the image badly (there was no previewing tool on our CMS – content management system, which meant every update you kind of hoped everything looked as awesome as in Dreamweaver). I think I knew I was going to get fired and had wondered idly why they’d kept me as long as they did, yet at the same time, I felt unreasonably invincible post-Korea, for some reason, like nothing could touch me because I’d “seen it all”. Boy was I wrong…

In the end, 11 am rolled in and my manager too and she assigned one of the projects I’d been working on for about a month to someone else, and that’s when I said “I thought I was working on that?” and she muttered something under her breath while leaving our workroom. Next thing I knew, the Human Resources lady came in and asked to speak to me. I was whisked downstairs into a room where my manager was already seated, tapping as she was wont to do on her smartphone (she did that at my initial interview, and I should have clicked that I would never enjoy working with someone like that; I have a solid aversion to people who can’t seem to stay off their phones, which was only deepened after working in Korea where my students couldn’t seem to do anything without their noses in their phones. But I was desperate for a job in my field after Korea). She didn’t say anything at all, only the HR lady, who promptly… I don’t even know.

I don’t remember much from that moment but she must have kept it quite short, and I think I said “Oh” at some point, although I felt empty. That’s all I remember. I also remember her asking me if I knew why, and me emptily responding with, “I think I do.” It was all the mistakes. However, I guess I’ll never absolutely know for certain, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Some days I feel like going back to my manager and demanding for her to tell me why because I’m a damn good graphic designer. But then I balk, because mistakes. I was a little careless. And it did me in. Even though I came to work a half hour early daily due to bus schedules. But, as opposed to Korea where that would have tipped the scales in my favour because no one, no one is late or misses a day of work even when they’re sick, here in the West your mistakes far outweigh your punctuality and agreeability.

Guess I wasn’t so Western anymore…

How I despaired for the next 6 months

I was pretty much stunned the entire day after that and needed some very intensive video gaming / raiding / creating new toons and getting them raid-ready for the rest of the week because I just wanted to forget the entire thing had happened and feel better. In some way, I felt glad to be rid of that place, and gaming was cathartic because it gave me something I had control over to enjoy. However, it marked the end of my carefree, nothing-can-touch-me attitude that I’d garnered over the last few years. I don’t feel like that at all anymore, and sometimes I stress again over nothing at all. Bless my boyfriend for his nerves.

It left me empty. I’ve had experience with depression since childhood, so I knew what was hitting me right then. My fighting spirit had crashed down on me due to my own stupid mistakes and the failure I’d engineered by myself. I knew that. I admitted as much from the beginning of the whole ordeal. All the self-assurance that I’d worked so hard to acquire in Korea: poof.

For six months I buried myself in a video game. To this day I still play it whenever I can, but back then it was my lifeline and pretty much the only thing I wanted to pay attention to, the only thing I wanted to put effort into, because for those six months, and even now actually, I felt so ashamed of myself that I didn’t get out, didn’t want to see anyone, even my own family.

In essence, I hid from my problems. I know that today. Oh, I did start applying for new jobs maybe the day after I got fired, but I had no hope that anyone would want to hire a girl who’d been fired for being careless. It was always awkward trying to explain why my old job let me go. All the “I’ve learned from my experience” meant nothing to employers, it seemed. At that point, I think I still blamed my old employer. I mean, I still don’t think awesomely of them, but I try not to let anger rule me like it did then. I think that’s why I was still getting snubbed by potential employers. Well, that, and one of them was a company that runs a big-time adult website, and I wasn’t exactly psyched at the idea of seeing boobs and penises all day. Sorry.

I try not to let anger rule me like it did then. I think that’s why I was still getting snubbed by potential employers. They could sense it. So on I sank into depression. I lost hope.

Ironically the moment I came back home after losing my job was also the moment I started talking to my boyfriend outside of raiding on our game; he wondered why I was home early. When I explained, a little dead inside and a little blubbery, he immediately moved us to a private chatroom and was all ears. I guess I’ll always associate the start of our relationship with the kind of heartbreak that accompanies losing a job… which is pretty sad and twisted, but there you go. That’s how we started. He supported me through it all and encouraged me to look past my depression and lethargy, to laugh at silly things and at myself, and to start appreciating some things in life. It’s still a work in progress (my life-appreciating, not the relationship!) but I am leagues better now than I was back then.

I was a mess.

Every day was a painful reminder of the failure I’d become. Every month that passed by was a testament to how fucked I was. They say the longer you’re without a job, the harder it is to gain access to potential employers. I was the pest. I thought, dramatically, that my life was over and I’d never find an employer that would look past my mistakes and see the wealth of my true abilities.

How I rose again

Being fired made me humble again and realize that I’m not untouchable. It diminished me a lot, too, but once I got past  the bulk of the emotional hurdles (thanks, boyfriend!) I did rise again.

I’ll name my mother a culprit for that one: one day she was harassing me about what I was doing with my life, how I was wasting it, and dear God I didn’t even have a license. So in a fit of defiance I signed up for driving classes (this was pretty much the only thing I could have control over… it’s not like they could fire me or decide I wasn’t going to drive because I got fired), and then I stuffed the proof in her face to show her I wasn’t going to be license-less much longer. Well, I wouldn’t have a full license but I’d have a learner’s!

Next thing I knew, I got a phone call from a job I’d probably applied to like, two months before. Ironically, I ended up landing a job at a major local car dealership group… and I don’t even care much for cars!

I did make a lot of mistakes there in the beginning (don’t we all?), and I was scared shitless of being fired again after every single tiny mistake, but I learned some things from being fired.

  • I learned to take responsibility for my mistakes. This is hard to take, but if I botch something because I was looking at my deadline instead of the quality of my own work, then I have no one else to blame but myself.
  • I learned to accept rather than resent. The other place? I didn’t belong there.
  • I learned that my mistakes have made me stronger. Took a while, but I’m definitely not the same kind of worker.
  • I learned to accept myself for who I am. My job does not define me. Working there was not my life, it wasn’t meant to be, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
  • I learned that failure is just the beginning. My failure gave me the opportunity to question myself and find out who I really am.
  • I learned that making mistakes is not the end. Period. Errors are human. We’re the ones torturing ourselves because of them.
  • I learned that failure is not a failure until your abandon. I abandoned, therefore it was a failure. But it kind of isn’t, because here I am today.
  • I learned that many successful people failed somehow. Inspiration goes a long way when you’re feeling depressed. Seriously. Although at first you kind of feel like they had lucky stars and you don’t.
  • I learned to take a fresh start for what it is: the opportunity to right my wrongs. This do-over re-energized me and gave me the wake-up call I needed to view my life in a slightly different way.

To end this long story…

Getting fired hurts like a knife in the guts, and can kill you as surely as if you had truly been gutted. However, it is an opportunity to take a step back, make peace with yourself and learn from your mistakes. It was an opportunity for me to try to salvage my life and build it to take the reins.

I hope you can learn from my experience with failure. Let me know if something similar has happened to you, and how you’ve personally dealt with it.