Thursday 22 February 2018

'You're fired' - how being sacked can be the best thing to stir ambition

Losing your job may seem like the end of the world when it happens, but experts say it could be good for the soul

Lord Sugar pointed the finger early in the latest episode of The Apprentice (BBC/PA)
Lord Sugar pointed the finger early in the latest episode of The Apprentice (BBC/PA)
Dervla Wyley was made redundant three times

Tanya Sweeney

It's not often that the world looks to Anna Wintour for sage advice, but when she said that everyone should be fired at least once in life, she was probably on to something.

And she should know: Wintour credits her abrupt removal from Harper's Bazaar when she was a lowly fashion assistant in 1976 for spurring her on to the dizzy peaks of the fashion industry.

The US Vogue editor isn't the only one to be candid about her firing. In fact, a raft of others have credited the initial ignominy of losing their job with propelling them to greater things.

From Steve Jobs and Michael Bloomberg to Oprah Winfrey and JK Rowling, some of the world's biggest icons have had that long, fateful walk to the boardroom.

Dervla Wyley was made redundant three times
Dervla Wyley was made redundant three times

And others have gotten a bestseller out of the experience. Maria Hatzistefanis was working as a banker at Salomon Brothers in London, and found herself immersed in the sector's macho, sink-or-swim culture.

"I had to work weekend after weekend, and even cancel my Christmas holidays at a day's notice. I had zero time off and no friends," she told The Sunday Times recently.

"Two years in, I started to question whether the Prada suits and first-class flights were worth the effort and sacrifice. I was no longer loving my job, or my life, and was starting to feel lost. But how would I justify leaving this position - once the job of my dreams - after I'd spent two hard years and a lot of money studying to get there?"

In the end, the decision was made for her. Maria was called into a boardroom and told she would have to be let go. After the initial panic and humiliation, she tried a different tack. Realising her love of luxury skincare, she founded the high-end brand Rodial 18 years ago. Several awards and many millions later, she has since written a book, called How To Be An Overnight Success.

"It was an opportunity to take stock, clear my head and find the inspiration to start something that excited me," she says. "Getting the sack may suck at the time, but in the long run, you will be better off."

Elsewhere in the upper echelons of style, British Vogue's former style director Lucinda Chambers broke protocol when she revealed that her parting with the magazine hadn't been amicable or mutual: "I didn't leave. I was fired," she claimed with admirable candour.

Tough times: Former 'Vogue' stylist Lucinda Chambers claimed she was fired from the magazine
Tough times: Former 'Vogue' stylist Lucinda Chambers claimed she was fired from the magazine

And, as it happens, Chambers had probably felt an ill fit for the job for quite some time.

"Maybe I was too close to it after working there for so long, but I never felt I led a Vogue-y kind of life," she told online publication Vestoj. "The clothes are just irrelevant for most people - so ridiculously expensive." Chambers wasn't afraid to admit that some of her work was "really crappy," noting that the June cover with Alexa Chung "in a stupid Michael Kors T-shirt is crap", but that the designer was a significant advertiser in the magazine.

According to psychologist Allison Keating at the BWell Clinic in Malahide (, losing a job could be just the challenge you never knew you needed.

"In this day and age, when financial security isn't what it used to be, people find it very hard to walk away from a job, even if it's the wrong one," she says. "And if you're in a job that doesn't match your core values, you will be miserable.

"We do grow through crisis and adversity too," she adds. "Losing your job, and getting fired especially, does feel like a rejection, but it's also an opportunity to reflect, take responsibility and ownership for your life.

"There's no better time to check: 'what am I good at?' 'How can I be useful?' 'What would match my values and be more fulfilling for me?'"

She adds: "A lot of very high-flying people talk about a time earlier in their careers when they were fired, and it was very positive. I can see how you can definitely grow through these challenging times, as in: 'God, I actually got through this.'"

Sandyford native Dervla Wyley hadn't been fired, but went through the process of losing her job not once, but three times. She admits that her move from corporate programme manager to holistic therapist and painter wasn't a straightforward one.

"I was made redundant three times in six years - twice in one year in one building," she recalls. "Initially yes, it was traumatic as I was totally identified by my job in my 30s, and I had just bought my apartment when I turned 30 so there was all that added pressure.

"The third time it happened, at the height of the recession, it was almost laughable," she adds. "At that stage I threw my hands up in the air and said, 'OK universe, I get the message!'"

She took a course on how to start a business, and availed of all the mentoring and training that she could. Amid it all, she started to paint.

And yet, it wasn't a smooth transition, and things got worse before they got better.

"I was hitting brick walls," she recalls. "It was a catch-22. I became over-qualified for jobs and no one would touch me. I had all this education but no practical experience post-recession."

A period of ill-health due to overwork while she was in her 20s had prompted her to seek out complementary medicine. It was a sector she became drawn to, and eventually qualified in.

Dervla travelled to the US and Spain to work as a healer, but came home to Ireland last July when her funding ran out. There was also a short spell sleeping in homeless shelters. What pulled her from the brink, Dervla says, was meditating, exercising, self-healing and journalling.

"I had six diplomas, six healing therapies, I was a personal trainer and I couldn't get a job even waitressing as I hadn't any practical experience in 20 years," she admits.

"I used all my skills at my disposal and got into survival mode, quite frankly. At that point, I started journaling."

Writing up her experiences into a novella, Dervla negotiated a book deal, and used the small advance to move to Melbourne, where she now works as a healer. Her book (written under a pseudonym) is in development, and she has been approached by several parties who want to license her paintings.

"It's been stressful but I wouldn't be the person I am if I hadn't experienced all that I have," she says.

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger and the old saying that God doesn't give you anything more than what you can handle certainly rings true.

"The most important thing is self-belief. Anyone who says I can't do something, that just pushes me further. I'm 10 years out of the corporate world and don't regret a single thing."

If you've lost your job...

If you lost your job through incompetence or poor performance, DO be sure to spend time reflecting on why. "If you got fired for not being good at your job, it can be a pivotal moment," says Keating. "If a mistake was made, simply figure out how to avoid doing it again."

DO see it as a natural part of life. "I think we need to welcome the inevitability of dark times in our lives," says Keating. "We've become a little allergic to the realities of life, and stuff will come at you in the wrong time, at the wrong way. It's okay to be angry or upset, but have some compassion for yourself."

DON'T just jump back in and find a similar job if it's not the kind of job you want. "I don't believe in top-coating the experience and moving on," says Keating. "Otherwise, you'll have missed the point."

DO realise when you're getting stuck. "Welcome in the vulnerability and feelings of shame and embarrassment," advises Keating. "There is no way around it, only through it. I understand why people would want to go into a protective cocoon and hide away, but you will need to put yourself out there. But if a certain amount of time has passed and you're not out of your pyjamas, think about talking to a professional."

Irish Independent

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