How getting fired advanced my career


Considering my next assignment as a project rather than a job has worked very well for me. Interviews were initiated by me, I defined the agenda and I chaired the meetings. After all it was me looking for a project that matched my ambitions and not me trying to fit into a job defined by someone else. Several times the project that I landed wasn’t even defined when I knocked on the door.


I have been fired five times in the course of my 35 years + in business and I actually benefited tremendously and learned quite a lot from being “pink-slipped,” as they say in the US.

I worked with 11 companies in this period, plus had a number of teaching and board of directors positions until I started my own company in 2003.

I got fired for the following reasons:

  • M&A situations: Twice (I was a poor fit for the new situation)
  • Disagreement over strategy and operations: Three times (I want to do it thisway and they want to do it that way)

The lessons I learned from being fired were:

  • It is certainly not the end of the world (after the 2nd time you become a PRO)
  • It can pay very well (bank the severance package and find a new project)
  • Maybe I should have initiated the break myself
  • It pushed me in new directions where I could learn new things, become more valuable and be more content

I never got fired without a good reason and even though I, for a moment, felt like the one losing a battle that I had decided to fight, the outcome was always better than the situation I was in. It forced me to carefully consider what I really wanted to do with my life. It taught me what I valued and disliked in an organization, to be much more critical and selective, to ask better and tougher questions, to downplay the remuneration part (I would always catch up anyway when I showed results), to assess if I could identify with the new project mission and check if I could respect and work with my new peers.

I have only ever ONCE applied for a position that was being formally advertised, and at the time I was still in gainful employment. I have also been approached by headhunters, but only once did I take a project through this channel. It is flattering to be approached by headhunters, but what they bring along is obviously outside our control. Most of the time I was in projects where I had no plans to leave and when I was in between projects what they brought along seldom matched with my plans.

Take time-out

When I was fired I always took a month off to define the new course of my life, do some research, list the companies that would match my ambitions and then get in touch with the CEOs or chairmen (of the Board of Directors) to start the “sales” process. With this approach I always ended up with alternative project offers to choose from.

Look for projects, not for jobs

Considering my next assignment as a project rather than a job has worked very well for me. Interviews were initiated by me, I defined the agenda and I chaired the meetings. After all it was me looking for a project that matched my ambitions and not me trying to fit into a job defined by someone else. Several times the project that I landed wasn’t even defined when I knocked on the door.

In 2003 I decided to start my own company and I have only fired myself a couple of times for wandering off in the wrong direction. I have managed to talk my way back in after redefining the project.

PS. I realize that I am fortunate, that I benefit from living in a place where there are always projects available and that I have very few competitors for the projects that I go for. I am not ignorant to the fact that there are environments and situations completely different from mine and where unemployment is a tragedy that is very difficult to overcome.