In his great blog “Planning Startup Stories,” Tim Berry always has seasoned advice about business planning and being an entrepreneur. His 9/21/11 post entitled “Why Don’t We Include Failures in Speakers’ Bios?” came at a moment when I had just been asked by someone as to how to spin the fact that he’d been fired.
This person thought that he had failed, and wanted to hide the fact from future employers. I told him not to massage the truth; instead be upfront and prepared to explain the circumstances.
After reading Berry’s post, I heartily agree that failures are important to the process of success. Even though some people seem to be able to catch lightening in a bottle over and over again, I somewhat distrust anyone who hasn’t developed some scar tissue–either through failures or getting fired.
A while ago, I was fired from a position where I consistently received glowing, annual reviews and kudos from within and without the organization. I was asked to resign, but threw the gauntlet at the Executive Director and said that he would have to fire me. My decision was based on ethical reasons and I wanted to bring this to the attention of the Board of Directors. Unfortunately, it took a legal investigation which discovered serious improprieties by the Director for him to resign 20 minutes before the Board meeting during which the report was to be discussed. By then, about 90% of the original staff of this organization was also fired or resigned under pressure. The intervening period so crippled this non-profit that it took years and several turn-overs of the management team to put the pieces together again.
My husband was horrified that I didn’t used the euphemism of being “laid off” when people asked me what had happened. When I interviewed for jobs I would say: “Yes, I was fired–and I’m Proud of It!” Perhaps it was my no-nonsense tone-of-voice or my honesty that took an interviewer’s breath away, but my stance was always interpreted as a badge of courage.
Being fired gave me a chance to stand on principles that I believed in. Just as valuable, having failures in my career taught me more valuable lessons than easy successes. A friend said recently that people don’t learn from success, only failures. While I might not go this far, I am proud of the difficult times that I’ve survived, just as I’m happy with my successes.