5 Ways I Found True Happiness After Getting Fired

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In order to capture the depth of nausea that I felt on the day that I got fired, you need to picture me sitting across from my boss in his glaringly sunny office. Then you need to envision giant tufts of wiry white hair sprouting out from the neck of his company logoed polo shirt.

If you look two feet behind him, you’ll see the star of the show: a dented box that every terminated person has received since the beginning of time. It looks as if someone has jumped up and down on it before hurling it at the brown particle board bookcase that it lays in front of–dead.

And, of course, there’s the company lawyer. I always forget about her. She didn’t say much, but I think she was there in case I decided to go from fired to disgruntled.

“This is difficult for me,” my boss says.

Counsel shakes her head solemnly as if someone just told her that she’d lost her designated parking spot.

“Very hard,” she agrees. We all sit there, saying nothing for several moments until my boss breaks the silence.

“Your position has been eliminated,” he announces, and then gestures to the box behind him as if to say, Time to pack!

The Makings of a “Dignity Plan”

Four months earlier, Bain Capital had acquired the small marketing company where I’d worked for 20 years. Rumors of a gigantic equity firm swooping in and pillaging our business had swirled for years, so when it finally happened, everything and everyone unraveled.

There were closed-door meetings filled with desperado eye contact. Passing someone in the hall was like seeing another prisoner in the weight yard. Several people had permanent expressions that telegraphed Help! I’m going bonkers.

During this delightful period, I started having heart palpitations. As a Vice President, I was involved in some strategic pow-wows, but my gut feeling was that I was on the short list to get booted.

I wasn’t the only one filled with paranoid dread. I remember being in the elevator with a colleague who admitted his fear of getting fired the minute the doors shut. I offered support, gave him the just-do-your-best speech–but he didn’t buy it.

Looking back, neither did I. That period of time was wrought with such hideous scrutiny and confusion that, even if I had been gung-ho about our new leader’s money-making agenda, I couldn’t have survived the ongoing soul-chafing chaos.

RELATED: Burnout 101: Why I Walked Out on My Job … and Don’t Regret It

What I needed was a plan. Some kind of mission to muster a Post-It note’s worth of dignity that involved more than walking around looking like I was going to vomit.

I needed inner oomph.

  • RWNW

    It’s very annoying how these articles are formatted. The page loads very slowly, and it’s silly how they make us click to 3 pages total. User-unfriendly.

    • Cocoachanel74

      You could not be more right!!! I have to make a decision on whether I want to even open this site! Good info but, yes. the format is annoying…. 

    • MAK

         @ RWNW you’re complaining about the littlest thing. What about the article itself. I felt it was insightful. I went through a similar experience. Did many of the same things the author did. I also started getting together my contact list months before the layoff hit. When it did finally hit, I felt relieved. I was ready, and as I shook my boss’s hand, I smiled, thanked him, wished him luck, and walked away with my head held up high. The trick is to be prepared, do your best while working, and know that you gave it your best effort.

    • MagentaRhina

      They do it to track your clicks to measure engagement. its a marketing metrics strategy.  

      • Jane jetson2000

        So true.  You would think the advertisers would know about that.  They do of course but it is just the business model for now.  Not reader friendly but the content price is very friendly. 

  • jb

    “Why NOT me?” the perfect question to ask.

  • Lucille Austero

    I commend Amy for her plan and attitude, but for so many people who live paycheck to paycheck, there is going to be a lot more panic.  She didn’t mention supporting a family or anything, so that is something she doesn’t have to worry about.  If you have people depending on you financially, then you really don’t have time to take baths and read back issues of Oprah-you need to go out and find a new job right away.  Also, it seems that many people who leave the corporate world somehow go and find work as writers-a dream job for many, I assume, but maybe not the easiest job to get.  Please understand that I am not a hater (I am so pro-woman!), just pointing out that while her plan worked for her and probably others, so many other people are in a different place/situation and may not be able to relate. 

    • Kelli

      Lucille-I get what you are saying but this is HER story. She isn’t telling yours or anyone else’s.

    • Kathryn

       The same thing happened to me, but I was not a VP with savings to fall back on. I was a worker-bee with a position much further down the food chain. My first fear was about  money and how I was going to survive. And yes, I agree with the comment about all these articles about people getting fired and then deciding to follow their dream….which usually entails buying land and raising goats/becoming a writer/developing their own line of hand-spun yarn or some such! And usually the person was an attorney bringing down large sums of money pre-firing. Ugh.

      Real life: After I was fired from my soul-sucking job from a soul-sucking corporate firm , I really was panicked because I came from a very vulnerable position. But I filed and received unemployment and scaled back my lifestyle to the very bare rock bottom minimum. And then I basically did everything the author did and with wonderful success. I really did need time to decompress and find myself after years of scrambling to meet unrealistic expectations. I worked short-term contracts and part-time jobs and networked a LOT and rested and walked and listened to myself for the first time in so ling I couldn’t remember! And no, I didn’t become an author! I found a way to do my job with integrity and I found of group of wonderful, decent people who have the same goals. Before I got fired, I went to work with a stomach-ache every single day. Now I work mostly from my home office and rarely worry about anything other than meeting my reasonable deadlines. Getting fired was a blessing but now I can see that I was held in that horrible job by my own fears and the other opportunities that I eventually found were there all along. It just took getting fired to get me out into the world to find them. Cheers!

      • Amy Shouse

        It sounds like you made it through to the other side—congratulations!  My job was just about as soul sucking as it gets so I relate to your comment.  When I look back to who I was along the way and where I am now I really feel like I paid my dues over those long hard 20 years and now I’m back on track.  You’re so right about getting fired being a blessing in disguise—-even though it’s, understandably, terrifying to think of.  

      • EG

        Actually, I was an attorney who made $50k a year before taxes. It was brutal when I got fired, so not all attorneys bring in gobs of money and have tons and tons to fall back on. My health insurance alone took up a huge chunk. So, I would avoid generalizing.  

        • Kathryn

           Hi EG! Yes, you are correct, of course. I was referring to those really annoying articles by people who did fit the above description (lost my job and went after my dream of making artisan goat cheese with my FAT savings to lift me toward my dreams….). I alternately want to laugh and cry when I read that stuff because having a whopping cushion from whatever profession makes doing a major life transition much (MUCH) easier. Most people are like you and I- just trying to figure out the next best step that has the most integrity and still keep a roof over our heads. And yes, it WAS brutal when I got fired and I understand about health insurance as I can longer afford it and let it go. OTOH, I am so much further ahead in terms of finding a way to make a living and still have a life so for now, the tradeoff is worth it. Best of luck to you in your endeavors, however and wherever they lead you! Peace!

      • Lizamariewhite82

        and now you are living life with no regrets…truth be told a lot of us were stuck in dead end jobs and if it wasn’t for us being fired we would probably still be there stuck and miserable looking for a way out. Kudos to you!!

        • Pax2006

           That’s very kind of you. More realistically, life forced me to make the changes and faith in myself and the Universe helped me to not go crazy. lol

    • Lizamariewhite82

      I understand were you are coming from….but sometimes people ae at a point where they were not really happy in their jobs to begin with andthem getting fired is like a fresh start….sure at first it will ne hard but with all things you will adjust and hopefully move onto a better opportunity and not another dead end job where you will be miserable.

  • Katelyn Murphy-McCarthy

    Great writing!  Looks like you’ve found a great fit.

  • FRANKPRESTIGIACOMO

    Thank you Amy, I wish I had your points 15 years ago when I got downsized. Today I am happy retired from the work force and doing what I always loved to do, reading about investments and inversting.  It was a hard road to go, but I made it.  Thanks again. Frank Prestigiacomo,ex-accountant.

  • Debra811

    Site was slightly annoying but the article was very good.  Similar situation happened to me…devastativing although I lived through it…my decision was wether to retire or find some other position.  I chose to retire and do some historical volunteer work and it is working out.

    • Amy Shouse

      Sounds like you followed your instinct—congratulations!  It’s easy to lose track of your gut feeling when you’re in a situation that may be draining to your creativity and spirit…at least it was for me!

  • Lynniewyman@yahoo.com

    Wow ! Sounds like me. I worked in a hospital for 28 years in 2 departments I started at 17 so I’m not that old. When I lost it 18 months ago my world shattered I was the hoh benifits etc. Today I am STill unemployed cannot find a job and my unemployment runs out in 4 weeks. Besides spending almost all day searching on every web site
    For something that doesn’t exist also the Major depression here I sit….

    • Amy Shouse

      Don’t give up!  Keep moving forward.  Do at least one thing that feels like it’s inching you in the right direction.  Hang in there!  

  • lazysherpa

    Great writing. Very funny about the box and slow move.

  • Rosetree88

    Good article but I still wonder about the “nuts and bolts” of it that aren’t really my business. IE– how much did you have in savings and liquid assets when you were laid off, did you have any debt, what was your pay for unemployment and savings vs nonnegotiable expenses and how long did it take for you to stop living off of saved money/ unemployment and earning a profit once again?

  • GaryWCameron

    Really appreciate your article.  It is nearly a mirror image of my own situation over the last year.  I was let go in a downsizing just over a year ago.  It was the best thing that has ever happened to me.  I’ve looked for jobs over the course of the entire time, but I’ve also spent time doing things I couldn’t find time to do when I was working like a slave to my old employer.  I’ve learned more about myself and what I want out of life in 12 months than I had in the previous 42 years.  Now, I’m starting my own business, going in a completely different direction than what my career had been.  If I had just completely sunk myself into a job search as an all-encompassing activity, I would be going back to a career that was creating nothing but misery in my life.  My simple advice to anyone who finds themselves in this position is: “Were you happy doing the work you were doing?”  If the answer is no, then you OWE it to yourself to take some time and figure out what you’d truly love to do, and go do it!!

    • Amy Shouse

      So agree with you.  I found that such a fog lifted when I wasn’t in a toxic environment.  I had really adapted to feeling like I didn’t matter.  

  • Guest

    When my position was eliminated I had been off on FMLA taking care of my terminally ill husband.  After his passing my life spiralled out of control. I was placed on leave by my family physician.  Then I received a letter stating my position wasn’t being held as soon as my FMLA ran out. I asked my doctor to release me against her better judgement.  I found out that my position was still open since some of my co-workers had stayed in contact with me while I was off.  I called and emailed the HR rep. for a week and on Friday of that week which was the 13th I was told over the telephone they were eliminating my position and combining it with another job. They packed up my belongings and sent them by FedX.   I didn’t have  college degree so I would not be considered for the position.   
    After talking to several people I have been told the much younger lady that took my place didn’t have a college degree.  If only I could have someone get it in writing I would have grounds to sue this company since I am almost 58. 
    My stress level in the supervision position I held would be too much for me to handle.  I have faith in God who has walked with me through all of this. He will take care of me.

  • KTorva

    What a great piece. These 5 pieces of advice can apply to anyone unhappy in a career. Thanks for such an insightful article. You have a clear talent for writing!

  • Shelby

    This fantastic article is right on target.  Many of us either left or were pushed out of horrible soul and esteem draining positions – only to find, after the mind-numbing fear and anguish and self-questioning and self-doubt receeded, that it was the most wonderful thing that had happened to us in a million years.  I learned so much about myself through this real life black hole–it was an invaluable and precious experience, as it was for Ms. Shouse.  It is our gain as readers, that she followed her heart and regained her soul.

  • Monalisset

    Well done! What a graceful approach to something so inevitable. Congratulations on your new life/career. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story.

  • Pal

    Hi there. 
    Thank you very much for being so vocal about your experience. I had a similar experience when my boss simply told me that I am being transferred to another department. The reason being they have to accommodate someone from the HQs upon the top most officials orders. I now regret that I was not so vocal about it. Maybe I was a little less experiences ( and had lesser gumption) than you. However, now I see that it was a blessing in disguise for me. I got my act together and got a job in one of my dream companies in New Delhi, even before I resigned from that very job.
    I am going to write about that experience on my personal blog pallavithinks.blogspot.com soon. 
    Thanks a lot for the inspiration!

    • Amy Shouse

      Writing about it really helped me and you are so right about it being a blessing in disguise!

  • Lasombra74

    I quit. Now I am on the search for my happiness at my own pace. Its scary when you’ve played the game and find out its fixed against you, then you start again… but this time your out for you.

    • Amy Shouse

      When in doubt. be you.  I used to have that on a Post-It note stuck to my computer!

  • Gratefully Downsized

    Great testimony, Amy. I too, was in a similar situation 2 years ago. I had been with the first and only employer that I began to work for just out of college, and had worked in various roles, i.e. management for 15 years. My position was eliminated due to politics. I was a good,dedicated worker with strong reviews and positive feedback. However, I was the least popular. I too, knew it my gut that it was going to happen, and had begun preparing myself mentally, as well as slowing cleaning out of my office. I handled the meeting with dignity, and exited with a smile and my head held high. It was the first time I’d been unemployed since I was 14 years old. I focused on spending more time with my wonderful children, working out more, writing, meditating, and figuring out what I wanted to do “with the rest of my life.” In the end, I moved across state to be closer to my family, found another position, and couldn’t be happier. It truly was a blessing in disguise.

    • Amy Shouse

      That sounds so similar to my experience.  Those 20 years were an integral part of my life but looking back I see them so differently now.  I see them with a sense of not settling.

  • CrankyFranky

    nice story Amy – ‘plan your own future, or your future will become part of someone else’s plans’

    I’m waiting for the axe to fall with predicted downsizing – and have been busy planning for the last 6 months – I cleared my desktop, and now just have a cupboard to go – nearing retirement age I’m unlikely to find another similar paying job, but am lucky to have (planned over the last 30 years) probably sufficient funds to retire now.

    losers always want to blame someone else for their life problems – while others around are moaning and complaining about how bad things are, and how things cannot be done because they tried something once and it didn’t work first time – winners pick themselves up, think, plan and act to make their own way to success.

    Well done !

  • Sarah

    I did a very similar thing a few years ago. Our office accountant, for an unknown reason, was given the new role of office manager. I never understood why we needed one in an office of 5 people, and despised him as he once told me he was only staying with the company until he had built up enough contacts within the industry to open his own firm. 
    Slowly but surely he began bringing up imaginary issues he had with each of us with the company’s Director. We were all, one by one, called into meetings where we were made to explain why a certain client had left or been overcharged or some other situation that had solely been the office manager’s doing. So I prepared myself to leave. I began making notes of contacts I had made for future networking, researching companies that were similar to the one I was at but for higher positions, and clearing out my desk. Every few days I would bring my large handbag to work and take home a few things, first from the drawers and then from the desk itself. It’s amazing how much you accumulate in two years! It gave me such a lift knowing that with every passing day I was less tied to that desk. I also started cutting back my spending so I’d have a buffer just in case the weasel managed to get me fired.

    It came to a head one rainy Friday in October of 2008. I was working from home, having been told the day before by the office manager that I sounded like I was getting a cold and he didn’t want me infecting the office. Yes, he used those words. It was about 8pm, after office hours, and I had an email from him, CCing in the Director, saying that he was missing some invoices (which I had already emailed to him twice) and that because I hadn’t been in the office he hadn’t been able to make his end of week report to the Director. I’d had enough. I was not going to be blamed for things I wasn’t responsible for anymore, and the Director had made it clear he was always going to take the office manager’s side. So I pulled up the undated resignation I had written a few weeks earlier and emailed it to the Director with a note that I would mail him a formal written copy as he was never in our office. 

    I have never felt so free as I did when I walked into the office on Monday morning. I had always been meticulous about keeping my client files updated, so I was able to do my handover in less than a week, and as a result my notice period was cut from two weeks to just 6 working days because there was nothing left for me to do in the office. I left feeling more confident than I ever had in my abilities, and less than a month after leaving I was offered a great freelance job starting six weeks later. Because I’d been careful about spending (and my great parents let me temporarily move back home) I was able to spend two months clearing through everything I’d had in storage and working on reconnecting with old contacts. 

    Four years on, I don’t regret leaving, and I know that the weeks I spent mentally preparing myself meant that when I did leave I didn’t fall into a black hole of self pity and doubt of how good I was at my job. There is nothing wrong with having a planned departure from a company, or preparing yourself for potentially being fired or made redundant. On the contrary, it can help you clarify exactly what is that you want from the jobs market and where you want your career to go. If I hadn’t started planning I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have been confident enough to apply for, and get, the role I got afterwards. 

    • Amy Shouse

      Totally relate.  Especially about the feeling of dread-dread-dread and then make a plan and then that free feeling.  It’s like you get to the glorious end of the line and you know you’re done.  Congratulations.

  • C.

    Inspiring and beautifully written.  I especially love the 5 Actions a Day Rule.

  • Maria Herndon

    I didn’t know you well. Now I know that you are an amazing and inspiring woman.

  • RaiseTheBar

    Amy,

    With all the TOXIC energy of that work environment, was a severance package (my guess) worth you and your co-workers waiting his/her turn to be fired?

    I applaud you having a game plan or as I refer to it, “A Fire-d Drill”.

  • Simontnyc

    Good article. Been fired myself and found your advice nails it. I would add that it’s always good to have some people who know you from former jobs to help you with any “what’s wrong with me issues?” as generally, if you have a solid track record (in my case, 4 years, 5 years and 4 years back to back to back including promotions) it’s not you, it’s the organization.

  • RaiseTheBar

    To Kathryn,

    I can relate to much of what you wrote.  I work temp. assignments on/ OFF as much as possible to avoid the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach from interacting with individuals who engage in the, “Last Rat Standing in the Rat Race” mode of existing.

    Please share how you were able to find Wonderful, Decent Individuals who shared your goals.

    My short-term goal is to earn enough income to meet my minimal monthly expenses working from my home office.

  • LF

    Th article is inspiring. I am currently in a soul sucking, soul destroying, life numbing job. Feb will make it 3 years I’ve been here. The first year, I was excited to go into work, the 2nd year, it started going south. Over the last year, things have just gotten completely out of hand and I no longer want to be here anymore. I just want out. I’ve been buried in so much work over the last year, I have completely forgotten who I am and all my personal relationships have been compromised.

    I already have an exit plan for May but I’m still scared as it’s a risk but I NEED to get back to who I am. I’m sick of suits, meetings and the rat race!

  • Julia

    I wished I would have read this article back in December of last year. I was let go from a job of only two months. Totally blindsided.It was the worst feeling I have ever had. I was able to go back to my former job, Thank God. I agree with on of the readers, when you live paycheck to paycheck you have no options but to look for another job. I count myself very lucky

  • linda dehart

    Congrats Amy! I have seen friends with Amy’s positive, go forward spirit change into life-giving women, after spending many years having their very soul being sucked right out. Of course anyone who faces the challenge of working a soul-sucking job will be in a unique situation of their own. I quit my “I work my ass off, while you make money off me” job…even with two teenagers at home. No fat savings account either. Said my prayers and never looked back.  I am now in my dream job! Thanks to some wise, womenly advice!

  • Sherry

    Amy, loved your story and could relate to most of your experience. I was not fired over a year ago but I watched as my peers were being pushed out so a large corporation could save on payroll. I was next in line and felt like after 11 years with this company…..Jumping hoops, pleasing to meet goals and pressured to take projects on to move up which truly was BS lol I put in my 2 weeks notice and worked hard everyday till my last day:) When I waked out those doors for the last time, I felt a huge weight left my shoulders:) After taking a year off now, I am ready to go back to work but on my terms where I am happy and there is a purpse:) Thank you.

  • Adelbert Gangai

    I worked myself out of a job so many times. Most often because the focus of my particular job changed.

    When departing from my last job I often get the question; “Why are you so succesful in what you do?”
    My response: First I employ organizations not the other way around. Let me explain my secret; When I set off in search of a job I always aim to find a job that has a job description description that aims to achieve my personal vision if I had the job. This means that if the job description has everything I enjoy doing I take it because life is supposed to be fun and if someone is happy to pay me for having fun why not!

    If you are not having fun than you are in the wrong place. Your employer has goals and you have yours too. But bear in mind that unless you are achieving your personal goals and are happy about it how on earth can you achieve your employers goals?
    Ask yourself: What is in this job that will enable me to achieve my personal goals…. in a nutshell….find a job that will fit you!

  • John Torres

    Thank-you so much Amy for writing and sharing your experience! I just got fired from my job less than a week ago. Your article gave me some comfort and a little direction.I feel better already! Thanks again!