Five Lessons I Learned After Being Fired

When I was 18, I graduated from high school in Virginia in mid-2004. After a fantastic road trip across the USA, I returned to Australia and needed to find some work until I could attend University in February 2005.

My first job after I returned was walking around and doorknocking at people’s houses, trying to sell the residents a subscription to daily delivered newspapers. I lasted two hours, sold zero subscriptions, and made zero dollars before deciding that the job was not for me. I really feel for anyone who does this type of work. Basically, no one wants a stranger trying to sell them things at their front door.

After applying for a few other jobs, I worked as an assistant manager at Hungry Jacks, a fast-food restaurant. It did not pay well and required sometimes working 11 hours straight without a break from 3:30pm to 2:30am.

Fast food work is not glamorous. It was hot working out the back. The oil from the fryers clogged up my pores, and minor burns were not out of the ordinary.

It can also be a lot of pressure and stress. Cars turning up to buy something in the drive-thru needed to be given all of their order in under 2.5 minutes. The recommended time for in-restaurant orders was even faster.

Eventually, I began turning up to work late a few too many times, especially to morning shifts. I was 18 years old for most of my time at Hungry Jack’s and enjoyed going out with my friends and having some drinks.

After one shift where I slept through my alarm by a few hours, the two store managers called me into a room and asked me not to come back to work anymore. I was shocked, but I also understood why they didn’t want me to work there. I wasn’t really trying to learn the things I needed to and had been coming in later and later.

Here are the five main things I learned from being fired:

1. It doesn’t matter how intelligent you are if you don’t put in the work

One of my favourite personality assessments I recommend to many people is the IPIP-NEO or the five-factor personality model. It is available to be taken for free online and compares your answers to other people of your gender, age and country across five factors and thirty facets.

Conscientiousness is the most crucial factor for determining how successful someone will be at work out of the five personality factors. This finding is independent of intelligence. This means that even if you do not have a high IQ, you can still do really well at work if you apply yourself consistently. Having high self-efficacy and belief in your ability to get things done, being orderly, self-disciplined, dutiful, striving to achieve something and thinking things through before acting can help you be more conscientious and perform better at work.

2. A growth mindset is far better than a fixed mindset

I definitely had more of a fixed mindset in high school than a growth mindset. I didn’t see the point in practising things or working hard to get better at something. Instead, I thought that how good I was at something was as good as I could ever be and tried to only do things that came naturally to me.

I excelled at math until year 10, and then finally, my natural aptitude for the subject couldn’t take me much further. My grades in the subject quickly plummeted. I went from receiving A+ on tests in year 9 to nearly failing my Maths Method exam and obtaining an E+ at the end of Semester One in year 11.

At Hungry Jack’s, I again tried to stick to what I enjoyed or found easy. However, after months of working there, I still didn’t know how to set up the broiler properly, preferring to stick to salad prep or changing the oil in the fryers. Once the store managers realised this, I could only do broiler set-up. I think I stopped turning up in the mornings shortly after this.

If I had instead realised that my performance could indeed get better with more practice and more effort, I might not have been late so much and kept my job.

3. It is hard to motivate yourself to do things that you don’t enjoy

For the six months I worked at Hungry Jack’s, I really didn’t enjoy going to work. I would dread getting up early in the morning for a shift. I would also count down the clock at work until I finally could go home.

I compare this to working as a Clinical Psychologist. The feeling is entirely different. Some days I still can’t be bothered going to work, but I enjoy the process of being there and helping others as much as I can in the time that we have together.

We can’t always find things that we love doing. But if you hate what you do for a job or where you are working, it can really get you down. I’ve had a few undesirable jobs with difficult managers, and they nearly drove me crazy after only a few months.

If you are in one of these situations and can look for other opportunities, please do. Then if you have a chance to move to another job that you think might be better, go for it. If you still feel stuck, compare what you would lose by leaving to what you would lose by staying. Taking a risk can be scary, but ask yourself what you usually regret more: what you decide to do? Or what you want to do but do not?

4. Try to find a job that suits you, not what other people tell you to do

Out of the 10+ jobs I did from 14- to 28-years-old, my favourite job by far was night-fill at a Woolworth’s Supermarket. I would mostly work from 9pm to 2am or 10pm to 3am, with a 10pm to 6am Saturday night shift that paid double-time. It was a decent workout, with lots of walking and carrying boxes. It also led to a lot of reflection time while working, as the store was generally quiet until midnight and then closed after that until 6am. Once it was closed, we could play our iPods and listen to music and not have to engage with anyone at all.

For a casual job, it paid really well. But it also allowed me to do everything else I wanted in my life. I could see my friends and family as often as I wanted to, play lots of sport, and go to all the university classes that I needed to during the day. It also suited my delayed sleep schedule and helped me save enough to travel around the world for eight months after finishing my Honours degree in 2008.

Other people may have hated the exercise or the timing of the shifts at the supermarket, but I loved it, unlike the job I had at Hungry Jack’s. The more you understand yourself, your personality, and your strengths and weaknesses, the easier it will be to know what type of job is right for you.

5. Education is much more important than I realised it was back when I was in school

None of the 10+ jobs I did before I completed my Doctoral degree required a university degree. Many paid minimum wage, including working at a fast-food Tex-Mex restaurant in the USA and as a bartender in the UK.

Comparing how much I was paid in some of these jobs, it would have taken me over 20 hours to make as much as possible in one hour of private practice psychology work in Australia. The difference in pay between working as a clinical psychologist in the USA and the minimum wage is even more extreme.

I agree that schools could have a bit of an overhaul and teach more about mental health and life skills. However, it doesn’t mean that doing well in school and getting a good education doesn’t help give you a more financially secure future.

Sure, there are high school and college dropouts that have more money than I could ever make. But, unfortunately, these are the exceptions rather than the rule. If you don’t believe me, check out the ten points that this article makes on the benefits of obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Not only are you likely to make more money, but you could have higher self-esteem and better job satisfaction too.

Conclusion

Being fired for the first time just before starting my university career may have been a blessing in disguise. It helped me to take my university studies more seriously, taught me that if I wanted to get anywhere, I needed to work hard at it and that I also needed to try to find the right job for me if I was going to do well and stick at it for a long time.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

Published by Dr Damon Ashworth

I am a Clinical Psychologist. I completed a Doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology at Monash University and a Bachelor of Behavioural Sciences and a Bachelor of Psychological Sciences with Honours at La Trobe University. I am passionate about the field of Psychology, and apply the latest empirical findings to best help individuals meet their psychological and emotional needs.

6 thoughts on “Five Lessons I Learned After Being Fired

  1. Agree that you need to find a job you enjoy that motivates you. This is a mistake that I’ve made a lot in the past, so now I look at jobs that align with my values.

    Like you it drives me mad doing something I don’t enjoy – I always wonder how some people cope sticking things out for the pay!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I guess it depends on how important the money is to them. For one of my co-workers, how much he made really seemed to be a driving force in his life, and he would make work decisions based on this. For me, I’d much rather have a lower-paying job if it fits more with my values and leads to greater meaning and satisfaction in my life

      Liked by 1 person

  2. #2 and #4 resonated with me. Re: #2, It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized I had to work harder. Actually, I didn’t realize it until later; I spent A LOT of time thinking I was a loser because I didn’t do things perfectly the first time around. Things were so easy in high school. Angela Duckworth’s “Grit” helped me realize the issue and turn things around. And re: #4, I’m coming out of this right now. I often get pulled into a new role or project because of what other people see in me – which is great! – but about 6 months in I look up and realize it’s not what I wanted. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment. Yes, grit was a great read and really highlighted the importance of perseverance for me too! With #4, not rushing into things just because someone else recommends it and making sure it is what I want first is so important. Otherwise, I just end up feeling frustrated and resentful.

      Liked by 1 person

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