There’s something I’ve wanted to get off my chest for a while now. A few years ago I was fired from a job. Not let go. Not downsized. Fired. The kind of fired where a security guard sits outside the HR office in case you go crazy, then waits for you to clean out your office before escorting you out. But let’s back up a bit.
I’m someone who has a really good work ethic. I’m pretty confident in saying this. My dad was one of those guys who didn’t believe in giving an allowance for doing chores. It was just part of your responsibilities as a member of the family. When I was 12, my birthday present was a used lawnmower so I could start mowing lawns and begin to earn money. Then, at age 16, I got my first job in a kitchen. It was something I loved, and have been doing it ever since.
I was raised to be polite, respect my elders and do what I was told to do. “That’s not my job” has never been part of my vocabulary. When I was 17, the restaurant I worked at had a problem with rats. It was suspected that they were living in the woods behind the restaurant. So my boss sent me home to get a long sleeve shirt and some jeans. When I came back, I was give a chainsaw and rat poison. I had to cut back the shrubs, find any rat holes, and put down the poison. I’m pretty sure this was illegal, but I did what I was told. My parents didn’t seem to care either. Today, if I ask a waitress to help wash dishes, I get the stink eye.
I wasn’t the kind of person who got fired, right? I went to college and got a degree. I worked hard. I got promoted at every job I ever had. I went in early, and stayed late. Whatever it took to get the job done. But sometimes, none of that matters.
Around 2004, I took a job with a large company. It wasn’t as much cooking as most of my previous jobs, but it was a chance to learn a lot more about running a company. I thought it would be good to pick up some skills that I hadn’t acquired elsewhere. And in that respect, it was great. I can still say that. I learned marketing, sharpened my HR skills and had to manage a multi-million dollar budget. To this day, I’m grateful for the opportunity. But my direct manager and I were worlds apart in the way we ran a kitchen. He had previously been in the military and treated his staff like they were privates. Everything was black and white. There was no room for free thinking, and you weren’t allowed to ask why. You just did as you were told. In the year and a half I was there, he probably fired (or had me fire) 20 people. You didn’t coach or work with people, you just fired them. But he showed me how to word the write-ups and action plans to keep us out of the courtroom. I should have seen the writing on the wall. But I kept telling myself that I wasn’t the kind of person who got fired…Until I did.
A point came that I could no longer do what I was told, and expressed my concerns. My boss was breaking all kinds of company, and labor laws. Eventually something big went down, and I was made the fall guy. I could have fought it, but what was the point. It was clear I wasn’t wanted there, and the higher-ups were going to protect him anyway, so I just left. At the time, my wife was working at a catering company and the chefs brought me on. It meant stepping back to being a cook, but I just needed a job. I’m glad I had that opportunity. I learned a lot from them and grew as a cook, though my time there was brief.
As I began looking for a more long-term job, I started to have panic attacks thinking about how I would explain losing my job. What I eventually decided was that I would never speak of it. I got creative with my résumé. The guys at the catering company let me tell prospective employers whatever I wanted. I moved some dates around and covered gaps. I knew that if I could just get that next job, it would be alright. And I did, and it was. It’s now been 10 years, and I’ve never told a prospective employer about this. Many of my friends and family don’t even know. It was embarrassing. I didn’t know anyone who had been fired. That only happened to bad employees, right? I thought I could move on. But it still haunted me. When I got fired, I didn’t really see it coming. At the new job I started playing back things in my mind, looking for the clues that I hadn’t seen at the time. It made me angry. It made me paranoid. Even though everything was going great at the new job, I wondered if this could happen again. If my boss sent an email or left a message to “Call me when you get a chance”, I thought that maybe I had done something wrong. I would start to have anxiety about it. Of course, it would always turn out to be nothing, but at the time, that’s how my brain was working. It took a couple of years to shake that. It’s not a good way to live.
As a whole, I don’t think we talk about this enough. Sometimes there are bad employees, but often there are also bad managers and bosses. We’re programmed to think that someone who was fired just wasn’t a good employee. Even I’m still guilty of it. An application for a job comes it, and there’s that box asking if you’ve ever been fired from a job. Someone has checked yes. For the reason, they write “Will explain in interview”. To be honest, it doesn’t make me want to call them. And I’ve been that guy. I have to keep telling myself that sometimes things just happen, and everyone deserves a chance to explain. After all, I was a good employee, and I got fired. And it’s ok. It’s taken me 10 years, but I’m finally ok with it. I’m in a great place right now, and have had more success that I could have predicted. Had I not been fired, maybe I’d still be working at that job for a terrible boss, unhappily muddling through the days. Has it happened to you? Don’t worry. I want to tell you something. You’ll be OK.
If you like what you see, please consider hiring me for an in-home dinner or cooking lesson. I run a personal chef business based out of Frederick, MD. Get more information here. Thank you.
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