“I’ve never been fired. I’m that good,” proclaimed the young art director to those of us sitting around the table in the bar.
Our creative director’s shoulders slumped and he breathed heavily.
I wanted to be somewhere else, anywhere else — this wasn’t going to be pretty. The rest of the creatives around the table were all of a sudden very interested in their drinks or ceiling tiles or something other than looking at what was about to happen.
“That’s one way to look at it, but there’s another way to see it,” said our creative director.
“Maybe you’ve never been fired because you didn’t stand out.
“You haven’t pushed beyond the norm, never challenged the status quo.
“Or haven’t been seen as a threat to your supervisor or bosses. You’re ‘safe.’
“You haven’t worried less about the politics and more about doing what is best for the client.
“Maybe you haven’t asked, ‘Why?’ too much or pushed too hard to do more.
“Or fought too hard for an idea because you believed it would really work.
“Or thought it is more important to reach customers more than please the client.
“Or been seen as ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled’ or ‘hard to work with’ because you dared to say ‘no.’ Heaven forbid, you ask that the creative brief say something worth substance.
“Your standards haven’t collided with someone else’s sensibilities.
“I’ll let you in on a secret; these people sitting around this table have been fired at one time or another. And one day, you will too. Not being fired isn’t a badge of honor — it simply means you haven’t done your best work yet,” our creative director concluded.
The art director stayed with us for a little more than a year before moving on to another agency. A couple years later he was fired; it wasn’t pretty. That agency he worked for hired a new creative director, who, despite the art director producing the strongest work, thought the art director didn’t compromise enough. It was a good thing he was fired. He has since grown into a pretty good creative director.
Being fired doesn’t define you. It is what you do afterwards that does.
Don’t let it take your heart, frightening you into conformity.
Use it to steel yourself — to motivate you to keep on pushing forward, to do even better work.
Being fired hurts.
I am not going to deny that.
No one likes being rejected, and that’s exactly what being fired is — you’re being voted off the island. And for those of us in a creative field, that can be even worse; so much of who we are is tied up in what we do. But sometimes, being fired can be the best thing for your career, freeing you from a dead-end opportunity. And yet it still hurts.
So how do we deal with being fired?
We get mad.
It is only natural to be angry. It is what we do with the anger that matters. We have a choice; we can either use the anger to fuel us into being better or we can let the anger crush our spirits, trapping us in a downward spiral.
Recovering from being fired isn’t easy. It doesn’t help that society has the mentality that a person who is fired must have done something wrong, must have failed in some way or the other — he/she didn’t measure up.
The stigma of being fired in our society can be oppressive. Friends and family members who are not part of or have not been around advertising may not understand, making being fired even worse.
“You must have done something wrong,” they say.
After all, no one in their right mind would ever get rid of a good employee because of personal or unprofessional reasons. Oh, no; they would never fire an employee because that person’s skills and abilities surpass their own, and they are threatened by it.
No one is that insecure or shallow, right? No comment.
That being said, there are also times when some of us deserve to be fired — when we have not lived up to our promise as an employee, a time when we are quite honestly bad employees. A time when our egos have written a check our skills and talents can’t cash.
That too does not have to be the end of a career.
Be honest with yourself. You knew you were not doing what you were supposed to do or performing up to your capabilities. Learn from it. Bite the bullet and have a heart-to-heart talk with the person in the mirror about how to grow from the experience, how to be better. Get mad at yourself and refuse to ever be that employee again. Be better.
Not every agency is right for every person and not every person is right for every agency. Be freaking selective in who you work with or work for.
Do your research, ask questions — learn as much as you can about the personality of the agency and the people working there. Take the time to look at their work; make sure you can be happy doing that type of work. Don’t let the paycheck be your only determining factor.
“Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” – John Donne
Donne could have been talking about advertising.
Stay in advertising long enough and you’re more than likely to lose a job due to circumstances totally unrelated to your level of work. And although layoffs/trimmings/rightsizing/downsizing based on agency changes (client loss, regime change, economic downturn) are different from being fired, the result is still the same — you are out of work. It is all a form of rejection. The feelings and emotions related to it are close. How you recover or respond can determine the path of your career.
The same things that make advertising an interesting field to work in — the constant change and “unique” personalities — are also the same things that play a part in the industry’s high turnover and mass exodus of talent from advertising. (Yes, there are huge issues about pay that play a factor also, but that is a subject for another day.) Clients and people come and go. Losing a job is a part of the culture of advertising. It is not a badge of honor, but it isn’t a mark of shame.
Being successful in advertising means dealing with rejection on several levels — not only can people reject your thoughts, ideas, and work, they can also reject you.
Being fired is a hard pill to swallow — either you learn how to swallow it or you choke on it.
Derek Walker is the janitor, secretary and mailroom person for his tiny agency, brown and browner advertising, out of the big city of Columbia, S.C. He is on Twitter as @dereklwalker.
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