When I was just starting out as a broadcast news reporter, a grizzled, veteran investigative reporter told me, “Congratulations on getting hired, kid, but don’t get cocky; because you’re not anybody in the news business until you’re fired—twice.”
Whether or not I ever became somebody in the news business is debatable; but, for the record, I was fired twice during the 10 years I worked as an on-air reporter and anchor.
Both times, what enabled me to overcome the stigma and humiliation of being canned can be summed up in one word—relationships. The relational approach to overcoming a “career bump” is showcased in a new career book titled Do Over by New York Times bestselling author Jon Acuff. In his book, he lists the four career transitions that every professional faces and the corresponding resources necessary to overcome each different transition.
So, whether you, too, have been fired or just presented with an interesting opportunity, read on to learn the best strategy to deal with your specific circumstance.
1. You’ve Been Fired
Immediately after I lost both jobs, I called all of my former colleagues to let them know I was out of work and looking for a gig. Each time, I was offered jobs within 72 hours because of the strong rapport I’d developed with colleagues over the years.
Relying on relationships after being fired—as Acuff recommends—makes sense. From my experience, the toughest part was convincing myself to actually pick up the phone to ask for help. The key to surviving that particular transition is swallowing your pride, growing some guts, and giving your network the chance to lend a hand.
2. You’re in a Dead-End Job
The next transition that Acuff defines is “the ceiling,” which is a job that you continue to do even when further advancement isn’t possible. He writes that becoming unstuck in that type of situation requires the development of a new skill set.
I recently ran into this exact situation at my previous company. My last employer—a mid-sized biotech firm—was acquired by a much larger pharmaceutical company. Suddenly, the previously vacant rungs of the corporate ladder above me were crammed with folks from the acquiring parent company. It was clear I wasn’t going to move up, and it was equally clear I couldn’t let skills stagnate.
So, what did I do?
I started blogging and writing e-books in my spare time. I joined (and learned the ins and outs of) the major social media channels. I guest posted and wrote for dozens of online sites. I became a self-taught social media “guru” within my previous company. When that organization wanted to dip its toe into Facebook waters or conjure up a Twitter-based-campaign strategy, I was the guy they tapped because I was already there doing it.
But I didn’t stop there. I continued to build and nurture my personal online brand. Once I felt ready to leave the organization, I compiled a metrics scorecard of my personal social media footprint (Twitter followers, Facebook likes, Alexa ranking of my blog, and so on) and then compiled the exact same stats for the life sciences companies I wanted to work for. Needless to say, I beat the pants off every company I met with and had three job offers to choose from!
Dealing with my “ceiling” required me to identify and develop the relevant skills that would add value to any prospective employer in the future.
3. You’ve Decided to Take a Leap
The third career transition that Acuff cites is “the jump,” where you voluntarily leap to a new career, location, or responsibility. He notes that this type of transition requires strong character because you’re leaping into the unknown, which necessitates reliance on the foundational definition of who you are as well as your core values.
During the past nine years, I’ve relocated my family three separate times across three different states. That’s a lot of “jumping” and disruption.
My family has survived and thrived because we trust each other and consider every voice when we make big, life-impacting choices. For what it’s worth, each move has been a unanimous decision within my family. Mutual trust and agreement makes it so much easier to overcome upheaval.
4. You’re Faced With an Unplanned Opportunity
The last transition that Acuff references in his book is dubbed “the opportunity,” where a positive situation unexpectedly manifests. While those moments tend to be few and far between for most people, Acuff writes that the resource you need to maximize “the opportunity” is hustle.
He defines hustle as how you work. In other words, it’s the drive and commitment that pushes entrepreneurs and professionals to do the things that other people don't, enabling them to enjoy success that others won't.
This situation happened to me when I transitioned out of news media into my first corporate communications job. I was hired by a regional telecommunications company in the Northeast to be its corporate spokesperson. After 90 days, I received an email from the HR department notifying me that I was eligible for the company’s educational benefit. I jumped at the chance, and—in two years of full-time course work and a full-time job—I completed my MBA.
It wasn’t easy. Not only did it take a high degree of hustle, but it also took a lot of time. Part of hustle, therefore, is intentional time management and relentless prioritization.
Things are going to happen in your career. Some of them will be good, others not so good. Some transitions you’ll orchestrate while some will be orchestrated at the hands of others. Regardless, if you couple relationships with guts, skills with foresight, character with mutual trust, and mix in aggressive hustle with kick-ass time management—nothing will stop you.