How to turn being fired into opportunity.

Getting Fired

A few days ago, I found out I had been fired. I found out by email on a Saturday morning.

I had, ironically, been planning my own exit for a few months. My conclusion had been that this was not the place for me. I refused to be dictated to; I had become very apathetic of our start-up’s dubious – & somewhat deceptive – ‘mission’; I also realised that my nature is entrepreneurial & I needed to start my own endeavour again.

So being fired was not the end of the world, but it meant I had no control over the circumstances of my departure. It was involuntary. It was sudden.

I had planned for my departure quite meticulously, so had plans for freelancing in place & my long-term plan for building this blog outlined in detail.

However, there still comes the inevitable void. The fear of the unknown. The sense that things are out of your control. That maybe things won’t work out.

Your self-confidence evaporates for a few days, you feel betrayed, you panic. However well you plan, you will still feel ‘the fear’.

 

Finding opportunity in adversity

After a few tense days that I thought might lead to a legal dispute, my final ‘Contract Termination’ was signed.

I had two months paid leave, with a contractual obligation to complete some work for the company still.

This was the best outcome I could ever have asked for. My plan was to resign the same week & continue for two months further. I now get the desired outcome, my salary, without having to put in the dreaded work for these guys.

The only downside was that I couldn’t childishly boast that I had been ballsy enough to resign, as they beat me to it.

 

In this situation I find myself with two options: immediately jump into freelancing or learn German.

The only reason I would immediately start freelancing would be out of fear of the unknown. That, in January, my contract would be up, so I would need to look for work. However, it’s only November.

Whenever I feel that fear is my motive to do something, it’s usually the wrong thing to do.

What would be the hard thing? What would be unique? What would be a good story to look back on in this period of my life? What do I actually want to do more?

I want to speak German fluently. It’s hard. It’s unknown. It has no tangible ‘career’ benefits relevant for me, but it’s what I want to do.

Getting to C1 (advanced) in the next 7 weeks would be pretty impressive. That’s my goal.

Rather than plodding along in uninspiring, inefficient classes, with the emphasis on the teacher to impart knowledge, I want to test my own hypotheses.

I have self-taught Portuguese to fluency & know what works.

Hard work, focus & motivation are key.

So is immersion. Conversation, podcasts, films, books, articles. Anything German-related.

I will do what others would call impossible precisely because I need to prove them wrong.

Because, as soon as you set limits on yourself & start having ‘realistic’ expectations, that is the day you set your standards to mediocrity.

You call things impossible because they are hard. They are unknown. They are scary.

But you achieve one impossible thing & you start to question that definition.

 

 

 

 

 

Hate over a misunderstanding

There are situations where conflict stems from misunderstanding. A lot of situations, in fact. In my work life, tis got to boiling point yesterday.

Having been fired rather unceremoniously by email & seeing that my employment contract had been violated on two separate occasions over the last 2 months, my assumption was that there was a deliberate attempt to screw me over.

A cloud has been hanging over me these last few days as a result. I thought these actions were malicious. It seemed there was a real concerted attempt to ‘make an example’ to the rest of the team, to make the firing as harsh (and illegal) as possible. Yet this is unfair.

The reasons were legitimate: a clear lack of motivation & low quality of work. Those I have no issue with. They are symptoms of my decision to head towards the exit a few months earlier (whilst carrying on at work a few months to plan my next move). I didn’t buy into the vision, hated our boss & became deeply unhappy with my work. This started to show through a little too visibly in my work.

A few days later, after a meeting with my boss, the contract violations were not known to him & are currently being resolved. I trust he was being honest.

But why, then, did I jump to the conclusion that the company had deliberately violated my contract upon my firing? Am I somebody that tends to mistrust others? See the worst in them? No. Therefore, what factor was at play hear for me to jump to such a harsh conclusion?

Our company culture. A culture that I had watched for 4 months become more & more toxic, largely stemming from the top. A lack of trust, a lack of empathy & conflict bubbling under the surface.

It is in this context that misunderstandings, rather than honest conversations, occur.

It is when you see other examples of malicious behaviour that you start to accept that as the rule. You start, even, to expect such behaviour.

It would be too easy to make the argument that I jumped to a conclusion out of anger or pride, but it’s simply not true. Being fired has come as a relief. My plan was always to leave this month, so I have a plan in place & a month paid leave to work on my future.

It is harder to admit that there are systemic problems within a company culture that need to be addressed immediately.

 

The lesson I take away is this: If you are a positive person & you find yourself thinking so negatively, then alarm bells should start ringing.

Where your thoughts tend to turn to the worst case scenario, where trust breaks down, where you start disliking others around you, then you are in a toxic environment.

Where misunderstandings become commonplace because you no longer expect the truth or you expect the worst in people, then you are in a toxic environment.

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”Richard P. Feynman

The only option left to you at that point is to leave. Nothing will change. Don’t waste your time. Some people waste months – even years – hoping it will.

Culture is very difficult to influence, let alone radically change, so ask yourself whether you are willing to fight the fight or whether it’s time to throw in the towel.

Stop making excuses to yourself. Stop entertaining thoughts that things might improve. That maybe people will change. That maybe things will change with that promotion or pay rise. You are fooling yourself.

Don’t be a fool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taken advantage of in a foreign country

My belief in the start-up model has been on the rocks for a while. ‘The Mission‘ convinces us to dedicate ourselves in the interest of investors & being a ‘family’ makes us feel part of something greater than just a corporation. Yet this week has been the final nail in the coffin.

If I ever wanted evidence that founders & investors do not usually give a shit about employees, then the violation of my employment contract is a clear-cut example.

In short, I was fired on Friday via email, with no explanation of the cause.

Dismissal without explanation is not only a cowardly move, but one that, under German law, is illegal. You must provide 4 weeks notice in all cases other than exceptional circumstances. I’ve done nothing ‘exceptional’ recently, so can only interpret this immediate termination as an attempt to avoid paying earnings they are contractually obliged to pay.

Maybe it’s because I’m new to Germany & they think I am naïve enough to not have looked into German law?

Whatever the reason, any violation of the bedrock of workers’ rights, an employment contract, is legally & morally abhorrent. It is the one thing that protects us, the little people, from the superior power of a corporation.

Yet it doesn’t surprise me one bit. Neither the way it was enacted – just a short email – nor the violation of my contract.

Part of the reason I had been deciding to leave had been a previous violation of my contract: an attempt to short-change me on the number of holiday days allocated in my contract. I derided the claim that I had, in fact, signed an ‘old contract’ & was therefore not entitled to my full, contractual holiday quota. I was unaware that was how contracts worked.

So it would even be expected – rather than a surprise – that a contract violation would occur again.

 

The lesson I take away with me is this:

One action reveals a company’s true nature. Don’t allow yourself to excuse that behaviour as the exception. Be aware that it is probably the rule.

Trampling over my employment contract has happened twice to me, so it is likely to have happened to others. Yet no-one speaks out or knows what to do about it.

True, I was taking action to extricate myself by setting up a new business, but I should have cut ties immediately, rather than allow myself to be dragged along for another few months.

There is never a perfect time to start a business or quit your job, so when you know it’s time, you must take action.

Rather than a clean-break, I find myself caught up in legal worries & with a sense of disgust at my whole experience with the company.

 

 

 

I was fired without even a thank you note

Stage 1: Why?

I checked my inbox yesterday to find an email titled ‘Contract Termination’. I did a double-take. I read it, thought about it, a little bemused, read it again.

It surprised me because I thought this had been a one-way relationship of dissatisfaction so far. I thought I had managed to mask my disinterest & dislike well enough to keep doing a good enough job.

But then some decisions like this are not always ‘fair’. The problem is not the work, but my failure to submit to our autocracy. The small things, going against the culture that has been forced upon us, obviously became a problem.

The fact that it was a 9-5 for me, rather than a passion, meant I was out the door by 5.30pm. I wanted to spend as little time as possible in that toxic environment, true. But also, pressure to work long hours completely went against my belief in- & the science behind- peak productivity practices.

The fact that I didn’t participate in our monthly team events must also have been a problem. I knew this would be the case, but I refuse to acquiesce to something that does not strike at the root of the problem. We had a culture lacking empathy & genuine teamwork. A monthly fun evening out is a lazy attempt to just paste over the cracks.

The fact that I didn’t engage with our CEO. Rather than trying to get ahead, putting on a smile & charm & pretending everything was great, I refused. I wouldn’t say I looked hostile, but indifferent & disapproving would be pretty accurate descriptions.

The fact that I didn’t get behind “the vision” was clear. Despite not a single attempt to sell the vision – let alone present the vision – we were expected to throw on our company t-shirts & talk excitedly about the road ahead. Pretty hard to keep your motivation up when you can only see two inches in front of your face.

So I reasoned that it was probably fair to get rid of me. Whether I agree with the reasons or not is largely irrelevant.

 

Stage 2: Panic

“What am I gonna do about money? What do I tell my family? How do I even register as unemployed?! I don’t even speak German!”

Luckily this only lasted 5 minutes.

I had been building up to resignation for 2 months, so already had a detailed, day-by-day plan of what to do once I was finally out of work.

But irrationality, fear & panic are inevitable in these kind of situations. Once I had got the initial wave out of my system, I decided to do some fear-setting, a practice coined by Tim Ferriss for approaching problems rationally & quantifying your fears.

My fears:

“What about my CV? I only worked there for 4 months!”

Firstly, I am going into freelancing next, where all work is short-term. Therefore a perception that I seem to leave companies soon after joining is irrelevant. Secondly, I’m starting my own company in future. I don’t need a CV for that. I need a good story.

 

“What about my income?”

I have savings to cover my expenses for 6 months, my living costs are low in Berlin & I will be freelancing to generate income, which can be more lucrative than a contract role.

 

“How can I tell my friends & family I’ve been fired?”

My ego was its predictably irrational self in this case. I don’t think they would particularly care that much, first of all. I also think that training yourself to not give a shit about what others think is an essential skill to entrepreneurship & a happier life, as it tends to mean you do more of what you want to do, rather than what you think others want you to do.

 

“Maybe I’m just not that good at my work?”

The fact I found work relatively easily over the last year & a half, the fact my work was praised, even in this job, for the first few months, disproves this. I just lost interest & therefore motivation, so inevitably the quality of my work deteriorated.

 

“How do I navigate German bureaucracy?”

This one is a valid fear & one I will have to confront with all my strength (& limited German conversation skills).

 

Stage 3: A Wealth of Opportunity

This is my favourite stage. After realising my fears were largely irrational & unfounded, I decided to write down the opportunities that my firing now presented.

1) I will finally have the energy, time & focus to build up the long-term business, which has started with this blog. I’ll be able to develop the blog, a podcast, create in-depth content – maybe even a book – & eventually move towards providing online courses on entrepreneurship.

2) I will finally have the time to improve my German through an intensive language programme here in Berlin.

3) I finally have control over my time. I can experiment with productivity practices, try out new hobbies, read more & generally feel more free & happy with my life.

4) I can explore different business models over the next year & see which works. UX Design consultancy? Setting up a product development agency? Going into consultancy? Starting to specialise in organisational psychology?

5) I can escape the bleak German winter for a few months a year & work remotely again.

 

Stage 4: Selecting a plan & executing

Two days later, now that the irrational fears have faded & the giddy excitement of opportunity is slowly dissipating, it is time to put my plan into action.

On Monday, I’ll be signing myself up for an intensive German learning course until Christmas. As soon as that is sorted, I’ll execute my freelancing plan.

If you want to follow my journey, then sign up below for a weekly newsletter with my thoughts & learnings from the week.

If you want to help me on my journey, email me at henry@henrylatham.me to get access to my open-source business plans, where you can comment directly on what I am up to. Any help is appreciated!