Fired at 25, Here’s What I Learned

What you can learn from getting fired.

Getting let go from a job isn’t as devastating as you might think.

My first leadership position in my career came to me when I was 23. I was just coming out of university, and was all too excited to being my role. Sadly, I couldn’t hold it down for even two full years.

The job I’d been hired for was not a typical one. I wasn’t entering the corporate world, nor was I making a real living through the job. But without a doubt, this gig represented my first real foray into leadership.

I woke up from a nap one day to a phone call from a friend, asking me if I wanted to be the offensive coordinator of the CEGEP-level football team he’d just joined. (CEGEP is like junior college, for all of you non-Québec/non-Canadian readers!)

Although super groggy in the moment, I was also super excited! This was exactly the kind of opportunity I’d been looking for coming out of university.

After waking up, I called my buddy back and accepted the offer.

I started working on my new assignment immediately. Deep down, I knew this was a major step in the right direction for me as a football coach. I didn’t even last two full years on job. 🙁

What went wrong?

I’ll be brief here (this isn’t the focus of the post, but I’ll make a future one about this). Almost from the minute I started, I made errors.

I never established strong relationships with the offensive coaches I was leading. As you may know, I consider this a form of leadership suicide.

I struggled to communicate effectively with my colleagues and the student-athletes I was working with. Another major faux pas!

But perhaps my biggest issue as a leader simply came from my lack of self-awareness, which is really what defines the potential ceiling of a leader.

Our initial results as a new coaching staff were promising. However, we hit rough waters in our second season and I was the first one out the door.

Now technically, I wasn’t outright fired. I had a very nice boss at the time, a former colleague from university. He removed me from my position, and gave me a few options to remain on-board with the team.

Taking a couple of days to think things over, I handed him my resignation letter at the next staff meeting, exchanged handshakes with everyone, and walked out the door for good.

Why this ended up being a good thing

While frustrated that things didn’t work out, my two years of work and sudden departure from the organization ended up being very beneficial for me. Here’s what I ultimately gained from the shift.

I learned French

Closing the door on my previous gig opened me up to the signature experience of my 20’s: coaching a season of football in small(er)-town Québec.

Trois-Rivières is a city of roughly 135 000 people, located right between Montréal and Québec City. Of those 135 000, I’d guess that 98-99% are French speaking. Talk about the perfect environment for an immersive experience! An English guy from Ontario/Vancouver is practically an alien in this town. (That’s not a complaint though!)

Having the chance to live and work seasonally over the course of a football season, I continued in a different kind of leadership role with the local CÉGEP. Although awkward and goofy for me at first, the five months I invested there rapidly grew my French.

Although I’m not fully proficient, I identify as “functionally bilingual” and could live in French if the need arises.

None of this would have happened had I stayed in my comfortable English-based bubble.

A quieter, more mature leadership style emerged

When you’re starting out learning a language in a place that’s completely new and different to you, there can be a tendency to stay on the quiet side in most social situations.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever been a better listener as compared to when to I was in Trois-Rivières. I’d spend hours and hours just listening to the people around me, try to figure what the heck was being said. I listened until my head hurt. And after that happened, I listened some more.

As I listened more and spoke less, I learned more, observed more, and reflected more. I thought consciously about how I’d coached in the past, and was determined to not repeat the mistakes that had taken me out of my previous role.

I learned to speak with greater purpose. Not being a super confident speaker in French at the time, I had to make my limited words count. Over time, I did.

There had to have been some moments when others in the room were giggling inside listening to me speak. That was something I got over and I’ve become so much more confident as a result. When you keep the focus on doing your best, you forget that the crowd is even there.

I became comfortable being uncomfortable

Losing (or quitting) your job, living in a new town, and speaking a different language. That’s a lot of change in an individual’s life.

Humans are biologically wired to detect and respond to threats through stress. Although the kinds of absolute stressors that used to be present in the world, like woolly mammoths, no longer exist, we still respond similarly to events that act as “relative stressors.”

From the time I was fired and throughout the course of my gig in Trois-Rivières, I faced constant exposure to the four main sources of relative ingredients:

  • Novelty – this was an entirely new life experience I was going through.
  • Unpredictability – I had no real idea of what to expect leaving one job for another.
  • Threat to Ego – what if I looked really stupid in front of my new crop of student-athletes while stumbling away in French?
  • Sense of Control – it’s hard to control anything when you can’t communicate effectively in a given language.

Over time, my capacity to handle these stressors grew immensely. What was new became familiar, the unpredictable became routine, my ego was left at home, and if control over something was lost…whatever! Sometimes you just go with the flow – live, learn and repeat.

Getting fired is an opportunity for growth

I’m close to arguing that if you’ve never been fired in your career, then you haven’t tested your limits as a person all that much.

I’m not suggesting you go out and sabotage your job tomorrow doing something stupid at work. There’s not a whole lot of learning going on there.

But when someone holds you accountable for something, whether it’s an employer or a client in business, or a friend or partner in life, you have a golden chance to learn from the road you until that point, and the new road you’re about to travel on.

Travel wisely! Live, learn, repeat.

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