It’s hard to believe it was just two weeks ago when it happened. I was called into Syrup’s President’s office and informed that they needed to let me go, that I was being released into the wild, laid off, that it would be my last day, toast, fired. It was the very same day that I published my most recent LinkedIn article all focused on leading with humility. It seemed almost prophetic. It was incredibly humbling.
I’ve been off to a slow start this year in my business development efforts for Syrup, and I just wasn’t earning my keep. So, being let go wasn’t completely unexpected. I knew the numbers I was expected to hit, and I knew that I was falling short. Even if a sizable portion of Americans is feeling an affinity for a reality star famous for his blunt firings, I can now tell you with authority that being on the receiving end of a firing is no fun at all. I’ve actually been the one to let people go in my previous job. I kind of wish now that I had had this experience then. I would have done it with more empathy and care.
No matter how much you try to get used to rejection in sales roles, getting fired always stings even more. I left the office with a few tears welling up in my eyes. The fear set in; the whisper in my ear, “How are you going to provide for your family?” “You are now and forevermore a failure.” “You’ll never get another job, certainly not with a great team like Syrup.” I can honestly say that the emotion I felt was just as much disappointment that I didn’t deliver better for my teammates as any of the feelings of anxiousness or self-pity that were causing the moistness to condense in my eyes. Or, maybe it was just the pollen. I still love the company, and I hope to continue to point people to them in the future.
If you’ve been following my adventures in business, you might be aware that I’ve developed a passion for public speaking. I actually earned some business for Syrup from people that heard me speak at various functions last year. It was part of my business development plan for this year to do more speaking. To that end, I had previously secured an engagement for the very next day. I was set to speak for the Roswell Rotary about ways they too could “Market Like A Rockstar!” However, driving from my office that day, I didn’t feel like a rockstar. I felt like a failure. I’ve let down my team, my family, my kids. I lost my job and what felt like my credibility. How would I speak as a business expert when I just got fired? Should I even go to the Rotary? Maybe I should pretend to be sick and work on my resume.
The next morning, I woke up inspired. In addition to my speaking appearance, the Roswell Rotary was going to honor the Blessed Trinity Football team’s graduating seniors. Like the Roswell Hornets for whom my son plays, The BT Titans had also had an incredible football season. They made it all the way to the Georgia Dome for the State Championship where they lost an absolute heart-breaker in overtime. Perhaps some of these student athletes had been feeling some of the same things I was feeling by being let go from my job. Perhaps my being let go could actually give me credibility to inspire the students. I went to work putting together my slides for my presentation. I decided to title my talk “How To Move On From A Tough Loss.” It’s a little heavier conversation than “How To Run Your Business More Like Taylor Swift.”
When it came time to talk, I was nervous, really nervous. I felt tears ready to spring in my eyes. I felt butterflies like I haven’t felt since Third Day had our first appearance on The Tonight Show. Uh oh. Was I committing career suicide? The crowd was full of local business leaders, our city council members, our mayor, and even folks with whom I went to high school. This was going to be hard. The Rotary thought they were hiring me to share my stories of success, not my stories of failure. By the time I took the stage, I was remembering the words of my speaking coach Melissa Gordon who has developed an entire framework on how to build resonance with an audience from decades of experience coaching c-level executives.
I went all in. I started the talk by asking for the audience’s permission to make it mostly geared for the student athletes. Like the late great Whitney Houston so eloquently opined, “I believe children are the future” after all.
I started the talk by highlighting some of my past awards. Rotarians love awards! But, I quickly transitioned to the elephant in the room.
“Seniors, even though my son plays for Roswell and you guys play for Blessed Trinity, the whole community was pulling for you guys to win at state. Men, the loss was heartbreaking. I want to talk to you today about how to move on from a tough loss.” I then encouraged the young men to turn around and face the Rotarians seated behind them.
“How many of the Rotarians here have suffered a significant loss or failure in your life?” As expected, it was a sea of hands. I then asked the students to look back at me.
“I know when you hear that you might think, ‘I’ve heard this all before. Great leaders fail a bunch before they succeed. Abraham Lincoln and what not. Blah, blah, blah.”
Then came the moment of courage.
“Guys, I’m not here to speak to you anecdotally. No, I’m here to talk to you as someone who got fired yesterday.”
The entire room gasped together. I’ve been to quite a few Rotary lunches. This is not what speakers normally say. In fact, I’ve heard thousands of speakers, but I can’t remember more than a handful of times if any when a speaker has shared from a place of brokenness. In my talk, I went on to share the ways to move on from a tough loss that I had actually written after Blessed Trinity’s and Roswell’s tough loss at the Georgia Dome.
From my vantage point, the message really seemed to connect. My framework was simple.
- Feel the Loss
- Evaluate the good and bad.
- Flush the bad.
- Move on with joy.
After the talk, I was blown away by the adults, not just the students, who came up to me to share that the talk had been helpful, even inspirational to them. We all go through losses and failures. Some of them were also in job searches but were afraid to tell anybody. Our pride tells us that we should be ashamed.
I’m happy to tell you that I’m not having to write this blog in the midst of a job search. I know how hard that can be. Within just a couple days, before I even updated my resume, I was presented with an incredible opportunity. An incredibly savvy organization, Leadercast, has brought me in for an awesome role. You can read about it in my LinkedIn bio. Essentially, they want to pay me to be me. They want me to serve our partners. They want me to write about leadership. They want me to do podcasts. They want me to help our team achieve our mission to build leaders worth following. They want Tai to speak. To lead.
I'm really thankful for this opportunity, but I'm also thankful that I had the opportunity to speak for the Rotary when I did, from a place of brokenness.
I know even reading this that many of you here are here because you’re in the middle of a job search. Maybe my tale already feels anecdotal to you. To me, it feels miraculous. I want to encourage you. You were made to do great things. You have something unique to offer the world, and you need to find the right place to bring your time and talents. Perhaps, being vulnerable and authentic will actually accelerate that journey.
Maybe it will be a short process like I just experienced. Maybe it will take months of searching. No matter what. Don’t believe the lie that you need to be ashamed. Don’t believe the lie that your title at work defines you. Be the person whom God uniquely made you to be. If you still need to grieve your last role, take the time to do it. But, know that job transition without depression is very possible. Improve yourself. Learn the lessons that you need to learn. Then, find a way to move on with joy. Be authentic. Don’t run away from your failures. Embrace them. Use them to shape you into the leader you want to be. I want to be a humble, authentic leader.