Middle aged blues. Just got fired, what now?
July 28, 2015 4:51 AM   Subscribe

I was fired two weeks ago, and I'm devastated. Special snowflake details inside...

I am a man, in his early 40s. Pretty much my whole career has been in the financial/technical sector. I live in London.

I have a clean career slate (never been fired) up till now; the biggest minus on my career is that I've changed job on average once every two years. I went contracting a few years ago, so this doesn't look so bad. I've had stints overseas, in North America and Asia. I have a computer science degree and a lot of experience, and a lot of contacts - some of whom I've helped find jobs in the past.

Most recently, I worked on a contract in Asia. I came back to the UK to take what I thought was the perfect job for me. I lasted 3 months. While I was at the firm, I noticed more and more cracks in the organisation - a bit of a blame culture. Anyway, after 3 months I made a rookie error - nothing malicious, but I implemented a change (to fix a long-outstanding problem) which had a big downstream impact and could have had some financial consequences. The change was approved, though I should have been more vocal with the team that I was implementing it so that any potential problems could have been rolled back. Anyway, the error was picked up but it was at a time when the whole team was under a lot of scrutiny. I fessed up immediately, and I was fired. I've never been fired before and I think it was fairly gentle as these things go (they said they'd give me a good reference). The 'firing manager' actually shed tears. I took the hit, and I accept that.

In retrospect, I should have asked for more help earlier on. The job had a very steep learning curve and I fell into the trap of not knowing the 'unknown unknowns'. There were issues with the team environment as well (e.g. people coming in to work hours late, which meant handovers were poor), but I own my mistake.

I'm gutted. I've worked for more than 20 years in this industry and never been fired before.

Despite that, my position might be enviable to some :
I have around £170,000 in the bank. My main outgoings are my mortgage and associated costs, which come to £700 per month - around £85,000 total to repay. I have done some calculations and I think I can live for several years if need be, but I want to get back into work as soon as possible.
My contracting firm still exists and I'm hitting the jobs boards and reaching out to old contacts. My cv lists the last several years of experience with my company, with no mention of the job that went wrong as I was only there for a brief period. I wonder how to approach this in interviews, if it comes up - my inclination is to own the mistake if it comes up. Overall I think I'm happier as a contractor.
That said, the jobs (contracts) market seems to be fairly slow - though it may just be my perception - and I'm worried about falling foul of agencies. I've already been approached by a couple of agencies about getting my old job back! It's embarrassing to rebuff them.
I just came back from Asia. My wife is a citizen of the Asian country I worked in, and got her permanent residency in the UK last year. Getting UK permanent residency for spouses is a long, complex and expensive process so this was no mean feat and after a lot of struggle. However, she's struggled to find work here. She says she's happy here (she does some volunteering work and is involved in a local community) but I think she'd also be happy to go home.
I have significant equity in my property were I to sell it - probably over £100,000.
I don't have many certifications, other than my degree, but I do have a lot of experience.
I don't need much money to live on. Of course I don't have any income at the moment either.
I have some health issues - I'm overweight and don't tend to sleep well. This could be a chance to put that right.
Over the last 2-3 years I've done a significant amount of work for a charity/NGO in my spare time, for example marketing and website work. I've had to take a step back for my own good as it was beginning to wear me down - both the NGO work and the politics that go with it (the third sector can be as 'political' as the private sector, and it eventually got to me).

What I wonder is - what can I do now? I am getting older, though not that old. I could go back and do a master's degree. Or we could sell up or rent out our property and live in Asia (there would be enough to live on for a long time). I speak the language of my wife's home country only haltingly though, so it would be like starting over again. And if my wife is outside the UK for more than two years, she risks losing her permanent residency (her home country is one which doesn't allow dual citizenship, so taking up British citizenship is out of the question for her I'm afraid).
Or I could keep up the job search and see what comes up - everyone I speak to say it won't take long. I have a lot of experience, but it's a very general skillset.
Or look for something else, a new direction. Maybe work locally.

Finally, I should say that the whole experience of losing my job has made me quite depressed and anxious. Objectively I may be in a strong position, with a few different options, but having the choices makes me anxious too. I am not sleeping well and I just feel quite low. Maybe I'm still mourning the loss of my job, but I wonder if it's also the end of a career which I loved for many years. Maybe the mistake was a way of getting out.

I would welcome any insights from anyone who's been in anything like a similar situation to this. Thanks for reading this far.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (22 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I've been in a similar position minus the firing (i.e., I had to decide what to do with my life, in theory the whole world was my oyster, and having that much choice felt pretty overwhelming). I spent two and a half years in therapy. I'm not saying you need to go through such a lengthy process of re-evaluation (I had a number of other issues to work through), but I think it would help to reframe it as an opportunity - as you mention yourself. The firing itself sounds like you were scapegoated for systemic problems within the company - try not to waste too much mental energy on it.

Instead, focus on the kind of "what you want out of life, how and where is it achievable" - obviously consulting and factoring in your wife and her desires as well. Think big, start dreaming - what do you REALLY want, what are your ideal jobs (living situations) in an ideal world under ideal circumstances. Then see if you can make some way towards achieving some or all of that. Even if that's a longer term goal that will involve getting a stop gap job in the meantime or some such. People change careers later on in life all the time. It's becoming more and more acceptable. (And hey, it's likely most of us will work into our 70es, so...)

Oh, and while you have no job, definitely try to do something about your health issues. Become more active, take more interest in your nutrition, try to get out into nature, take up meditation... there are so many things you can do. They may end up also changing your perspective. (I thought I needed a high flying job to give me validation. Now I work part time and enjoy life on the slow lane. Best decision of my life!) Good luck!
posted by ClarissaWAM at 5:43 AM on July 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Wait- what? You think after 20 years in the industry, one mistake at a three month stint is going to be the nail in the coffin of your career? That is NONSENSE, unless there are facts involved not voiced in your post (for example, your mistake landed front page of the Financial Times with a photo of you and nobody wants to hire you anymore).

Sounds like there wasn't even a financial impact.

I'm not sure where this fatalism about your career is coming from. It sounds unwarranted and more tied to the anxiety and depression you mentioned.
posted by slateyness at 5:43 AM on July 28, 2015 [57 favorites]

Pardon me, but didn't these people have testers? If the change was approved, how was it all your fault?

I wouldn't take this too seriously, TBH. I think they were just looking for someone to blame in their blamey culture of blame, I bet you it happens all the time there.

If I were you I would gloss over this, get another job, and then think about what you want to do next. I think the needless shame of having been fired, combined with not having a job now, is likely to confuse you and you'll probably feel better if you have a job first before you start thinking about what changes you want to make.
posted by tel3path at 5:53 AM on July 28, 2015 [9 favorites]

If nobody ever hired people who've screwed up, there would be precious few of us with any sort of job. I can tell you're taking a lot of blame about this on yourself, but rest assured it won't hurt your job prospects very much at all.

I think the very best thing you could do for yourself is find more work in your field of expertise right away. Even if you do want to leave your field in the near term, don't do it on a down note. First remind yourself how good you are at it and about how good it feels to be in a positive work situation; THEN if you still want to leave, you can go with a clean heart and your head held high.
posted by goingonit at 5:57 AM on July 28, 2015 [6 favorites]

Here's the thing...you really haven't made it until you get let go for a big decision, because if your decisions don't have the ability to get you fired, you're not high up enough in the org. There are so many people who are brought in, make some changes, and summarily get let go in the industry I work in, it's become a regular thing, and they're pretty used to it, as well. I call it the "Vice President Syndrome," where, when you hit the VP level (I'm not there yet), you lose a bit of the stability that came with lower-level, non-exec positions, because you just don't wield that much authority.

You seem in good financial standing, and in good standing with the people who would hire you in the future, so I would do what you planned, own up to the mistakes (or miscalculations, it sounds more like), hit the market running, and forgive yourself. You can't be perfect all the time, and if your company is giving you good references, they understand it wasn't the quality of the man, but just the wrong decisions at the time.
posted by xingcat at 5:58 AM on July 28, 2015 [7 favorites]

Step back and thank your lucky stars that you got out of there after a short stint, take your wife and go for a spontaneous holiday somewhere you've always wanted to go and then come back and start applying for jobs you really want.

You've worked hard for 20 years to reach a wonderfully stable financial position, that's not going to disappear overnight.

Take some time to congratulate yourself on this while forgetting the idiots at the last place, go forth and enjoy the rest of your life.
posted by humph at 6:01 AM on July 28, 2015 [10 favorites]

(Sorry, I deleted the line that said after a much deserved break, your decision as to what to do next will undoubtedly be easier.)
posted by humph at 6:04 AM on July 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have a computer science degree and a lot of experience, and a lot of contacts - some of whom I've helped find jobs in the past.

You sound like you'd potentially be a good candidate to work freelance. Look at the particular areas that you have specialist knowledge in, that you enjoy and that enjoy a reasonable commercial demand. You could then set up in your own right to work in these areas or you could find somebody who would employ you on an agency basis.

If you are the slightest bit interested in going down this route then the effort in setting yourself up with a business is probably worth it: it does not take that long or cost that much, it allows you to invoice for any smaller pieces or work you do, it gives you experience in running your own affairs and it can help you form contacts with the local business community.

And, if you do go down that route, look into professional indemnity insurance for your business - as you aware technical people - even the best - have the potential to screw things up in a way that can cause blame disputes with clients. I think that getting suitable insurance as a freelancer would be a good lesson from the (poorly justified IMHO) experience of your being fired.
posted by rongorongo at 6:07 AM on July 28, 2015

You lost a mediocre job, you didn't commit genocide. Go get a new job, just like you would if your employer went out of business or made you redundant or sold off your unit or was utterly horrible and you quit.

You've had two weeks to wallow, which is more than enough, and now you're just shame spiraling. Go polish your resume and think about what's next as a 5-year-plan, not a panicked oh-god-what-will-I-do-now. You don't have to take the next job that comes along, but at least get your pipeline ramped back up and start reaching out to your contacts and start walking every day.

The previous employer clearly knows you lost the spin on Wheel Of Politics, you need to internalize that for yourself. It stings, but this is "eat some ice cream in front of the TV for a couple of days and move on" pain, not "flee the country" pain.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:19 AM on July 28, 2015 [16 favorites]

Shame is the issue I'd like to talk about. I recently listened to an author named Ronson on NPR. He wrote the book, So You've Been Publicly Shamed, about the most extreme viral pile-ons via Twitter, etc. But I think he did additional research about shame as a topic. (He said some riveting things about most violent criminals experiencing a lot of shaming in their childhoods.) Anyway, shame is something that you have to let dribble out of you, or it's really toxic.

I encourage you to keep looking for work in the UK for several months. (Unless the jobless rate is enough worse than it is in my country that it's truly hopeless.) While doing this, please go for long walks or runs and get some philosophical distance on what happened. Also talk, or write, as much as you can about what went wrong (when you can address it constructively and not beat yourself up). Understand where the pitfalls were and what you could handle differently if you could approach the same problem again. In interviews, if you decide to mention the problem, emphasize what you learned and how you would handle a future situation differently. I think that's what employers want to see.

Consider that your employer maybe didn't want to fire you... but that they needed to tell upset clients that you had been fired.
posted by puddledork at 6:37 AM on July 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

Listen, being fired is shattering for some people and that's OK. But you are catastrophising this and you absolutely do not need to. You need to separate out the emotional from the practical.

On the practical, you're approaching this like All Future Employers Will Know and Nobody Will Ever Hire You Again. That is entirely untrue; you are obviously highly employable because you have an employment record that shows that and being fired doesn't change that record of being hired.

On the emotional level, I would encourage you to use some of your savings for private therapy rather than approaching it as if you will Never Work Again and This Money Needs to Last Forever.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:44 AM on July 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

there's a book called Power with a blue cover that you need to read. I can't remember the author right now but it claims to be evidence based. Talks about people who've been shamed worse than you and how they bounced back.

Srsly I get that this is really upsetting but you have nothing to worry about, get back on that horse.
posted by tel3path at 7:33 AM on July 28, 2015

"You [peccadillo-ed], you didn't commit genocide."
I'm committing this to memory.

I like the suggestion about writing constructively, and in case constructive writing isn't immediately possible think you might set a timer for a short time like ten minutes and write down every horrible self-abnegating thing you've thought since this happened and anything else you can come up with, getting as baroque as possible and covering the paper with messy, scrawly, dark, pencilshovedontothepaper writing that goes every direction, then write rebuttals for all of it on another clean sheet of paper taking as much time as you like and using a nice pen and neat handwriting and assembling everything in calm, orderly, kindly rows. Maybe even calligraphy. Then put the constructive one near you for easy consultation and possibly burn the terrible one, unless it turns out it looks really cool, which I can imagine being possible, in which case put it away somewhere and get it out whenever you feel like looking at it.
posted by Don Pepino at 7:51 AM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I understand that you are upset. It is perfectly fine to be upset over being fired, but I agree with others that say you are needlessly blowing this waaaay out of proportion. People get fired all the time and get jobs afterward. You don't need to tell future employers in interviews and since you were there only three months, you don't even need to put this job on your CV. Three months is nothing on a CV that spans 20 years.

This is not the end of your career. This is not the last job you'll ever have. You don't need to flee the country. Just apply for new jobs and go on interviews and pretend this job at this shitty, blame-y company never happened.
posted by bedhead at 8:00 AM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

You had a big loss, so right now you need a win to help build you back up again. Obviously, another good job will do this, but that takes time. I like to do this in series of small wins: Complete a 10-mile hike. Paint a bedroom. Spend a day volunteering. Visit someplace you've never been but always wanted to go (either across town or across the planet.) Open a door for someone (literally or figuratively).

By the way, it sounds like the team you were working for is crummy and desperate. Big mistakes don't come down to one person. This was not a good employer and quite frankly you are better off without them.
posted by mochapickle at 8:14 AM on July 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

As to how to approach interviews after being fired: go to Ask a Manager and check out her advice. Commenters on that site are also helpful.
posted by bentley at 8:20 AM on July 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Contact headhunters - don't waste your time with graduate school.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:46 AM on July 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

I wonder why the loss of this job is triggering what seems like a disproportionate reaction and a desire to completely change your life. Do you want to change your life (move, get a Masters, whatever)? How did you feel before the job loss? I suppose my question is whether the job loss triggered disproportionate shame or panic and that's why you feel like running or whether some part of you wanted to run anyway and the job loss gave you permission? Obviously I have no idea what the answer is. But I definitely second the advice to go on holiday for a bit and give yourself some time to unwind and decide what you want. You don't have to do anything, which is enviable: you obviously are free either to get another job in the same field without difficulty or to make big changes without it being a disaster. The only question is what you want.
posted by Aravis76 at 8:53 AM on July 28, 2015

when you do get a job (i can see why you don't want to now) you should consider paying off the mortgage. maybe there's some complicated reason not to, but in general terms it makes no sense to be paying interest on a loan when you have cash in the bank.
posted by andrewcooke at 9:39 AM on July 28, 2015

Lots of excellent advice above re: your career. I would also say that no matter what happens with your career choices - whether you get a job right away or do decide to move abroad -- you should definitely focus on those health issues you mentioned. Exercise will go a long way in helping your anxiety and depression, as well as your sleep issues (which will again help your anxiety and depression!) Best of luck, you will be fine!
posted by thebots at 10:33 AM on July 28, 2015

I am also in London, just arrived, looking for a job in IT, and I was about to suggest we job hunt together or something, before reading the rest of your post. I have just over 1k savings, so another month, and I'm out.
Which means I probably shouldn't be giving you advice, you are doing much better than me at life!

I'll try anyway:
Put the feelers out for a new contract, then go on holiday. Just a little one, you don't need to dump money. Day trips, go visit Stonehenge.
If they ask what you have been doing?
You came over from Asia, have had a little summer holiday in England and are now settling in and looking for a new opportunity.
They may not even ASK you about the gap it is so short.
If you need to, be vague and mention that you were initially looking into an opportunity at #place# but it didn't work out.
If you are really pressed, blah blah it was a bad fit, and THEN the details you posted above.
Leaving a role almost immediately as a bad fit, is a failure on them usually.

So, having got the balls for a new job rolling, confident about what you want to say to future employers, it is time to go on holiday with your wife, and decide what you want to do with your life. Do you want kids? Where do you want your social life to be? Where do you want to work? What dreams do you want to accomplish?
If you come up with an alternate plan for your future, that is great. In the meantime, keep chugging away and consider if you really want any jobs that come your way in the interview. Also consider picking up a temporary contract if that will give you space to think, and means you aren't worrying about a cv gap.

Best of luck!
posted by Elysum at 10:41 AM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't know if you are a fan of both comic books and inspirational mantras (perhaps, not), but I saw this dialog bit in Ms. Marvel at the library this morning. "The only power worth snot is the power to get up after you fall down."

(Being said by a fictional super-being in a funny suit talking about super powers made this more resonant for me. Your mileage may vary. I think I'm going to write it on the wall next to my desk.)
posted by puddledork at 11:49 AM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

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