Dylan Stewart Columnist
This is the story of three firings. Three separate positions in which I failed. Three separate times I got “taken out“ of a position … and how each time it made me better.
1. Seeing More in Myself
In September of 1997, I was doing what any red-blooded 25-year-old college dropout would do… being a single father to my 3-year-old daughter, and working full-time in retail.
Not exactly the dream I had envisioned. I was going to be the great American novelist. I was going to get a degree in screenwriting. I was going to travel Europe with nothing but a backpack and my wits. And yet here I was at 25, working in the “new media“ department of a bookstore on the third street promenade in Santa Monica.
New media was a fancy term for CD ROMs… The disks that fit inside of computers and allowed us to play amazingly sophisticated games like Myst and SimCity. These games were all the rage back then, and it was a question of whether the Internet or CD ROMs was going to be the next wave of technology. Guess what won?
As it became more and more obvious that the Internet was the way people were going to utilize technology, the new media department i worked at became smaller and smaller and smaller. I went from a job at the cutting edge of technology, to babysitting Tweens on summer break as they played on our “free” display computers. Needless to say I was frustrated, and felt useless.
So I rebelled, started speaking out to the boss, even to some of the higher level managers in the organization. I became outspoken and critical of how they were handling this transition. And my big mouth… as it usually did… got me in trouble, and got me fired.
I had a 3-year-old baby at home, no way to pay the bills, and no savings to speak of. This firing hit hard and hit home. I was scared, broke, and left without a clear idea of where to turn.
When I returned home, I got a phone call from my father. I questioned whether to tell him about being fired or not. I was my own man, but I didn’t feel like it in that moment.
I decided to take the high road and let him know… He laughed, and told me he was calling because he had heard about an available position with a high-level literary agent in the motion picture industry. He asked if I wanted an interview… Yes Dad… Yes I want that interview!!!
Just think, if I hadn’t opened my mouth I wouldn’t have been available to take that job. I would have been sitting firmly in a dying department at an irrelevant bookstore chain that would eventually go completely belly up. The very definition of a dead-end job. Somehow, my big mouth had saved me, and opened me up for something bigger and better. Hard to believe that fate didn’t have a hand in that decision.
Thank you for firing me. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to think bigger and to be bigger. Thank you for allowing me to see more in myself than i had before.
2. Doing What I Know to be Right
I took that job in the film industry, and worked hard there, and succeeded. My bank account balance grew, my confidence grew, and I was able to develop the technical skills that would pave the way for my later career. Without getting fired, none of that would’ve happened. Somehow getting fired had freed me.
I worked in the film industry for awhile, getting all the way up to a high position at that first job, then I left and wrote a TV pilot, almost got it made, and took time off work to develop it with my father.
I took the money from the TV pilot and went back to school and completed my education. But before long, the pilot didn’t get made. I had finished my degree, and it was time to go back into the workforce.
I got another job in the motion picture industry with another agent, this time a television production company. They were pretty cool people, and I quickly stepped out of the mail room and onto the front desk of one of the young up-and-coming agents.
The little agency was very popular, they represented the creator of the show Frasier that was very successful at that time. It was busy, high intensity, and I learned a lot. The agent that I worked for was still cutting his teeth, and certainly rough around the edge. But he was an overall good guy. Or so I thought.
For his birthday that year, the agent was going to Costa Rica with a bunch of his buddies on a surfing adventure. But as the date for the vacation came up, he realized he didn’t have a passport.
He put the responsibility of getting him one squarely on my desk. Time was short, and these were before the days of expedited passport companies. He urged me to tell the passport office that it was an emergency, a family member was ill, and he had to get to Costa Rica. He even went as far as suggesting I write a phony doctors note… I refused, but somehow managed to get him a Passport anyways. And he left on his trip.
I knew he was pissed that I had refused to forge the doctor’s note. Or maybe he was just mad that I had said no in the first place. I could tell he was furious because when he was on his vacation he never called the office… not once.
And we were in a busy season, getting our clients hired at all sorts of TV shows and with all of the different networks. But he never called in for messages, never sent me an e-mail, never communicated at all.
When he came back from the vacation I was brought into the office and let go. Just like that. It felt like a huge blow, a huge knock against me and my ego. Where was I going to turn? Once again my big mouth had gotten me fired. And once again I was given an opportunity to feel sorry for myself, dig in my heels, go on unemployment, or pull up my bootstraps and figure it out.
I chose the latter.
I ended up quickly finding another job at another agency, and as fate would have it, there were some bad times ahead for that small television agency. On September 11, when the World Trade Center was attacked, one of the passengers was the creator of Fraser. One of the agents had insisted he get on a plane for the upcoming Emmy Awards, and he had booked a ticket, becoming one of the casualties of that awful day. The loss of that client, and the tragedy that followed, challenged that agency with its very survival.
But I was onto newer and greener pastures… however the lesson of that job, standing strong on my morals, doing what I knew to be right even at the risk of getting fired never left me. Thank you for firing me, thank you for challenging me, thank you for forcing me to stick to my guns and stand up for something. I don’t know who I would have been without that.
And what’s more, several years later when I was running my own computer / technology business full-time, my old boss reached out to me and made amends.
As a way to apologize, he introduced me to a few agents at one of the largest agencies in Hollywood. Over the next 10 years, the introductions from that one connection would completely transform my business and give me a whole new level of clientele. I suppose fate had its hands in that firing as well.
Which leads us to our third firing…
3. My True Value Lies Within
My computer / technology business had taken off. After years of working for others and scraping finances together to make ends meet, I was finally running my own business. And business was good. I had found my niche, my purpose, my place… and I was thriving with dozens and dozens of regular clients. I was working as much as I wanted to (and a little more than that for good measure).
My best client was a medium-sized law firm that I saw every week. I had been there for a few years, and was pretty good at keeping their systems running. But they tended to run me a little ragged. So one day one of the partners at the law firm dropped her iPhone in the toilet. Now let’s be clear… this was 2007 and this was the very first iPhone. This was before Apple had taken off. This was right at the peak of Steve Job’s return to Apple, and there were barely any tools, system or programs to fix iPhones. When one broke you were usually up a creek without a paddle. And what’s worse, this was water damage and that was a huge deal.
But I was never one to panic. Using my best problem solving methods, and some good human/personal problem solving, I talked Apple into replacing the phone. You see, as fate would have it, this was right before Apple had installed liquid damage sensors on the iPhone. Even so, i was able to convince the local Apple Store to replace the phone.
So I returned to the law firm with the newly replaced phone and went about the very complicated task (in those days before the cloud and automatic iPhone backups) of restoring everything onto the phone. And I did a pretty damn good job, but I was unable to restore the text message history to the phone. I had saved all the messages, but only on the computer… not on the phone. So they fired me. No other reason; they were simply upset that I couldn’t saved the texts.
So I walked away. I had enough other clients to keep me busy, and I didn’t really think about it. I was a little sad to lose the relationship, but life went on. And months went by, and I quickly replaced that income, and eventually I pretty much forgot all about them and moved on…
And that was when the call came in. I recognized the lawyer’s phone number and couldn’t imagine why she was calling me, so I let it ring straight through to voicemail. A moment later the phone rung again… so I picked it up. After a few basic pleasantries we got down to business. “Dylan,” she asked, “if I gave you the opportunity to work for us again, what would you say?”
This was a new wrinkle. Having been fired enough times in my life I had never considered being re-hired. What would I say? I thought about it, and then before my brain had enough time to think about it ,my gut answered: “Well, if you were to give me that opportunity I would say you’re going to have to pay me a lot more.”
Silence on the other line… “Excuse me?” she said.
And that’s when I knew I had her attention, so I explained my thinking. I had gotten lazy at that job. They had worked me hard and I had needed the work, so I let them. But times were different now. If she was calling me, she needed me a whole lot more than i needed her, and the law of supply and demand was clear in my mind. I told her how much I would charge her, and what I would give her in exchange. I made a good case. I explained myself clearly. My confidence was high and I knew my value. And I knew that since they had fired me it had definitely gone up. So if they wanted me back, they were going to have to pay what I was really worth.
She thought it over, and before long agreed and told me to come into the office and they would write it up. And to this day, more than ten years later I am still working for them. They are still one of my best clients, and they have never questioned my value again. And neither have I.
Thank you for firing me and showing me my true value lies within. Thank you for giving me the gift of defining who I am to myself rather than expecting it to be defined by others. Thank you for helping to show me how much I had grown and how much I still had to grow.
That’s how I failed upwards yet again, and learned my true worth in the process. Failure is not a failure unless you let it be. Getting fired is not the worst thing that can happen to you. In fact often times it can be the best thing. It’s all a case of mindset. Each time I was fired it changed me.
And to this day, I wouldn’t want to change any of the firings that made me who I am today.
Sometimes the greatest gifts aren’t wrapped in shiny gold paper with bright red ribbons. Sometimes the greatest gifts are rolled around in mud and dirt, and left for you to unwrap and determine their true value.