You did it. You gave your boss the finger, told him to get lost, stormed out of the office, and -- for good measure -- spit in his coffee on the way out.
Or maybe that's the story you tell, and you were actually fired for your attitude, your behavior, or an inappropriate moment or gesture that was misconstrued -- or not. Then again, maybe your boss was the asshole with control issues, and your talent was threatening. Maybe your boss was sexually harassing you, and you worked in an intolerable environment that was sexist, racist, egoist, and a whole bunch of other "-ists."
Whatever the case, the digital employee landscape is littered with the desiccated corpses of both your attitude and your previous employers, who, like born-again zombies, you fear will torpedo your latest job opportunity.
If the prospect of that situation makes you cringe, remember to relax and breathe. The wreckage behind you is not entirely without reason. Digital was started by those who often gave the finger to corporate America. They were the loser Generation X who would never amount to anything. The slackers, lazy ingrates, a wasted generation -- that is, until they decided to break the rules and strike out on their own to create the next big thing. You know, the "Internets," with the tubes. Then all of a sudden they were brilliant -- savants, saviors. However, their hactivist attitude has always permeated digital, and as digital has moved past Millennials, that attitude has been adopted, co-opted, and refined.
In short, many digital marketers fear an old instance rearing its ugly head. Many more have left their jobs on "apparent" good terms, but they were such an excruciating hot-mess to work with that regardless of how talented they were, the company's attitude is "good riddance." So how do you position yourself for a rebound? How do you frame the firing on your resume? How do you answer that inevitable interview questions of why you left? How do you control any negative rumors or information that might be circulating in your professional circles?
Do not panic. There is hope. Your career is not doomed. You just need to follow these six steps (which is only half the number of steps you normally need).
Take 100 percent responsibility for your past
Regardless of whether you believe it was your fault, it was your fault. There is great power in taking 100 percent responsibility for what happened. It does not matter the situation. By taking 100 percent responsibility, you start to focus on the real issue (your future career) and not the old issue (any of the reasons you blame for past events). In the end, none of those reasons will help you. It does not matter what happened. If you blame others for it, that bitterness will stick to you like a bad stench as you stall in your career.
Let me use an analogy that might make more sense. You know when you are in a really good relationship and all of a sudden you seem to have a lot of opportunities to date others? But when you are single you have a difficult time? Same thing here. If you are stuck in the past for a situation that you can't seem to get over -- be it your ex-boss, your health, an accident, a downsizing, resizing, rightsizing, whatever -- it will come through. Take 100 percent responsibility for whatever happened, smile at the absurdity of it, and get your mojo back.
I can't stress this enough. I have known brilliant people sidelined because they can't understand this. If you can't viscerally "get" this step, don't move to any others. You would just be wasting your time. Get help, get therapy, get happy, and then get the life you imagine. There are many ways to accomplish this: Therapists are fine, but I personally suggest going with a life coach with psychological training if you are having difficulty here. Just search "life coach" or "counselor" on Yelp in your city and look for one with a Ph.D. Life coaches are more solution-focused than therapists, but finding one with a Ph.D in psychology means the person is skilled enough in psychological assessment to refer you to a therapist if you actually need it.
Remember that our industry has Alzheimer's -- so stop reminding people
If you are haunted by a terrible situation you have built up in your head, it tends to haunt only you. Let's face it: We live in a country of self-absorption, and the digital industry is narcissistic to boot. No one really remembers. So when you are socializing in the industry, just ignore whatever the situation was. It will exist in your memory long after everyone else has ignored it. So stop reminding people. No one really cares that much. If you are talented, that is really all they care about. If you constantly draw attention to it, guess what? People will start to pay attention to it.
Understand that you're not that important -- any company can survive without you
This can be summed up in two words: Ego kills. Be humble but confident, and people will want to work with you. Rarely, if ever, is anyone brilliant enough that by themselves the company will sink or swim. And if you actually think you are that person, then your ego needs a readjustment. Yes, the company might be worse off without you, but no one -- and I mean no one -- wants to work with someone who is constantly reminding others of how brilliant they are.
No one cares about your Klout score and your brilliant ideas if you constantly throw them in others' faces to try and make yourself feel better. The company, and everyone in it, would much rather make less money and live without you. Let me repeat that: Even if the company can make more money with you, everyone in the company will gladly take less money in order to not have to work with you if you are arrogant. Remember, humble and confident, not arrogant. If you feel this incessant need to drive the ship and you aren't the CEO, then quit and become your own CEO. Otherwise, shut up and get on board with the direction. Your career will thank you for it.
LinkedIn is the friend who tells you the truth -- listen to her silence
One of the most brilliant things about LinkedIn is that you can ask others to write recommendations for you. What's brilliant about it is that you get to decide whether to post someone's recommendation about you, and you can even suggest edits. However, you'll find out very quickly what people think about you when you request recommendations. Don't look in the recommendation; look at the non-response to the request. Does anyone respond? Do they "just not have time" to write one?
Listen to the silence of non-response. It provides you with an opportunity to organically reach out to some people and ask them for frank feedback as to why they would not write a recommendation for you. As painful as it is to hear, listen to those responses. They will provide you with the most honest appraisal of how you come across to others. And if someone constantly does not respond, just move on. As hard as it is to understand, some people will just want to avoid the confrontation. Those who are responding honestly are the brave ones, so be appreciative that they are brave enough and care enough to try to help.
How you come across to others is not who you are, but it is how you are perceived. As such, their views are the de-facto proxy for who you actually are in business. Listen to those responses deeply. Reach out empathetically and ask people for honest feedback. Learn from those responses. And remember that they are all true. Not because they are truth, but because perception is reality -- at least when it comes to your career.
Cultivate real-world connections
Social media is great for keeping in touch and reaching out, but real-world connections can go much further. Ask 100 people how they got their current job, and the vast majority of them will mention someone they know. Although you might find your career or your current job online, you are actually going to get your foot in the door by having a personal connection close that last gap. Cultivate interests in your career, and attend at least two Meetups a month.
I know. You might not be the most social person. I'll let you in on a little secret: Almost everyone has anxiety in social situations in the digital industry. If everyone else can get out there, so can you.
And remember to bring your business cards. Just do not, under any circumstances, talk about being unemployed, underemployed, or hating your job. It is about opportunity and being positive. Never speak ill of your current job, your coworkers, or your past companies. When people call your past companies, they are actually only allowed to reveal whether you worked there or not and on what dates. They can't reveal your previous salary or other information. However, the internet is flush with opportunities for them to do research.
Your social profiles are a veritable treasure trove of past actions, so avoid announcing your disdain for previous employers online, however tempting it might be. If you have already, keep that information private. It's bad enough that the NSA knows everything about you. The digital business is more incestuous than a southern wedding in the Appalachia, so play nice in the sandbox.
You see right there? I just insulted the Appalachia. That was a bad move. I just alienated a whole group of people. Although it might be funny and tempting to do such things at Meetups, don't be stupid. Keep all your options open, which leads me to my next point.
Keep all of your options open
One of the greatest pieces of advice I was ever given by my father was, "Don't turn down a job before they offer it to you. You can always reject it after they make you an offer." And he was right. I would summarily reject recruiters and job prospects without taking a closer look. Obviously some jobs I could do that with, but as I grew older, I realized that personal happiness is not summed up by a job, but by my attitude toward the job I have.
If you think you cannot be happy in a particular job, then you will not be happy at any job. Your job does not define you. You define your job. So before you reject someone reaching out with a particular job, take a closer look at it. Speak to some people at the company. Who you work with is much more important that what you do. Opportunity comes in many guises; don't let it slip though your grasp. If you can stop living in the job of your past and where you think you should be, you might actually find a job that accelerates beyond this.
I can hear people out there saying, "You do not understand! If I do not get a job soon, I'm going to go bankrupt, or lose my house, or..." I do understand -- profoundly more than you know. Not only did I burn bridges early in my career, but I often also pissed in the chasm left behind from their burning. And then I had a stroke and spent months learning how to walk and talk again, and years trying to rebuild my career from the ashes. I lost everything -- not only my house, but also any financial security. I get it: the financial stress, the feeling of failure, the shame, and the constant interview rejection.
If you think you will not be happy unless you have a specific job, I can introduce you to the people who have that job, and some of them are profoundly unhappy. Happiness comes first, then your ideal job -- not the other way around. I know that this is one of the most difficult things to grasp. So follow these steps. At worst, you'll just be a better person for it. At best, you'll change the attitude that is holding your career back.
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"Fear: Man haunted by his shadow" image via Shutterstock.