Getting Over Getting Fired and Rediscovering My Self Worth
Fired. Unemployed. Rejected. Useless. Replaceable. Incompetent. Ashamed. Broke.
These are all labels I carried with me after getting let go from my first “big girl” job.
In May 2012, I graduated from Central Piedmont Community College with an A.A.S in Dental Hygiene. I worked my BUTT off through school (and simultaneously packed a binge-butt on). I studied hard, I stressed hard, and I slept little. Two years of classes and a nerve-wracking series of exams later, I was granted my license to practice dental hygiene.
Fresh out of school and eager to start earning an RDH income, I started filling my schedule with temporary/fill-in work through a dental staffing agency. In the meantime, I applied to full-time positions around town. When I wasn’t temping, finding a job was my job. When I got a call to interview for a full-time position in October of 2012, I was jumping for joy. I felt incredibly lucky to even have a shot at FT work so quickly
After a series of interviews, I was offered the position. Ecstatic doesn’t begin to describe how I felt. To me, this job was the culmination of everything I had done up to this point; the hours spent working in restaurants to get through school, my academic efforts, and the hundreds of resumes personally delivered or emailed.
I was SO filled with gratitude, that the daily stress of my new job was tolerable...for a while, anyway. The office kept a packed schedule that never seemed to run on-time, resulting in frustrated patients, staff, and doctors. Appointments frequently ran into our lunch hour. The pay was..eh, it was my first hygiene job. I learned to cope with even more difficult personalities than the ones I had encountered in the food service industry. I was burning out. After a year of keeping my head above water, I started to wonder if this job was really the best fit for me. I weighed the odds of finding a better opportunity with so little experience versus the grind that just showing up to my job had become.
Soon enough, the decision was made for me.
One afternoon, just before heading home for the day, the office manager asked to speak with me privately. She proceeded to tell me that it was my last day. I was fired, no longer employed. She explained that it was “office policy” to not specify a reason for my dismissal.
I was in utter shock, completely caught off guard. I worked hard for that office, how could they do this to me?? What did I do wrong? Am I a bad hygienist? I’d never been given a reprimand of any sort during my employment there. A few constructive comments from the dentists made in passing, but never anything that caused me to believe I was on the brink of firing.
I had an ugly cry sesh on the way home that day and then moved straight into recovery-mode. I prepared new resumes and immediately returned temp work. Again, I was fortunate enough to find a FT opportunity quickly. About a month after being fired, I was hired to work for a periodontist, and his office is the one I’ve been happily employed at for the past 5 years.
Despite being blessed with a new job so quickly, I struggled with the rejection of being fired for months years. I couldn’t wrap my head around the WHY and thus had trouble moving forward. I was insecure about my abilities as a professional. I questioned whether it might be some aspect of my personality that was unattractive to my previous employer. I allowed my questions and doubts to occupy way more mental space than they were worth.
Did I ever get an answer to my questions? No. But I’ve finally moved on.
I spent years trying to determine what my firing meant.
Objectively, it meant that I was no longer employed at that office. It meant that I would need to find an alternative source for my paychecks. It's not my former employer's fault that I've made it mean I'm a no-good loser. In that way, perhaps it was a blessing that they gave me no feedback. I've realized that all the negative labels and supposed meaning I've attached to this event are my own doing.
I've been forced to find value within myself, separate from anything I do. I’ve learned to let go of the need for external validation. Getting over getting fired has meant accepting that I’ll never have closure, yes, but more importantly it’s been remembering that my worth is not in my occupation.
I’ve had to very intentionally quiet the mean or pitiful self-talk. It’s not easy to shut the bully in your brain up! It takes courage and consistency. In these moments I recall the self affirmations I mentioned in a previous post on shame- 1) I love myself, therefore I am enough 2) I am loved by God, therefore I am enough. Over, and over, and over again.
And yes, finding employment was helpful
I'd be remiss not to acknowledge the positive impact that securing employment post-firing had. Not only was I employed in a timely manner, but I was fortunate enough to be employed by what I consider to be me "forever dental home." I work for an office of four people- my boss (the periodontist), an office manager, a dental assistant, and myself. We get along like friends. Whether it's a quiet day or a hectic one, I always feel appreciated. I make a decent wage. We do things! Like take "work trips" to Las Vegas, 99% of which is paid for by my employer. We take turns bringing in breakfast for the office on Thursday mornings to celebrate the end of our work week (yes, I work just Monday-Thursday). I feel beyond blessed to work for such an incredible office. It's impossible for me not to look back at my firing and see how it made space for this better opportunity that I wouldn't have found otherwise.
You might think that being adopted by this amazing work family would have taken away any insecurity I felt from being fired- not the case! As life has shown me time and time again, our circumstances don't equate to a changed mindset, that change must be made separately and intentionally. For a long time, I still doubted myself as a hygienist, my employer's praise notwithstanding. If you've been fired, whether or not you've been hired again has very little to do with improving the mental fallout, I think. Getting hired certainly relieves some immediate financial stress and worry, and may even bring a temporary confidence boost, but I want to emphasize that the internal work will probably still need to happen! That's been my experience, at least.
So often, overcoming struggle or hardship means accepting the things we cannot control. What we do have the power to control is ourselves. Our actions, our reactions, and our thoughts.