(Note: I wrote this article in March, but delayed publishing it until today)
Three years ago to this day, I was unceremoniously fired from my job. At the time, I felt like a big failure. After all, no one got fired from the company I worked at. It was such a big deal that I pretty lost touch with all my peers there, because I guess, I was outside the “circle of trust” now. My job was a pretty good gig – fairly interesting work, a nice view of downtown Toronto, good people, competitive pay… everything that added up to mediocre satisfaction.
Getting fired was awkward and embarrassing for me, and it still takes me a bit of courage to write this post as well as the letter later on below.
The truth is, my (many) superiors were right in seeing my decline and giving me a way out. I couldn’t do it anymore. I was a pretty good software engineer/Dilbert with several years of experience. However, I was getting tired. I traded my raises for more vacation time, and it still wasn’t enough. I hated travelling in short spurts and whirlwind vacations. I hated scheduling family time around a limiting work schedule.
Physically, I was worn down. My eyes got tired while my head hurt as I stared at a computer screen for hours on end. I felt stiff from sitting in one spot for such long periods of time. I did my best to counteract the negative physical effects by biking an hour to work in good weather, hiking eight flights of stairs up to my office, and doing yoga during lunch; but they were all really weak attempts to patch a greater problem.
Mentally, I was at my wit’s end. There was nothing I was working on that stimulated me. Day in and day out, I had nothing to look forward to but the same massive chunk of programming code. I was trading my time away for perceived security and comfort.
During employee reviews, I requested transfers to other departments to explore other lines of work as well as to go part-time, which only raised the alarms. Other positions might have been a change but most likely would have been even more mind-numbing.
In all honesty, I was looking elsewhere already, and had begun tinkering away on side businesses, but it was difficult to do both at the same time since the 9-5 was draining all my time. I was taking too long to get it together to leave – I didn’t know what life was like anymore outside the 9-5.
脱サラする Datsu-sara suru (Freedom From Work For Work’s Sake)
Fast forward to today. Things are better. Much better. And I have discovered getting fired was one of the greatest opportunities ever handed to me. So today, I wrote a letter of appreciation to the people who fired me:
I am writing this letter with sincere gratitude and appreciation for your part in terminating my employment with Initech three years ago. It wasn’t obvious then, but now I see it as one of the greatest opportunities that has ever happened to me.
At the time, it was clear that I was in a physical and mental decline from the work I was doing, and that I was seeking a different line of creative work which Initech didn’t offer. Coupled with headaches from staring at a monitor for so long, my work output wasn’t what it used to be. After being terminated, with no desire to return to a similar position, I chose to start a number of small businesses. It was an uncertain beginning, but a refreshing one. My creative energy returned, and I felt highly motivated as I put my energy into my own projects.
Surprisingly, as I started doing what I loved to do, the businesses did well, and I was able to free my time. Now, I have much more time to spend with my family, to learn new skills, to travel, and to contribute back. I believe I would have been on this path regardless, but it would have taken much longer without your intervention.
I sincerely apologize that I put you in such a difficult position, and I am confessedly ashamed for my lack of courage to leave Initech first. That was the last time I let my fears own me. Again, I really want to thank you for your part in making the decision to let me go, or, as I see it these days, to set me free.
All the best,
Perhaps you’re reading this wishing for the same. I can’t tell you to cut loose – I understand how difficult it is. I was building the courage and capital to leave, but honestly, I would have painfully sucked it up for another year or two (i.e. an eternity) while doing my own thing on the side.
Don’t sit there counting the pros and the cons of your life situation – you’re just going to get stuck in the paralysis of analysis. I can tell you that if your daily work routine is eating you up inside, you need to listen to your heart, take action, and start moving in the direction of where you want to be. That alone will make your heart beat again. For me, even thinking of all the years I spent in my previous jobs – the confining cubicles, the mind-numbingly grey atmosphere, the draining repetition, the late hours, the bad coffee, etc. – it makes me cringe.
Please use my story as a life lesson. Please don’t be conquered by your mental fears (fear of failure, fear of what other people think, fear of being broke). Please don’t put your fate in the hands of others. Please don’t wait for others to take action. Please don’t get to the end of your life regretting all the risks you didn’t take.
We don’t have a lot of time here, so if you really want change, if you really want something, you have to do something about it NOW.
Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy. — Kahlil Gibran