Written by Katrina Daniel Tuesday, July 17 2012
In our current economic climate, all too many Americans are familiar with the sense of loss that sets in after being fired. Not only has your source of income been eliminated, but your identity has been turned on its head. Professional lives and personal lives often become intertwined – coworkers constitute much of your social life, and your entire schedule is structured around your working hours and professional commitments. Losing your job certainly can feel like the end of the world, but it can also be an opportunity to refocus and start anew on a venture all your own.
Robyn Cohen was blindsided when she was fired from her dream job as a copywriter at an Atlanta ad agency.
“To make matters worse, I was getting ready to leave on my dream vacation, I was telling everyone good-bye when the new creative director called me into the conference room at 6 pm on a Friday - he had his hands locked behind his head and his feet up on a chair. I sat down, and without missing a beat he said, ‘You’re going to want to look for another job when you get back.’ My immediate response was; ‘You’re joking, right?’ He wasn’t. “
After the initial shock wore off, Cohen went on her vacation and then returned to Atlanta to launch the next chapter of her life.
“I landed at the Weather Channel writing and producing TV commercials, but after a year I took the biggest risk of my career and started my own creative agency with my old art direction partner who was also let go from the agency when I was,” she explains. “It was the best thing I ever did. I learned how to run my own business. I wore all the hats, worked hard and loved every minute of it.“
Cohen stayed with her business partner for five years.
After that, she went out solo and has never looked back, “Now I am a freelance copywriter and department head of copywriting and a teacher at The Portfolio Center, an advertising and design school in Atlanta. I now shape young minds that are trying to break into the business, and it is true what they say, ‘You’re not a true professional until you get fired!’”
Cohen insists, “My path may not have been the same had I never been let go from that very first job. Looking back, I can honestly say it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
She adds, “My advice to others? Hang tough. Believe in yourself. When one door closes, another one opens.’”
Unlike Robyn Cohen, who stayed in the same industry, Marcy Cowan did a complete 180-degree turn when it came to switching careers. She was once in-house legal counsel to home improvement giant Home Depot and also held several other high level corporate jobs.
When her last employer was taken into bankruptcy and her job eliminated, Cowan decided she had had enough.
“I got to the point that I could no longer tolerate not having control of my life and finances,” she explains.
Cowan followed her heart and her taste buds. She bought a small exclusive culinary arts store – Taste in Decatur, Ga. - which she now happily runs.
“Our vision for the store is that it will carry beautiful, tasty and pure culinary products. We’ve got olive oils from Tuscany that taste unlike anything you can get at the grocery store. People try to lick the plates when we have tastings.”
Cowan is probably more enthusiastic now about her own business than she ever was working for someone else.
“If you’re looking to make a big change,” she says, “You’ll find a lot of negative thinkers and nay-sayers around you. If you feel strongly about your dream, do it and move away from the energy suckers. Have a realistic business plan, but don’t assume that taking risks is inherently a bad thing. Change can be exciting, energizing and lucrative,” says Cowan.
Susan Bernstein was fired from her job as an account executive at a medical education agency (pharmaceutical marketing to doctors) in December 2010.
“I had grown to intensely dislike the job, felt uncomfortable in the role, but still wasn’t expecting to be fired,” she recalls.
“A blessing in disguise” is how Bernstein now refers to her firing.
“Back there, I felt out of place and often struggled to manage simultaneous projects. Most of all, I felt that the work didn’t utilize any of the skills I had. I felt I was on the wrong path and seemingly locked into it.”
She continues, “Still, I experienced terror and despair initially, but within days, I felt a sense of relief too because I was freed from feeling trapped and stressed all the time.”
Bernstein knew she wanted to write, that was her calling – not selling. So she went all out.
“I spent a lot of my free time networking for new opportunities, talking to friends and contacts in public relations, nonprofit marketing and other fields that might need someone with my background and skills,” says Bernstein. “I was interested in returning to nonprofit work as well because I enjoyed working for a cause.”
Bernstein pulled herself together quickly, launched a website within three weeks and proceeded to contact all of her old coworkers, bosses and mentors, and she made a startling discovery.
“I realized that if you’re contacting people about contract or freelance work, it’s much easier to find the work than if you’re applying for a job through an online application system or sending a resume to an HR director.”
Susan Bernstein is now an independent writer and editor, lining up coveted writing assignments with influential and important national figures.
“So, only a year and a half after being fired from a job where I often felt useless, I was being asked by one of the world’s largest nonprofits to interview the CEOs of huge companies like Walgreens and Avis.”
What Bernstein takes away from this, “When one door closes, another opens.“
For these women, an unexpected detour on the road to success turned out to be a blessing in disguise:
Jackie Danicki, Dédé Wilson and Diane Potter are three unique women with one commonality: They all chose an unconventional path to success. From dropping out of college to being fired from jobs, these women still found a way to thrive professionally.
Sylvia Allen quit her job at a TV station in 1965 when the executive producer refused to give her a line credit for being a woman. She simply responded with, “No problem. I quit.” Fast forward to today, and the same tenacity shows in the 75-year-old’s work as founder of her own nonprofit, Sylvia’s Children.
“You’re not a true professional until you get fired” … by Donald Trump. Jessie Conners faced Trump’s infamous words, “You’re fired!” in 2004 after appearing on The Apprentice at age 21. Today she is CEO of Peppermint Park, a successful fashion and luxury brands e-tailer with tens of thousands of active members.
Katrina Daniel is an award-winning journalist and broadcast reporter/anchor. She has worked in Miami, Los Angeles, New York and as a national correspondent for several networks. She commutes between Miami and the Carolinas, writing for magazines and news organizations. She lives with one horse, four dogs and a cat.