Get Fired? How Boomers Can Take the New “High Road”
What’s the first thing you should do when you get fired? I’ll bet “post on social media” is not what comes to mind.
Yet that’s exactly what Sree Sreenivasan, savvy gen-x tech journalist, Columbia professor, and, until recently, Chief Digital Officer at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, did when he got fired from this high-profile position.
And please, no condescending baby boomer harumphing about how younger generations live every second of their lives on their social media screens. Sreenivasan was actually very smart to get ahead of the buzz, and set the stage for how he would be perceived after the shake-up.
For boomers navigating increasingly unstable careers in our 50s and 60s, our natural instinct would be to hide when we hit a humiliating snag like getting fired. But in today’s much more transparent and connected world, an uncontrolled, unmoderated narrative is likely to spiral out of control and cause more damage than necessary. Granted, we’re not all high-profile executives being fired from high-profile jobs. Most of us are hardly gossip-worthy, nor do we have public profiles to protect. Still, social media culture is quick to interpret and, often, misinterpret information that can take a long time and a lot of explaining to set right. Sreenivasan’s advice to others after his ouster was to follow a four-part strategy: 1) go public ASAP, 2) be vulnerable, 3) control the narrative by setting it free, and 4) be open to meetings and advice.
This strategy might seem unhinged to the average boomer. Indeed, we were raised and came of age at a very different time, when we weren’t living in the social media fishbowl we find ourselves in today. Sure, we felt OK about sharing our plight with family and friends, but personal and professional misfortune wasn’t something that we would trumpet from every hilltop. Yet we find ourselves in the midst of a “new normal,” where everyone expects to be kept abreast of even the most inconsequential details of our day-to-day lives. In that context, hiding or avoiding a major development like losing a job raises a red flag.
Why go public?
Because keeping it private means you have something to hide.
No matter how humiliated you may feel if you get fired, or angry you are at the unfairness (or outright ageism) of your former employer’s decision, your first task is to let the world know before it finds out from another source. Even if you are not a public figure like Sreenivasan, word is going to leak out – through HR, or other colleagues, and even the most well-meaning friends at the office may put the wrong spin on events. Get there first!
Why be vulnerable?
Because in an increasingly transparent world, vulnerability is strength.
If you are willing to be vulnerable, and share your honest feelings about being let go, you will earn respect. The degree to which we interact in an open and honest manner reflects our confidence and authenticity. People who try to gloss over their challenges or make light of real setbacks aren’t fooling anyone. We’ve all been there, and you’ll get a lot more mileage and support by telling it like it is. I’m not suggesting that you rant or complain or play the blame game. It’s all a question of balance: acknowledging your difficult situation, while being positive and hopeful, invites engagement and support from your community – and can even help make new friends.
Why “set the narrative free?”
Because you really don’t have a choice (but it’s OK!).
It may seem ironic that you can actually control the narrative of your dismissal by stepping back and not trying to control it. But as the next step following your willingness to be vulnerable, letting others spread the narrative that you have created is the best way to “get the word out” and sow the seeds of your next gig. The truth is that in a massively interconnected world, you have no control over what gets shared and passed along. But if you have jumped in to share your story as you see it, and done so in an open and authentic and vulnerable way, you have dropped the perfect pebble in the pond, and the ripples that start reflecting back to you will all be aligned the way you want them to be.
Why be open to meetings and advice?
Because the way to your next gig is not through your resume.
Today, it’s your network that’s going to get you your job, not your resume. Most recruiters and hiring managers spend less than ten seconds skimming a resume. What they’re more interested in is getting a referral and a recommendation. So as your story gets spread through your network, and hopefully begins to expand your network, you should concentrate on meeting new people and asking for advice. Don’t just think about the open positions you’re interested in. Think about the people who are doing the kinds of jobs you’re interested in doing, and the people working at the companies, and on the teams, you’re interested in. Track down those people, figure out a way to get into their offices, ask them how they got their jobs, tell them about you and your background and what you’re interested in doing, and ask them who else they can introduce you to. Ultimately, you want to build a network of compatible, like-minded people who become your “tribe.” And members of the same tribe tend to help each other out.
There’s really nothing very new about this strategy. It’s called “taking the high road,” and smart people have been using it for years. Today, accelerated and scaled by digital technology and social media, it may look a bit unfamiliar, but the same values and principles apply. While there are certainly many challenges facing boomers in the workplace, keeping your head up when things go south is a great way to start.