Wednesday, April 24, 2024

OPINION: HARVEY MACKAY — Getting fired can be good!

| August 2, 2020 1:00 AM

Many people have lost their jobs during this pandemic through no fault of their own.

For my book, “We Got Fired! … and It’s the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Us,” I interviewed 29 people who landed on their feet and excelled after they were furloughed or given a pink slip. These were high-profile people, often fired in a very public arena. To sum up each of their inspirational stories, I asked everyone what advice they would give to people looking for a job.

Pat Mitchell was the first woman president and CEO of PBS at the time. She had been working as a researcher/writer for Look magazine when it went out of business.

Her advice was: “Be determined … I was determined not to give up. I figured it would all come around if I could find a way to survive financially while I stayed focused on what I wanted. It didn’t come easily. If you look at my resume, it seems like one exciting jump from one run to the next. Every one of those moves was somewhat of a risk. Some didn’t work out as I planned or hoped. I didn’t follow a straight line to get where I am, but I never went backward either.”

She added: “Seize every chance you have to learn. It’s amazing how many skills we seem to acquire by accident.”

Bernie Marcus was CEO of the Handy Dan Home Improvement Center chain when the parent company declared bankruptcy. Marcus was fired by a vindictive board even though the Handy Dan division was not in bankruptcy. “They threw me out of my office and put bars on the door. They searched my files. It was pretty terrible — one of those corporate things. You hear about them, but you don’t really know what they are like until you live through one.”

He was convinced to drop his lawsuit against the company by a mentor who encouraged him to get on with his life. Another friend advised him to open the store he had always dreamed of. And that’s how The Home Depot was born. He was fired from a top spot in hardware retailing and went on to redefine the hardware industry.

Billie Jean King, winner of 39 women’s tennis Grand Slam titles, experienced a series of career setbacks. She said: “Have faith and believe in yourself. It’s OK to feel what you’re feeling. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This was one of my weaknesses. I was embarrassed to ask, but I’ve since learned that people want to help. Develop skills and try your best.”

King, who became the first woman in any sport to earn more than $100,000 in prize money in a year, added: “Understand delayed gratification. We live in a society of instant rewards. You must learn your craft and earn what you get. It takes a lot of work and sweat, but you have to be willing to pay the price.”

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told me that he first had a vision for his Bloomberg media empire the day he was fired from Salomon Brothers. He and 62 other partners were summoned to a conference center and told the firm was being merged into another company.

One message from Mayor Bloomberg really stuck out: “People remember two things in life — who helped you on the way up … and who kicked you on the way down.”

Lest you think these examples don’t relate to your situation, stop and think again. These folks could have wallowed in self-pity, spent fortunes in lawsuits and harbored bitterness that would taint their future job searches.

But they chose a different path. They

traded on their strengths and determined to forge ahead. And they didn’t give up. That’s the most important lesson of all.

If you would like a free copy of my book, “We Got Fired! … and It’s the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Us,” visit to complete a form to download the eBook.

Mackay’s Moral: Tough times don’t last; tough people do.

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Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.” He can be reached through his website,, by emailing or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.