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Blog #12. Fired in Real Time: From Fired to CEO

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Image: Bob RosnerWhen I was fired I had no idea that within a month I’d be firing people. You just can’t make this stuff up.

The evening that I was fired I got a call from a friend who invited me to help with his start-up. Pretty quickly we realized that the organization was in real trouble. Within weeks he asked me to fire the CEO and to take over leadership of the company.

Before you jump to the conclusion that this is a rags to riches story, until we raise money for the new business I’m still in rags. I’ve just got a better title. Hopefully we’ll raise money soon and I can stop volunteering and start getting paid. At least that’s the plan.

It’s interesting to get fired and fire someone within a month. Instead of being disconnected from their emotional state, you become like a ping pong ball, bouncing across the table from the firer to the firee. Anyone who has to fire someone should have this level of insight about what’s going on inside of everyone’s head.

I’ll give you one example. At one point the subject of turning off the ex employee’s email came up. I said that we wound need to do this, but it could take a few days. Outside of humiliating the employee, it just didn’t make any sense to shut off their email immediately. Especially since there is stuff in their email box that will help the company moving forward.

Unfortunately he wasn’t the only one who needed to be let go. Most of the staff followed him out the door.

But the meeting where people were let go was one of the most surprising of my business career. Not only didn’t anyone complain, the staff just wanted to talk about what could be done to save the business. A few people even volunteer to continue to contribute without being paid.

It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. Which leads to my biggest piece of learning from this whole experience. It can all be summed up in one word, pride.

As much as people complain about work and their jobs, most of us derive great satisfaction from punching the clock. Like it or not, work plays a central role in most of our lives.

I’m reminded of the time I was getting a haircut. The barber was yawning a lot. I asked him if he’d been up partying the night before. He said no, that he’d given a bad haircut the night before and whenever that happens he ends up spending most of the night tossing and turning in bed.

Who knew that people could approach their jobs with such a sense of pride?

I’m going to try to carry the emotional pummeling of my firing with me every day for the rest of by working career. Because I think it is essential to never become disconnected from the pain and humiliation.

We can all rise from the ashes of a firing. But it takes a lot of rebuilding of your confidence along the way. The good news? There are a lot of people who are taking a similar journey. Hang in there.

My a-ha: There is life after being fired. Even success.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]

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Fired in Real Time: Networking When Not Working

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Image: Bob RosnerWe all know that networking is the answer, no matter what the question.

But networking isn’t making new friends on the bus. It’s connecting and re-connecting with people from your past who can vouch for what you can bring to an organization. Who can open doors for you, and would be willing to speak up on your behalf.

It sounds so easy. But trying to come up with the energy and a reason for people to meet with you is work. Hard work. But let me break it down for you.

Step one. Get your head in gear. People don’t want to meet with someone who is trailing blood into their office. You’ve got to get your swagger back. Or your sense of humor. Or your confidence. Whatever was the hallmark of you when you were working, needs to be cultivated now. This isn’t easy when you’ve been fired or let go. A.K.A. tossed under the bus. That’s why it takes thought, work and energy to get your “A” game back.

Step two. Think about where you’re going. There is a tendency to sprint after whatever moves after you’ve been laid off. That is a dangerous path, because your enthusiasm for pursuing a McJob will trail off. That’s why I’d always suggest something that you can be passionate about. At least then you’ll have the energy and commitment to pursue it with all your heart and soul.

Step three. Think about who you know. Sure Linkedin and Facebook suddenly surface lots of people from your past. Too many. So you’ve got to think about where you’re going and who might be able to help you to get there.

Step four. Contact them. Remember, you want to not come in as a desperate beggar, even when that’s exactly what you’re feeling like. No, you’ve got to put on your game face and convince them that you’re ready to hit the ground running. Even if you actually feel like you’re closer to hitting the ground after jumping from a six story building.

Step five. Ask for help. Yes, I did say that you want to be confident. But you also need to let people know that you need their help. To push them a bit.

One caveat. Some of your friends will let you down. Big time.

But the key thing to remember is that other friends will really have your back. My experience is that you’ll always be energized by more people than depressed. But some really key people will disappoint you. You just can’t let it drag you down.

Networking is the answer, but not when you use it like a shotgun. No this needs to be a rifle. A very carefully aimed rifle.

My a-ha: Let your friends help you.

Next Installment: From fired to CEO

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]

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Blog #10. Fired in Real Time: Keeping the Faith

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Image: Bob RosnerWant to know what it feels like to be fired?

It’s easy, go out and let all the air out of your car’s tires. Sure you can get from point A to point B, but it’s a bumpy and precarious ride. Welcome to life as a recently fired person.

Your immediate concern after being fired isn’t yourself, it’s all the colleagues, friends and potential employers that you’ll want to connect with. Your question is how you can present a good face to all of them? But the reality is that the problem isn’t a “them” question. It’s a “you” issue.

This advice is going to sound pedestrian. But you need to start very simply with a list of things that will boost your confidence and feelings of self worth. Exercise, volunteering, taking courses, escapist entertainment, etc. Generally anything that helps you to smile or otherwise improve yourself would fit into this category.

Unfortunately those are not the places that most of us logically turn. Alcohol, drugs, overeating, gambling, are the places that often provide an overwhelming gravitational pull during tough times.

So the big challenge is how to avoid negative addictions so that you can pursue positive ones. Damn, if it were only that easy to do.

But that is only the first step. What you quickly learn is how quickly salt water can be unexpectedly poured into your wounds. This happens whenever your former job is brought up. For me, luckily, it was at a dinner party. Someone asked about my job and I just went off. Trashing my boss and the way I was treated. Wow, even as it was coming out of my mouth I was surprised at my anger about the whole situation.

Anger. It’s there whenever you’re fired. So you’ve got to learn how to deal with it.

I’ve now learned how to be circumspect about the entire ordeal. But you need to realize that gaining confidence and self-esteem are just the first step. You’ve got to learn how to dispassionately discuss what happened to you in bland and forgettable language. “We didn’t see eye to eye.” “Creative differences.”

The challenge is how ultimately contradictory this process is. You need to find the confidence to not trail blood into your next job interview. At the same time you have to process your anger and learn how to talk about what happened dispassionately.

And you thought doing a job could be complicated?

My a-ha: Self-esteem and self-awareness can lead you out of the wilderness, but it’s a complicated dance.

Next installment: Networking When Not Working

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]

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Blog #9. Fired in Real Time: Getting Advice

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Image: Bob RosnerI remember the feeling of being on a short leash when I was growing up. Whenever I forgot about it, my parents would yank it just to remind me.

Unemployment is like that too. I got an email for a mandatory meeting with four days notice. There was no option for rescheduling it, and the letter said that if I didn’t show I would lose my benefits.

I’m not complaining, I understand leashes.

I showed up at the appointed time to be greeted by fifty other people who’d been tossed under the bus. There was remarkably little conversation.

If I expected any sense of a community forming among the others in the room, it quickly dissipated. There were not tables available to fill out the form that I needed to get access into the room. So I leaned on the top of a computer.

I was half way through my form when the woman using the computer I was leaning on told me that she needed to use the top of the computer to store her papers. It was interesting, because she was sitting at a huge empty desk. But clearly the only space that she really needed where I was writing.

No, this was every man, and woman, for themselves.

Finally they announced that the meeting would begin. We were herded into a room for an explanation of how to fill out the various forms. It was like dealing with the post office, but much slower moving.

The woman said that we needed to fill out the goldenrod form in pen. When one guy said that the lobby was full of pencils and he’d filled out the form with that, the woman let out an audible shrug and snatched the form out of his hand.

There were rules, but we also learned that there would be exceptions too. A valuable lesson for surviving my newfound bureaucratic existence.

After an hour, I got my shot for a one on one session. I clutched my resume and followed her to her cubicle.

She took one look at my resume and said that I wouldn’t get far with it. That I would be considered overqualified. I did get the sense that she actually cared about me. She just didn’t make that much eye contact, I guess that when you work with unemployed people, like in a hospice, you want to keep a bit of distance.

Overqualified, just echoed in my head as I walked toward my car.

My a-ha: My parents taught me well about surviving short leashes

Next installment: Keeping the Faith

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]

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Fired in Real Time: On the Dole

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Image: Bob RosnerI woke up in the middle of the night physically shaking, frozen in fear about how I’d pay my bills. I had totally soaked through my sheets, so I had to climb out of my unintentional water bed.

Once I realized what was going on, I decided I would go online and do some research about Unemployment Insurance. Okay, I can hear what your thinking. Jeez, Mr. Workplace Writer, wasn’t that the first thing you would do after being let go?

Just because I write about the workplace, it doesn’t mean that I can be totally objective when confronting workplace challenges myself. Again, that’s the purpose of this blog, to give you an honest, and sometimes embarrassing, view of the process of getting knocked down at work and learning how to pick yourself back up.

I actually got excited about the idea of going to the unemployment office. As a workplace writer it would be interesting to stand in line with other people who’d been recently pummeled at work to compare notes.  Okay, that last sentence is a bit twisted, but please remember the source.

I learned something remarkable during my middle of the night tour of the Employment Security website. There really is no longer any such thing as the Unemployment Office. It’s all done electronically now.

In fact, it only took me about fifteen minutes to sort out how to file my entire claim. At 3 am.

For anyone who fears the embarrassment of a room full of down and outers and being grilled by some bureaucrat, well those days are now gone. It has been replaced by a series of drop down menus and helpful phone operators. Really, every issue that I’ve come up with so far has been responded to and addressed in a matter of ten minutes or less. They even have a system where you don’t have to stay on hold, they’ll call you back when it’s your turn to talk to someone.

Okay, that last paragraph sounds like I’m trying to get hired by them to do PR for the Unemployment Insurance folks. That was not my intention. But I do want you to know that this process should not inspire fear. It’s automated, easy and only minimally damaging to your ego.

I’ve also heard from people who’ve written to me through the years that they would never stoop so low to ask for unemployment insurance. This has always befuddled me. Unemployment Insurance isn’t charity, it is a fund that you paid into while you were gainfully employed.

It’s no different than buying a gift card at a store. You are paying the cost of the card only to cash it in at a later date. That’s how I’ve always seen Unemployment Insurance.

My a-ha: Unemployment Insurance rocks, spread the word.

Next Installment: Getting advice

*For more information about Unemployment Insurance visit this Workplace Fairness page on unemployment insurance:

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]

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Getting Back in the Game

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Image: Bob RosnerIf a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, getting back into the work game begins with re-writing your resume. Sure, networking is how you’ll find an opportunity, but resumes are the foundation of your networking.

A quick confession, I haven’t written a resume in fifteen years. Ever since I’d become an author, columnist and speaker, all I really needed was a paragraph or two describing my career highlights and my latest book, speech, etc. Then I’d send people a link to my speakers video and we would usually be off to the races.

Post-firing, I began my resume writing path where most of us do, with the template section of the word processing program on my computer. This made me feel like a visit to a crappy used clothing store. You know what I mean, where you’re palpably aware of every other person who’d ever worn the clothing that you were currently trying on.

Resume templates feel that way too, this isn’t something that will really capture you unique gifts, no it’s trying to fit a square peg of your experience into round hole of the damn template.

Anyone who is fired knows what happens next. Instead of looking at that blank template with the problem of trying to fit ten pounds of experience into a one pound package, you look at the blank page and wonder if you’ll ever be able to fill it up. You ask yourself, can I get by with a three-quarter page resume? The confidence challenges of being fired are interesting, they pop up at the most unexpected times.

This is probably the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like three-fifths of a person in my lifetime. But the cloud of being fired doesn’t lift off of you quickly, it lingers. And the resume process is an especially interesting part of pouring the salt into your wounds humiliation.

Instead of starting to make a list of all the things you’ve done, you tend to get stuck on how to describe that last job. How to cover it up. How to make it sound like something other than what it was. How to put up roadblocks between your resume and people who will want to call the guy who fired you. I had no idea that being fired would set off so many mental gymnastics.

But eventually the tide turned and the resume writing experience turned into a confidence builder. I was remembered of a lot of my past wins and I was able to craft a resume that helped me put my best foot forward.

Even though this process ended on a positive note, it had many moments of walking across ice that wasn’t fully frozen. You know that creaking sound that you hear as you take each step? That’s what the resume writing process was for me, a creaky discovery of my skills that unfolded over time.

My a-ha: Resume writing is the opposite of Spring, you go in like a lamb but leave the process like a lion.

Next installment: On the Dole

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]

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The “F” Word

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Image: Bob RosnerWhen I started networking after I was fired, yes, I actually follow the advice that I’ve been writing about for the last sixteen years, I came across an interesting issue. Do you use the “F” word with potential employers? You know, fired.

My initial tendency was to avoid it. I moved on, I was let go. Things didn’t work out. You know all these euphemisms. But I decided as part of the “Fired in real time” project, I would describe myself as being fired and see what would happen.

I got a call from a possible vendor. I needed to explain what happened, so I described myself as being fired. He seemed to take it in stride.

It was only days later, when a mutual friend called, that I learned that the vendor had called him to ask about me. Or, more specifically, to find out if I was “legit.”

Okay, it might not be a scarlet letter on my forehead, but it definitely is a stain on your credibility to be fired.

I did it a few more times, with a colleague, with the person sitting next to me at Rotary and with  someone who worked in a store where I was shopping. Okay, I’m not the type of guy who usually tells his life story to retail clerks, that’s the job of my seven year old daughter, but when the clerk asked why I was shopping in the middle of the day, I thought I’d drop the “F” word on her to see what would happen.

I’d like to say that the clerk immediately steered me away from the wool suits to the polyester section of the store. But I don’t even think that polyester is part of the Nordstrom vocabulary.

What I did observe was a variety of reactions, roreheads crinkle, eyes bear down on you harder and you can see someone’s brain kick into a higher gear. In short, people just check you out closer than usual. You’re not quite guilty, but not exactly innocent either. I think in Catholicism they call it “limbo.” In between.

At this point I have to tell you, I’ve all but dropped the “F” word. It’s just got too much baggage attached.

Ironically one person told me that I was brave to say it. She even told me a long story of the time that she was fired from a job. But then she said to me that I shouldn’t ever tell anyone that I was fired ever again. It’s just not something that people need to hear.

One of my favorite quotes is from Groucho Marx, “I wouldn’t ever want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.” Kind of reminds me about telling someone that you’re fired. It’s a club with millions of members, but no one wants any part of it.

My a-ha: Honesty is the best policy, except when you’re fired.

Next installment: Getting back in the game

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]

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Blog #5. Fired in real time: What the fallen need to hear

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Image: Bob RosnerOn Friday I was fired.

It’s 48 hours later, and I decided to blog about the emotional roller coaster ride that I unexpectedly found myself riding on. I’m never going to mention the name of the company, because its not about them. It’s about anyone who has ever been fired, and the journey that we all must take after we’ve been let go.

Friends who saw me immediately after my firing have told me that I appeared to be in shock. Okay, normally I’m at best slightly tethered to reality, but even for me the tether got stretched.

Friday at 9:04 pm I got a call from a friend named Steve. His call reminded me of when the doctors in the ER are faced with an irregular heartbeat. They “zap” the patient with a electric jolt from a defibrillator to get the heart beating normally again. Steve’s call, thankfully, did that for me.

“Hey Bob. This is Steve calling. It’s Friday evening. I just heard that you had a situation with your job today. Having been in this position myself, I understand how you may feel about this. I think it’s important to tell you at this time that you have lots of friends and lots of support. Just because an idiot does something to you doesn’t mean that you can’t go on and be wildly successful. Again I want to tell you that you have lots of support. And should you want to talk or grab a cup of coffee, you know how to reach me. Mainly I just want to say that regardless of whether this was fair or unfair, I’m reasonably sure it was unfair, you have lots of support and I just want you to know that. And there are people backing you up. I would say have a nice night, it probably won’t be that, but you do have friends. I’ll talk to you soon.”

I called Steve back and he told me about his experience being fired. Only one person called him, Seattle baseball announcing legend Dave Niehaus, a guy who’d been fired more than a few times early in his career. Steve said even though we weren’t great friends, he was going to be sure that I wasn’t alone on that Friday night.

Why do so few people reach out to someone who has been fired? Sure we can all rationalize that we want to give the person space to grieve on their own.

Or does it have nothing to do with the person who was fired? Is it really all about how tenuous we all feel about our jobs. And calling someone who was fired makes us fearful, that like leprosy, we could somehow catch the firing virus.

Reach out to your friends and colleagues who have been fired. If for no other reason than you’d like them to do the same for you.

My a-ha: Offer support and friendship to people who’ve been fired. Say to them, what you’d like to hear, if the situation was reversed.

Next Week’s installment: Do you ever say the “F” word?

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected].

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Fired in real time: A little bit pregnant

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Image: Bob RosnerOne phrase comes to mind as I started calling my friends to tell them that I had been fired, “a little bit pregnant.” I’m a guy, so please remember, this is a metaphor.

I’ll explain. The American Dream isn’t just big cars and summer houses. No, at it’s heart is the belief that everyone has a chance to be successful. Put another way, there is an essential fairness or rationality that is the foundation of how the world of work works. As an equation it might go something like this, hard work = success.

I don’t think I’m alone when I admit that when I’ve seen people around me fired or laid off I’ve leapt to the opposite conclusion. That on some level, they deserved it. Okay, now that I’ve gone down this path, please tolerate one more equation, failure = failure.

That’s where being a little bit pregnant comes in.

I think most people assume that when you are fired you might not be 100% at fault, but you are at least a little bit guilty of something. Hence, anyone fired is at least a little big pregnant.

This not only helps to explain what happened to anyone who is fired, it also helps to justify why you still have your job. Because you clearly aren’t a failure.

I’ll save you the gory details of my firing, but I believe it wasn’t because I wasn’t doing my job. No, there were plenty of people at my old company who fit in that category. In fact, I’ve never worked anyplace where more people would say in normal conversation, “What exactly does he do for us?” Really, I heard people say that about at least 20% of the employees.

No, I was fired because I actually tried to do my job.

I was initially hired as a spokesmodel for the company, however, if you knew what I looked like that reference would be even funnier.

My role was to talk about the product with customers, the media, etc. However, what I quickly discovered was the marketing and sales function wasn’t broken, it was non-existent. So I filled the vacuum by creating a new name for the company, a marketing plan, sales collateral, I suggested product modifications based on client input and I started making sales calls. In addition to this I spent my first two months playing company therapist, going office to office to get people pointed in the same direction. On occasion, I even got in harms way between two warring staffers.

The responses to our sales calls varied from “like” to something bordering on adulation. But five months in I realized that we were 0 for 30. Yep, we’d made thirty sales calls and had not sold our product to one client.

I know what you’re thinking, I should have been fired for sheer sales ineptitude. Ironically, this would have been much easier to handle than the reason that I was actually fired for. Much easier.

I spent a long weekend thinking about how we could end this horrific losing streak and I realized that there were a number of contributing factors. First, with no clients, every company we talked to had to decide if they wanted to become our guinea pig. We also didn’t have examples of real companies using our product. So we needed to connect the dots for our customers. Finally, I came up with a visible and credible organization that would agree to serve as our launch client and could connect the dots for potential customers.

Guinea pig, no longer an issue. Connect the dots, check.

I put this in a report for my boss. Needless to say I learned that you should never present a report to your boss entitled “0 for 30.” However, not in the way that you’re probably thinking.

My boss didn’t seem to be bothered at all by our lack of sales. His first response was to say, “No one has said ‘No’ to us so far.” He felt that it all was just a matter of time before we’d land a series of major sales.

The stunner was when he said, “You can’t ever use the phrase 0 for 30 again. Not within earshot of me or in any emails.” Here is the clincher, “Because it will hurt the feelings of all of the staff members who’ve worked so hard on the product.” He concluded, “And I don’t ever want a potential investor to see the phrase ‘0 for 30.’”

Feelings? And that the only way that an investor would learn that we didn’t have any customers was because they read an email by me?

Two weeks after presenting the 0 for 30 report I was fired for not getting along with staff. Two staffers were mentioned by name.

My a-ha: Mine was probably more of a mercy killing than a firing

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected].

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Fired in real time: No soup for you.

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Image: Bob RosnerWithin an hour or so of being fired, I somehow ended up at a Whole Foods grocery store. It wasn’t on my way home, so I’m not really sure how, or why, I ended up there.
Still partially in a fog, I was surprised to look down to see my hands pushing a grocery cart that was half full. Nothing special, milk, eggs and my favorite energy bars.
I felt nauseous. I thought to myself, you were just fired. You can’t afford this stuff, especially from Whole Foods. No, Mr. Ex Employee, for the foreseeable future you are sentenced to do all your shopping at Grocery Outlet.
With apologies to the poor supermarket stocker who had to put all the stuff in my cart away, I abandoned it toward the back of the store. But my journey was more complicated than just leaving the store. No there were shelves and shelves of temptation that were between me and the exit.
I decided to turn it into a game. How could I get out of the store without feeling the urge to buy anything? I realized that I was standing fifteen feet from the pet aisle. So I headed for an aisle where I couldn’t even buy something if I had a twenty-five dollar gift certificate in my hand. Whew.
Just as I was leaving the store an employee offered me a slice of pineapple. I took it and it tasted unusually good.
It sounds ridiculous, but exiting that store felt like a victory. I realized that I needed to unlearn a series of behaviors that I’d developed as a gainfully employed individual. I’d entered the shopopocalpse, it was time for some serious belt tightening.
So when I got home I shredded half of the credit cards that were in my wallet. I decided that I would never again carry more than $20 in cash. I decided to embrace frugality and to squeeze that sucker dry.
But I also realized that there was one place where I needed to be extravagant. I put a box near my front door and filled it with energy bars. My goal would be to carry a few with me every time I left my home. Because I realized that there are many people out there who are hurting far more than me. People who’ve lost their jobs, their homes and are living in their car or with relatives.
When that grocery worker offered me that pineapple, I remembered how I’d worked through lunch earlier on the day I was fired and I realized that I was starving. Unwilling to buy anything before I got home, I savored that piece of pineapple. That was the moment that I realized that although I had to be frugal in most parts of my life for the foreseeable future. I needed to look for opportunities to help out other struggling people.
That was one of the biggest surprises so far as a person recently fired.
My a-ha. Changing your lifestyle doesn’t mean that you have to give up living.
Next installment: A little bit pregnant
About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected].

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