ON ONE OCCASION,
when I was between jobs, a friend of mine commented, “Well, you’re just between challenging opportunities.”
As a teacher, administrator and superintendent in a variety of tough urban districts across eight states, I have been “between challenging opportunities” more than once. It’s fair to say that if you are championing educational reform in a school district or leading schools through a controversial change, there’s a good chance you’ll be fired at least once.
Mike (a pseudonym) called me the day after he lost his administrative job. Mike was a high school principal in a highly politicized urban district under state supervision. Under his leadership, test scores had gone up, the school was rated as one of the best in the district, and he had received numerous commendations from senior administrators.
He was a non-tenured administrator who had recommended firing an assistant principal who was not performing, although Mike had been instructed by his supervisor not to do so. Mike was not considered to be an asset to the assistant superintendent, who had aspirations to become superintendent.
Mike was angry and frustrated. He blamed himself for what he did or did not do. However, blaming oneself for other people’s decisions in cases like this is a fool’s errand.
I have been in similar situations. Three months after I was hired as an assistant superintendent in one of the country’s largest districts, the chief academic officer who had hired me died. Three months later, the superintendent left. At the end of the year, the board of education asked me to leave because I “didn’t understand the district’s way of doing things.”
In another school district (one of four I served as superintendent), a school board chair told me that she was not going to run for re-election. When my contract renewal came up, she told me she could not support me. I subsequently learned from a board member that the chair was angry with me for not strongly encouraging her to run for the chair’s position again.
Most of us who are committed to our jobs take doing our work and being fired personally. That’s natural. It’s important to acknowledge how you feel, learn from the circumstances and move on.
The first five days after you’ve been “let go” are critical. Here are some strategies to keep you positive and productive.
» Talk to people you trust about what happened and how you’re feeling about it.
People may be reluctant to contact you because they don’t know what to say. Help them overcome that paralysis with a phone call or e-mail. Identify two or three people to talk with each day — human contact has tremendous value in helping ward off depression. Do not go “radio silent.”
» Get out of bed at a reasonable time each day and follow a routine.
Eat breakfast, go for a walk, exercise. Open the curtains, raise the blinds, let in the light and keep the house clean.
Begin looking for another position. Ask friends if they know of available positions. If so, do they know who the decider is or who you can contact for information about available positions.
» Check professional job banks.
Look at all your professional options in terms of positions, locations and costs to your family.
Being let go from a job can be devastating. Searching for a new position can be overwhelming.
First and foremost, take care of yourself. Don’t become isolated. Talk with people who believe in you, believe that you have a great deal to offer and are realistic and honest. You don’t need a cheerleader; you need someone who will provide support.
Getting a new position can take time, but the next challenging opportunity is just around the corner.
is a management coach and consultant in New London, Conn. Twitter: @NicholasAFische