Friday, February 19, 2016

Mastering The Last Taboo

You've been fired. But... maybe you didn't fail.

Most people have been fired, at least once in their lives. In our own industry, their employers did not downsize their lifestyle, nor did they reorganize the household, or some other piece of fudge we've all been taught to serve on a silver tray during our next interview. It was, simply, being fired.

Let's take a look and see how things could improve.

The funny thing we forget is just this: the person interviewing us has already heard it all, and, even more so, she has most likely been fired at least once in her own career, too. Like you, she has been taught, by someone - or simply absorbed it through career osmosis - to "never say your were fired," but to (fill in the blank with the appropriate, less than honest spin). Our inquiry of this delicate and often painful topic should not stop at the career counseling level, yet should run deeper and more meaningful as to how an employee approaches their relationship with work, their employers, and ~ with setting themselves up for success, itself.

What matters, if the truth of one's core value to their employer matters, is we begin to look at the firing of workers as indicative of something other than failures; workplace failures being something our society has great difficulty approaching, much less mastering ~ so says industrial psychology researchers Thompson, Newton, and Khanna (Mastering The Last Taboo, Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 2008, Vol. 60, No. 3, pp. 227-245):

"In the course of human history, the concept of failure in which lack of success is seen as a measure of an individual's personal worthiness is a relatively recent notion that is associated with the emphasis on individual responsibility for and control over personal destiny... whatever the individual's personal strengths and capabilities, inevitably, workplace failure is not an experience fully under his or her control... the reasons for any particular real-word failure experience may be found among a complex set of internal (effort, ability, and strategy) and external (organizational, environmental, task, and luck) explanations."

Yet, it doesn't take researchers from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology for us to know that failure in our society, of any sort, is taboo and is taught to be both shunned and hidden during the employment selection process, at any cost. Read most any book or consult privately with any career counselor; invariably will advise to creatively account for an involuntary termination as "it didn't work out," "the household was restructured," or, most ridiculous of all, "I'm really not sure."  However, the trouble with treating your next potential domestic employer as if they're clueless is that it casts even more doubt about your background when they discover the truth, which, as most often you're a stranger to them now, they're having a difficult enough time trying to suss out your integrity among the plethora of things which can go wrong when matching a candidate - possibly you - to their open position.

There's nothing truly creative about these stories from the outset. What remains to decide should not be how to hide yourself in the weeds and somehow remain attractively tall, yet what have you learned and how you can use that information to determine if the person sitting across the table from you, at this point, is a good match for you ~ individual  sets goals and takes on responsibilities with the anticipation of success; those expectations are based on his or her evaluation of personal competence... failure provides the data for realignment between self-perception and reality."

~ and whether or not the same misalignment will occur with them, by learning if their tolerance for your inevitable mistakes are high enough to compensate for the risk-taking which providing them ahead of the curve service often requires. Consequently, many long-term domestic employees have chosen, and perhaps cannot be blamed for having done so, to keep their heads down and only doing what is told, having done the math and decided a steady paycheck gets the edge over challenging the soul-crushing acquiescence of keeping their real talents down - and far enough below the radar to navigate around the torpedoes. This strategy of playing it safe did not escape scrutiny by the authors:

"Some people are more likely to experience failure than others... failure is more likely to the extent that people are willing to risk taking on challenges that test their abilities..."

Plainly, then, those domestic workers getting fired are not always the ones incompetent at their jobs, yet are those who were willing to push themselves and take on more of the mountain than was required.

The rub comes from our equating termination of domestic staff, in any circumstance (including those where added value may be been created, yet just poorly presented) as failure, the notion being fed and growing stronger with every spin told countless times every day. Perhaps... even during your own most recent interview.

What, then, to do? The answer lies not so much in your choice of words during your next interview to explain away a past failure of sorts, yet in your choice of viewing the failure event itself. As a learning experience, what is most valuable is to understand what you truly have to offer, now, and what your next employer wants, now, and knowing then if you will have the talents and just as importantly - the internal resources and supports you'll need to draw upon to satisfy those wants. 

This discovery of first what challenges you wish to seek out, the support you will have, and your own courage to push through and do more than what you once thought you were even capable of - takes time - if done right. 

So express both your enthusiasm and your confidence during your next interview, yet now is the time to openly talk about having been fired and the effect it had on your continued growth, to bring up the hard questions, and to ask what you feel, exactly, it would take to see this job in front of you through and into the long term. Because - they might not.

With the right mindset and making known your conscientious efforts to succeed, no matter what happens from that point forward, you will have certainly mastered.

And you will not have failed.