Why being fired twice at 19 was the best thing for my career

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Lessons learned from early mistakes in jobs can lead to eventual success, as TechRepublic’s Teena Maddox describes in her first-person account.

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Long lunches, being late to work and calling in sick without a good reason were all part of what led me to be fired from two jobs in a row. I worked at the first job for five weeks before getting the boot and lasted nine weeks at the second gig. 

Admittedly, I was 19 years old and didn’t have a real sense of what it was like to have a full-time office job or what was expected of me. If I felt like staying out for a two-hour lunch, or arriving at work long after everyone else was at their desks, I did it. I knew that those weren’t great things to do, but I didn’t realize just how bad they could be perceived.

SEE: Why career road maps attract and retain support technicians (TechRepublic Premium PDF download)

It wasn’t that I didn’t need the money. I did. I was in college at the time, and I’d reduced my class load and switched to evening classes so that I could work full time to help make enough money to continue my education. I was a crazy-fast typist, so it was easy for me to land clerical jobs in an office environment. But once I was working at those jobs, I didn’t take them seriously. 

At the first job, I was a clerk for a huge real estate development company in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. The hours were 8 to 5 with a one-hour lunch break. I remember often arriving around 8:30 a.m., trying to sneak in without everyone noticing, and midday I’d head out for long lunch dates with friends, or go shopping at the nearby mall.  

One day in March, five weeks after I had started that job, my boss called me into his office and told me that I was fired. He cited my lackadaisical work ethic as the problem. I was utterly mortified. But apparently not quite enough. I started my next job at a real estate management firm soon afterward and lost that job nine weeks later. I remember calling in sick one day and freely admitting to the office manager that I was simply too tired to work because I’d stayed up late arguing with my then-boyfriend. I’ll never forget what she told me: “It’s OK to take the day off for being sick, but not lovesick.”

Apparently, I didn’t take her seriously, because I continued my previous pattern of long lunches and showing up late to work. Nine weeks later, I found myself unemployed. 

Walking out of a company after being fired is the worst feeling imaginable, even when you’re 19 and still living at home with your parents. I knew I didn’t want to experience that again. So I became a serious, hardworking, on-time employee at my next job, and I stayed there for two years until I left to move cross-country to attend Arizona State University and focus on the education I needed for a journalism career. 

Looking back at it from a decades-old perspective makes me cringe at my ridiculous behavior as a teenager, but it also makes me recognize the lessons learned. I credit the success of my career on those mistakes I made early on because I never again assumed that I could do whatever I wanted at a job and stay employed, and I’ve always tried to do the best job possible so I could feel good about myself at the end of the day. 

The single biggest takeaway from my experiences is that you need to love your job to be a true success. I didn’t like those clerical jobs. Once I became a full-time journalist, which was the career I’d wanted since age 4, I loved every minute of it and wanted to do my best. Fortunately, I’ve been a reporter and editor at various publications for more than two decades and every day brings something new and exciting to the job. 

If you’ve been through something similar, please share your experiences with me via email for a potential follow-up article. 

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