Fired? Take it as being re-fired in the kiln of life by Williams Wan

             The Straits Times   April 29, 2019


Instead of being devastated, see it as an opportunity to be re-fired; believe that good can come out of any bad situation


When I read in a news report about a young man arrested for allegedly murdering his boss after he was fired a second time from his job last month, I shuddered at the thought that there, but for the grace of God, go I

I too was fired - and I was fired on the spot. It was 20 years ago and I was in the prime of my chosen vocation in the not-for-profit sector. I was 51.

I had returned from Washington, DC in response to the persistent invitation to do this meaningful work, leaving behind my three children, including a teenage son in high school.

My original term was for five years. Within a year, I was persuaded to extend the term to 10 years, only to be unceremoniously terminated in less than three.

Up to this day, the real reason for my immediate termination is still shrouded in mystery.

To support this extreme action, no fewer than 31 allegations of misdeeds were fabricated against me, which were immediately withdrawn after they were made known and found to be totally ludicrous. .

As a lawyer, my first reaction was to sue for wrongful dismissal and defamation. But I chose not to, for it would only prolong the pain.

Still, I was and am no saint.

I recall the feeling of shame, anger and bitterness. The thought of doing something violent did cross my mind, I must shamefully confess. That must have been my lowest moment. But thankfully, it remained a thought and lingered only momentarily.

Many people who are fired from their jobs experience extreme stress, anxiety and sleeplessness for long periods. Many lose their sense of worth and some never fully recover.

I found myself grieving a deep sense of loss - the loss of my community and a personaal death - feeling that something important to and in me had just died.

But the experience also fired me up and I was even more determined to stay alive to right the wrong inflicted on me. I spent a year nursing my almost fatal wounds - the fact that these leaders were my childhood friends who conspired to destroy my reputation was very difficult for me to accept. My other friends were also badly hurt by what happened, and we banded together to care for one another.

But I was already planning my own future because I was determined never again to be in the same helpless position.

I took time out during that year to visit my family and to centre down again. Family support was crucial for my survival.

Preparing to return to my other vocation as a lawyer, I immersed myself in reading up on the legal profession. It was not easy to return to it after an absence of 25 years. But return I did, for almost 10 years.

Along the way, I processed my feelings with the support of family and faithful friends.

I was able to accept the reality and conceded that I must have contributed to the situation in the way I reacted to their highhandedness. Nonetheless, I did not feel that I deserved to be fired.

I decided to forgive anyway and that set the stage for some public apology and reconciliation 14 years after the firing. They reached out to me and I responded in kind.

What have I learnt from this very painful episode?

First, we are all flawed humans and all organisations run by humans are imperfect. No one in a conflict situation is completely blameless.

Second, personal pain becomes less excruciating when shared with family and friends. I was blessed with much support. Silence and withdrawal only deepen the gloom.

Third, we should practise forgiveness for our own well-being. Freedom to move on comes from the ability to forgive and be forgiven.

Fourth, we must be ready to reinvent ourselves. There is life beyond our comfort zone.

And fifth, a positive mindset of determining our worth and not to allow our self-worth to be determined by the firing is critical to our recovery.

In my case, my positive mindset was sustained by my personal faith. I believe that good can come out of any bad situation. I am grateful that the firing turns out to be a re-firing process in the kiln of life, in which a useful vessel emerges from a slab of messy clay.

Fired or re-fired? It's a matter of perspective. I chose and continue to see it as an opportunity to be re-fired and that changed my life.