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"I was fired in the most humiliating way, but it's made me stronger."

I didn’t graffiti anything at work… but I wish I had. (Source: Supplied.)

Now, here’s something that I don’t tell many people: almost 10 years ago, I was fired from a job. It was humiliating and awful. But as difficult as it is to admit, it was one of the best things that could have happened to me.

In my experience, when I really was fired, it was worse than all of the times that I imagined it happening.

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New job, new life

Here’s how it went down. For my first degree, I’d studied graphic design. As much as I loved other creative aspects of that degree, one thing I learned was that I actually hated graphic design and that I didn’t have a flair for it.

Still, I persevered and eventually got a job as a graphic designer/fashion assistant. I took a brief break to “find myself” (i.e. experiment with being an actress and retail sales assistant), before giving the design thing one last, big effort.

I started a new job as a graphic designer for a small jewellery company, and I was determined to give it my absolute best.

"As much as I loved other creative aspects of that degree, I actually hated graphic design." (Source: Supplied.)

It was a pivotal time in my life, and I really needed the job to work out. My fiancé and I desperately wanted to get married and move in together, but neither of us had full-time jobs. We both still lived at home with our parents. Having this new design job was giving me a chance to finally save up for all the things I really needed as a young adult, like a car and a place to live.

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Looking back, there were little hints that this job was doomed, but I tried to convince myself that I could overcome them.

The guy who had held the job before me had tensions with the head designer. The job was also on the other side of the city to where I lived, and it took a two and a half hour commute each way. I had to catch a bus, two trains and another bus just to get there.

I didn’t have a car. But design jobs were rare, and I needed this job so badly that I tried my best to make it work. I knew I wasn’t the fastest or best designer, but I tried my hardest and wanted to improve.

Why were all the girls at work mean girls?

The head designer, Mary, who had initially been so friendly, became very abrupt in the way she spoke to me. We used to joke around and gossip about our lives, but it seemed like she didn’t want to do that any more.

“What are you doing this weekend?” I asked her, as we walked with a group of the girls to get coffees.

“Training,” she answered, without looking at me. “I always train in the park on Saturday mornings.”

“Do you like training?” I said, trying to keep the conversation rolling.

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“Why would I do it if I didn’t like it?” she snapped. Then she looked at one of the girls and they both rolled their eyes in front of me.

Mary began to spend long periods of time away from her desk. She would have extended meetings with Stephanie, the HR manager. I’d walk past and see them talking in Stephanie’s office, and think, “Maybe they’re talking about me".

Each time I suspected that Mary and my colleagues didn’t like me, I’d convince myself that I was paranoid. Lots of people worry that they’ll get fired, but it never actually happens, I told myself.

Tangled necklaces

My job was to design the catalogues and posters for the jewellery company, but one morning Mary called me over to her desk with a new task.

“Carla, I want you to take a break from working on the catalogue today, and organise these trays of necklaces.”

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She pointed to five trays lined with black velvet. Each tray had a huge, tangled mass of silver chain necklaces on it. I was given the task of untangling the necklaces and lying them flat on the tray.

I was reluctant, as I didn’t feel that it was my job, but I told myself that I was being very Gen Y and that I had to get on with it.

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"I was given the task of untangling the necklaces and lying them flat on the tray." (Source: iStock.)

Mid-morning, Mary walked past and looked at the necklaces I’d untangled. She didn’t say whether I’d done a good or bad job. What she did say was, “Carla, why don’t you take a nice necklace home with you?”

I thought it was a strange thing to say, especially as she’d been so unfriendly lately. I thanked her, even though I didn’t want to take anything, especially because the jewellery that Mary had designed was so ugly.

I was on a three month probation, and two months had gone by. When Mary said that we had a meeting with Stephanie later that afternoon, I naively thought it was because they wanted to end my probation period early and officially make me a permanent staff member.

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We sat in the conference room, and Stephanie smiled at me in that maddeningly patronising and calm manner that she always had. Mary wouldn’t make eye contact with me.

I smiled at both of them, and Stephanie spoke first.

“Carla, we think it’s best that you leave the company.”

I was so shocked that I started crying straight away. And it wasn’t a dignified, single tear that fell from one eye, but ugly sobs.

“I can see you're upset,” soothed Stephanie, as Mary still looked in the other direction. (Post continues after gallery.)

She then began to read from a report that she’d written about me.

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“Carla always seems stressed, and unable to manage her workload. When there is a deadline, Carla panics. Carla is a lovely girl, and we wish her all the best with her future.”

That last sentence was the strangest one. To this day, I still wish that they hadn’t written that, as it was like swallowing a big, dry mouthful of raw sugar. And much of that report was untrue.

Carla was sad when she was fired, and she patted a dinosaur (okay, the dinosaur bit was untrue). Source: Supplied.

Stephanie handed me the report, which looked like a school report card. There were boxes that were ticked which all suggested that I had failed something.

She then turned to Mary. “Is there anything you’d like to say to Carla?”

Mary, it turned out, had a lot to say.

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“You’re always asking if you can leave at 5pm instead of 5:30pm. You have to earn that privilege. Nathan’s been working here for 10 years, and even he’s not allowed to leave half an hour early.” she said.

“I’m willing to start early,” I explained, “it’s just that I need to leave at 5pm so that I can make the last bus to my suburb. I don’t have a car. I’m trying to save up for one.”

“It’s not my problem that you don’t have a car!” she shouted back.

"I guess she just really liked Adam Levine." Can musical clashes get you fired? (Source: Instagram.)

There were plenty of other things she didn’t like about me, too.

“You’re always wearing headphones,” she said. “It’s so anti-social.”

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Now, it’s pretty common for graphic designers to wear headphones as they work. Every graphic designer I’ve ever worked with has always worn headphones at work. But the real reason I did that was because Mary blasted Maroon 5’s It Won’t Be Soon Before Long album all day, everyday, while hollering over the top of it, “Isn’t this album AWESOME?”

I couldn’t concentrate with such awful music playing. When she wasn’t playing that album, she was playing Maroon 5’s Songs About Jane. She’d also play Maroon 5 at top volume as she drove in and out of the office carpark. I guess she just really liked Adam Levine.

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They finished telling me why they didn’t want me to work at the company. Stephanie asked me if I wanted to say anything. I was still crying, and could barely talk.

“This is…this is completely humiliating,” I managed.

“Well!” sniffed Stephanie. She was offended. “I would say that it’s not humiliating at all.”

“You just fired me. It’s humiliating,” I repeated. They may have taken away my job and dignity, but they couldn’t take away my feelings.

“It’s not humiliating. That’s your experience, and you’re welcome to your opinion, but this has not been a humiliating experience.” clarified Stephanie.

Do I leave my honey in the kitchen?

Mary then said a gruff goodbye, and left the office, I guess because she felt so uncomfortable around me. Stephanie escorted me to my desk. I tried to save my catalogue designs onto a USB, to keep for my portfolio.

Related: “I was totally nude, and floating in a pitch-black tank filled with warm salt water…and I’d never felt better.”

“You can’t do that, Carla. It’s our property.”

“Will you send them to me?”

She thought really hard.

“I’ll see if I can arrange it.”

I wanted to just throw the computer, like in "Zoolander".

I then tried to delete all of my emails. There wasn’t anything personal, I was just trying to be a bit destructive to express my anger.

“Don’t delete anything, Carla. You’ll be really sorry that you did it,” Stephanie warned, as she hovered next to me.

I packed up my desk, and then headed towards the kitchen.

“Where are you going, Carla? You’re not allowed to go anywhere without me,” barked Stephanie.

“I’ve got food in the kitchen. Can I take my food home?”

Stephanie decided to allow it.

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She walked me to the carpark. It was the early afternoon, and everyone else was still working. I was still crying, but I’d calmed down a tiny bit.

“We’re going to pay you out for one more month. I think you’ll agree that that’s very generous,” she told me.

Now it was time for her final words of wisdom.

“Carla, you are destined for great things. You’re going to achieve so much in your life. Any company would be lucky to have you.”

This was particularly awful to hear when her company had just fired me.

And all I could think of was how she was wearing one of those v-necked sweaters with the fake collar and cuffs, so that it looked like she was wearing a shirt underneath it all the time, even though she wasn’t. Can’t you just wear a real shirt under that? Is it that hard? I thought.

Time to go home

When you're fired, you really do carry your things home in a cardboard box. (Source: iStock.)

I walked to the bus stop, carrying a cardboard box of my things, like some cliché. I hid behind my sunglasses and cried all the way home. I imagined that the other public transport passengers were thinking, “What’s wrong with that girl?” as they looked at my quivering lips. I dreaded arriving home and having to tell my parents that I had been fired.

The following weeks after I was fired were difficult. I’d been so proud of my new job. So now, when my friends asked about work, I had to tell them that I'd been fired. They were sympathetic, but few of them truly understood how devastated I felt. Only one of my friends had been fired in the past; she was now a successful business owner.

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“I was fired because my boss was jealous of me. That’s probably what happened to you, too,” she said, kindly. I knew that was true of her, as she was very talented in her profession. But me? I was just some nobody that no-one liked at that company. Plus, I was a terrible designer.

Being fired meant that I had to let go of a lot of things. Some of them were small. I’d lent one of the girls at work my Edie: American Girl book. This was one of the girls who always rolled her eyes at me. I was trying to be her friend. I had to accept that I’d never get that book back.

Pam from "The Office" had also wanted to be a graphic designer.

But, there were bigger things I had to release, like my graphic design career. I’d told myself that this was the last time I’d try to make it in that profession, and now that chance was gone. The small amount of confidence that I had was shattered. Deep down, I knew I didn’t enjoy being a graphic designer. It seemed like this was a pretty clear sign that I should give it up.

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And then, there were my plans to marry my fiancé and move in with him. He was three years younger than me, and still in uni. Neither of us had savings. Now that I didn’t have a job, our wedding would have to be put off, yet again.

I felt like my future plans had disappeared, and I was back to being the poor, unemployed person I probably always would be.

Starting again

I wanted to wallow in my sadness for weeks, but my fiancé encouraged me to get back out there, and get a job – any job. It annoyed me, but I eventually saw that he was right. Moping about being unemployed and then choosing to stay unemployed wouldn’t help me at all.

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I visited a recruitment agency, and they sent me on an interview the very next day. I was hired as a receptionist/executive assistant immediately, and I stayed in that next job for about two years.

Even though I knew that I didn’t want to be a receptionist forever – I still wanted to do something more creative, but I didn’t know what – I loved that job, and I was grateful to be employed. I gained more skills and confidence, and made new friends. (Post continues after gallery.)

With the money I earned from that job, I was able to finally marry my fiancé, and we found a small apartment to rent.

Looking back at my experience of getting fired, it’s easy to focus on the hurt and embarrassment. As you can tell, I still dislike the women who fired me, and the memories of that humiliation are still vivid.

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But the thing that stands out the most for me is that I’m lucky I was fired. Being let go from that design job was the push I needed to end my design career.

I ate a lot of chocolate after I was fired. (Source: iStock.)

My first instinct, after I was fired, was to write about it on my blog. At the time, my blog was one of the only stable things about my life. I’d been blogging since 2003, which was before I’d even met my husband-to-be. Little did I realise that blogging would later become a career for me – a career in which I could even use some of my graphic design skills.

It would be a long time until I started my blogging job in 2014, but after yet another degree and a few more unhappy jobs, it finally happened.

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If you get fired - which I hope you don't - it’s not the end of the world. It definitely feels that way, at the time. But if you’ve worked your hardest and best, the firing is often more a reflection of the company and your bosses. What really matters is how you pick yourself up and get going again.

There is one thing that I'm on the lookout for. I shudder every time I hear a Maroon 5 song, and if my bosses ever ask me to untangle necklaces, well, I’ll probably start packing up my desk.

Have you or a friend ever been fired? How did you deal with it?