Fired to Fired Up: 1 Year in the Making

Fired to Fired Up: 1 Year in the Making

By David Berry: Ever had a bad day at work? A year ago, if you’d asked me how my day was going, I’d have told you “like shit.” And that was 20 minutes before I got fired.

I had just run into the CEO of my ad agency after stepping out of the elevator. “Hey, good news!” I said, feigning joy. “We just nailed down the geotargeting parameters for the (insert client name) campaign and the media team feels good about it. We all do.”

He gave me an icy glare. “What about (other client name)?”

“Well, we straightened that out a couple of weeks ago…” I said.

“Not what I heard,” he replied. And he walked away. Not a good sign.

20 minutes later, I was asked to go to a makeshift conference room on the fourth floor of my building, conveniently located just outside of the HR director’s office. I walked in and saw a table of executives who were far too important to be in the room at the same time just to pay me a compliment. They were silent as I walked to the only open seat at the table and sat down.

“David, we hate to do this,” one of them started, deadpanning, “but we have been instructed to let you go; today is your last day.” I felt a pang of dread in my chest and suddenly, my hands were damp with “oh fuck”-ness. Minutes before, I’d been on my way to share my big campaign. Now, I wouldn’t be presenting anything. Now, I didn’t have a job.

Another 30 seconds of smattering details ensued, but that was it. I handed them my laptop and was escorted to my car.

I was unemployed.

I’ve had 365 days to reflect on that day. The reality, though, is that I had less than a day to get my shit together. I ran the gamut of emotions you’d expect that night. I wasn’t sad. My feelings weren’t hurt. But I was scared. I was shocked. I got in my car and made the 40 minute drive in to work that day knowing that I had a ton to get done. I got in my car and made the 40 minute drive home from work that night, knowing that the next day, I had no source of income, no job, no coworkers, nothing.

My mortgage and car payment were both due on May 1 and I didn’t have another paycheck coming. That meant that I had 12 days to recoup half my monthly income.

Well, I did. I busted my ass, but I did it. And I’ve also now had the 365 days to reflect on the rest. Here’s (some) of what I learned.

No one gives a shit about your career. If you are hired help, you are a movable part on an assembly line. You might be even be a valuable part on that line, but you are expendable. The only reason you have that job/role is because it delivers value to the people profiting off your work. Yes, you’ll meet good people along the way who will try to help you. But even they are marching to the beat of someone else’s drum. It’s heartless, but you have to put your own career first. No one else is looking out for you more than they’re looking out for themselves.

Hard work is overrated. People will tell you until they’re blue in the face that there’s value in hard work. It’s bullshit. There’s value in good work. There’s value in smart work. I have accomplished more this year than I did in three at my last job because I’m no longer compensated to make a show of working hard; I’m only compensated for work that drives results. And if I fail to do that, I don’t eat.

Time doesn’t matter. Value does. If you could make your client $50,000, do you think they’d care if you billed them $10,000 for the work? Of course not. But many people get into business, peg their value at a certain hourly rate, and then send a bill. Employees get paid an hourly rate, and let’s be honest, a salary is often an excuse to get you to work beyond that rate anyway. If you work for yourself, one of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to sell your services based on value, not time.

Your clients are wrong. Ad agencies are notorious for working employees to the bone in the name of ‘client service.’ That often meant 60 hour work weeks, or 50 percent more than the standard 40, because your client wanted you to respond to “hey, nice couch!” tweets at 10:00 p.m. on a Sunday night. The reality is, your clients don’t know what they want. That’s why they hired you. It’s your job to tell them no, and it’s your job to steer them toward the things that matter to their bottom line. If you fight a turf war over small stuff, your client already won. And you’re going to be beholden to ass kissing for the sake of collecting a check. Clients don’t have to like you. But if you push them into the decisions that make them money, they’ll respect you. And then they’ll really like you.

You’re more valuable than you think. I spent every day at my last job balancing confidence and total insecurity. Spoiler Alert: That’s true for everyone – at every level. I took the jump into working for myself, but I was keenly aware of the fact that I was a one-man show trying to convince corporations that they needed me. Well, I’m over the insecurity. I’m not a big shop, but I am small and nimble enough that I can deliver better service. I’m not surrounded by a department-full of thinkers, but my clients also know they’re not paying for a bunch of people who won’t ever work on their account, either. I can’t invite clients to a fancy office, but they know they’re paying for results, not my game room.

Yes, you can do it. If I didn’t get fired a year ago, I’d still be at that same job, jockeying for position to get a raise, a promotion, or some form of acknowledgement. I got fired and that pushed me into taking a risk I’d wanted to take for a long time. I’m a smart guy, but I’m not a genius. I’m a hard worker, but I’m not obsessive. I’m just a normal guy who believes in himself, learns a little more each day, and takes chances. And I am succeeding. You can too.

It doesn’t have to be so hard. I’m not a web designer, but I hit up Square Space and built a nice website in a couple of hours. I’m not a photographer or graphic designer, but I can get free, high quality stock imagery from Pexels or Pixabay. I’m not an IT specialist, but I set up a business email account through Google on my own. I’m not an accountant, but I keep track of my expenses in Excel and pay a little extra for a good accountant. Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know. Start asking around and be resourceful. You’re only a few steps away from really looking like you have your shit together.

I started April 18, 2016 with zero clients, and I opened a business that didn’t even have a name.

A year later, DB + Partners has 11 clients, some of which include McCormick, the YMCA, Azamara Club Cruises and some others you’ve possibly heard of. I have a fully functioning website and even created a program you can buy through the site’s store. I work most days from my kitchen table or a Starbucks.

I have no commute, outside of a meeting or two that I have to drive for. I have flown home to see my family 13 times in the past year. I am free of anxiety. I met the love of my life. Oh, and I earned more in 2016 than I would have if I’d never gotten fired in the first place. 2017 is shaping up to be even better.

And most importantly, I’m happy.


42 thoughts on “Fired to Fired Up: 1 Year in the Making

  1. Working at that place is the nice kick in the butt to force you to go out on your own and create your own destiny! I have seen firsthand how that place spits people out and I am glad you turned it into a positive thing! Proud of you! I hope we can figure out a way to work together again and if you ever need help in any way let me know how I can help! 🙂

  2. I stayed at my first job out of college for four years. Funny thing was I would speak with coworkers and wonder, “Why would they be here as long as 5 or 10 years, if not more? Don’t they want something more out of their career?” Meanwhile, I was trying to get my act together and decide what I wanted my next step to be, because it certainly wasn’t to continue doing what I was doing at the time albeit a fun job. I weighed heavily on one option for years, kind of like you did with starting your own business.

    Nothing will light a fire under you like a company buyout. I knew that was my time to move on. Many of those old timers were optimistic thinking they would have a spot in the new company. However, I found out that many of my former coworkers made it past five months with the new company.

    I’ll abstain from the typical sympathetic pleasantries in regards to you being fired, but it seems you’ve done pretty well for yourself… possibly even better than your previous employer. They may tout they’ve won x-account or received more business from y-account. However, the AgencySpy story about their pitch sites and them losing one restaurant client and their most recent account has done them no favors.

    Also, not to add fuel to the fire, but the consensus is your previous employer seems to be notorious for fault finding and firing others. Meanwhile, the top-percent continues to get fatter as it’s likely you were replaced by a new hire or college grad.

    Sugar honey iced tea, I’m rambling. Congrats, David!

    1. *EDIT: Meant to say many of my former coworkers DID NOT make it past 5 months with the new company.

      Also, the takeaway from my long-winded writeup was that I have since gone on to achieve great things–like yourself–after breaking out of my comfort zone. Great write-up, David.

    1. You may have noticed one of those lessons in there probably sounded very familiar 😉 You’re the best, brother.

  3. Hello David Berry! All I can say is WOW. Your story is mine up to a point. You had the fortuitous strength to move on very quickly and build what you’ve written about in this article. I’m an over 50 year old woman that has been at the advertising and marketing game for some time. The parallels you draw in your comparisons and experience with C suiters, coworkers and clients could not be more on point. I don’t know why I clicked on the link to your Linked In image that was commented on by someone in my network, but I sure am happy I did. I need to tell you that there is one major takeaway for me and that is – I am inspired. Inspired by your enthusiasm and grab life by the balls (yes, I went there) attitude to seek out your bliss. I too am taking my time to carve out a niche for what truly makes me happy coupled with decades of experience. I’m embarking on the journey into writing and am looking forward to my exploration in the more creative side of my experience and skills. I just want to say “thanks” for the post and look forward to reading more from you. Cheers!

    1. Debi – Thank you for taking the time to read AND write to me. I was fortunate to get fired at 31 with no wife or kids to speak of, so I count that as an advantage. As for pursuing your writing/creative side – bravo! As much side time as you can pour into it is worth it. At first, even just for the creative outlet. And at some point down the line, any profit from it will be icing on the cake. All my best, DB.

  4. Good for you! I’m happy for you.
    I got fired once too. At first i was scared. Then I realized I hated that job. Before i even got out of the building, I was smiling. I, too, am happier than I was.
    Thank you for reminding me.

  5. I really need to read this today – Thank you for sharing, and good luck in the future David!

    One question: Did you have to use savings, cash in the 401k, or sell off items to survive the first few months? How did you find your first clients that made it possible to pay bills? Any advice?

    1. RC – Thank you for the note! It was a small miracle that I did NOT have to do those things. For full disclosure, I tried to do something like this 6 or 7 years ago and didn’t have the same luck. I racked up some credit card debt that time around. This time, I’ll tell you what was different – I put my situation and my desires into the universe. Much as you’ve seen this blog post, I wrote one just like it the night I got fired and explained to the world (or anyone who’d listen) what my intentions were. That, along with making personal phone calls/visits to some people I knew had wanted to work with me in the past set the foundation for the best launch I could’ve asked for. No, it’s not always been easy but those two things helped immensely. If you’re ever looking to make a similar move, I’d recommend starting with emails and phone calls to people you believe could use your services and get a feel for the market that would be there should you take the jump. I didn’t have that luxury, but I was extremely fortunate to have the market there without truly prepping for it – and I’m fully aware of the fact that is rarely the case. Best wishes to you!

  6. David, thank you for the post. 18 march 2016 I too was laid off from a company with a national footprint. I had nine people working for me and eight of them were also laid off. I had at that time no expectations of a job, my bad for not being always on the look, I had always encouraged my team to do that but I did not. A week after my layoff one of my customers called me frustrated that he could not get help from the former employer, I explained about the massive layoff, I later learned approximately 1,000 people across the country were termed when I was. I volunteered to to go see my former customer and assist with what I could to help him out. He was appreciative. Later that week he called me and asked me to go to lunch; at that meeting he made me an offer to come to work for his company.

    I knew nothing of his industry, and he knew that, I had over the years with him been honest, loyal and helpful. My point is to those still looking for work after a layoff; don’t be afraid to change industries, a year later I’m still learning, but a lot of the skills I developed during the 16 years at the previous employer have been beneficial. My life has changed some and I’ve had to adjust some…….but those adjustments have been little if any stress at work. Being happy and free. Appreciating that I can rely on myself and the beliefs I have within myself to survive. No one is in control of my happiness except me. I was 59 when all this happened and would have thought my career or possibilities limited. I encourage anyone still looking to speak with former clients, all your contacts and keep in touch with your former team. Sharing your experiences is helpful and sometimes funny. But something they interviewed for and didn’t like may be up your ally. Put your best foot forward and don’t give up. David did it and many others have, you can too. Persevere!

    1. Paul – I appreciate you sharing this. I can sympathize with wanting to do the right thing for your team but never thinking you’ll all need to actually go out and do it. Kudos to you for having the courage to start over at a point in your career when so many are afraid to. I was ‘fortunate’ to have it happen to me at 31. Congrats on what has seemed to be a great rebirth for you. Seems like honesty, loyalty and helpfulness can go a long way…

  7. David. Spot on and very well written. I would say that in a high majority of these types of situations the person impacted recovers and sets out on their next journey of discovery.

    It happens to great people everyday, the lesson is to not lose hope. At the end of the race, you are happier, at peace and more successful. Keep it going! Keep dreamin’

  8. Thank you. Thirty two years at my job, polite asked to hurry up and retire. So I did. In some ways they were very good to me, others no so much. Starting to Refire and excited about it.

  9. I found this on my LinkedIn feed. I am in the same place, but about 6 months behind you. After nearly 20 years in the agency business, I left a large firm to take a sizable pay increase and a promotion at a much smaller shop. A few months in, I learned they were really struggling financially and were having trouble paying the bills. A few months later they laid-off my boss, most of my team, and me. I suddenly found myself unemployed and without many options. And just like you did (with no experience), I built a website on squarespace, registered a business email account on google, and updated my LinkedIn profile. I’m also completing a professional certification in Digital marketing to be more knowledgable (and competitive). My site has only been live for about 2 weeks, and I have precisely zero clients so far. But reading your post gives me tremendous hope for my future. Thanks for this; it really came at the right time.

  10. Dave, I knew you’d make something of yourself, I never doubted it for a second. I could tell the minute I met you that you would excel in anything you put your mind to. Kind of reminds me of someone else I know. I’m sure you know who I mean. Congratulations, you should be very proud of yourself.

  11. You have always inspired me. You honesty and good intent has always lead your actions. i am happy to know that you are ok; Everything will always be ok if we remember that its all a beautiful learning process, loving this living is what it is all about.

  12. Way to go Dave Berry! Awesome read and great learning! Thank you so much for sharing! If any of your clients need HR help, I’m only 60 days into the 365 you’ve had. Send some business!! Thanks for inspiring and uplifting me today.

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