Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Got Quit.

Last week, Penn State University fired Coach Joe Paterno. In a lapse of moral judgment, the firing came about a week too late. Ironically the coach was fired for the lapse in his judgment, moral or otherwise.

In any case, it set my partner and I off on an interesting discussion about getting fired. My partner, in this case, is much younger than myself and she hasn't had the opportunity to be let go. That's right I said opportunity.

With the benefit of retrospect, I now look at my firing(s) as a true blessing.

Let's look at my most recent involuntary termination. In February it will be ten years since I "got quit" at TBWA Chiat/Day. I had won all kinds of awards at Chiat/Day, helped win new business and steered younger teams to great success in their career path. So of course I felt the firing was unjust. But in hindsight it wasn't. I had grown cantankerous, bitter and frustrated. To the point where I had a poisonous effect on everything around me. Had I been the boss, I would have fired my ass too. Though I probably would have done it a year or two, earlier.

To his credit, my former writing partner, Rob Schwartz, who was in the unfortunate position of having to let me go, recognized this and said upon my departure, "look, we'd love to have you here, if in a couple of years you have a different perspective on things and you find your head in a different place, let's talk."

Where does that kind of wisdom and maturity come from?

Rob and I may have creative differences on a lot of things, but on this he was frighteningly correct. To the point of being prescient.

Had I not been shown the door, I might never have discovered my much happier life as a freelancer. In fact, over the last 8 years and to the great confusion of my brother, I have done the bulk of my freelancing days back at Chiat/Day where I was once escorted from the premises by a beefy security guard. OK, it wasn't really a muscle-bound security guard, it was sweet 26-year old woman from HR.

Nevertheless, that firing provided me with a very critical career course correction, not to mention a big fat severance check.

Many, many years before that, I was a short order cook in the restaurant industry. I had been working a miserable job at Merlin McFlys in Santa Monica, grilling up burgers and potato skins for the beautiful people who frequented the upscale boutiques along Main Street and wouldn't bat an eye paying $1000 for a David Hockney-inspired trash can. The kitchen at McFly's was filthy, the wages were low and the boss was a Grade A Assclown. This job had nothing going for it other than free food and the all-too-rare opportunity to dip my spatula in the company BBQ sauce.

So it should come as no surprise that on one particularly onerous Sunday, when the temperature soared into triple digits, I found myself in the cooler with a case of ice cold Heinekens. I quickly downed the first beer at 11 AM. And another at 11:30. Another at noon. And so on. By the time I had completed my shift, half the case was gone. I punched the clock, cleaned up and took a seat at the bar to continue the binge. Keep in mind I was in my 20's and could do my Scottish drinking heritage proud.

The boss approached me at the bar and asked if I could escort him back to the cooler for a moment. Once there, he opened the flap on the green cardboard box and pointed to 12 empty Heineken bottles still in their corrugated compartments.

"You know anything about this?" he asked, perhaps rhetorically.

"No", I said, trying hard not to grin. And then let out a booming Heineken burp that could be felt from the shores of the Pacific to the brewery back in Amsterdam.

There was no severance check or meaningful impact on the course of my life. There was only the astonished look on the boss's jowly face. And the $25 deduction from my last paycheck to cover the damage.

To this day, that could be the best $25 I ever spent.


h2oskier said...

This made my day! Insightful and funny as hell. Thank you Rich! :)

Elaine said...

Insightlfuly, true, and so funny,

george tannenbaum said...

My father, who preceded me in the business by 30 years always kept a bottle of champagne in our avocado-green refrigerator.

One day when I was about 14 I asked him about it.

"Is that for when you get a promotion or win an account," I asked.

"No, it's for when I get fired."

That was just about all my father ever taught me. And it might have been enough.

Robert Moss said...

So that's why I feel so lucky to have been blessed.