If there’s a word we fear most at work, it’s the dreaded F-word: fired.

The mere thought can give one anxiety, but the truth is some of the best have been let go at some point in their career. Just look at professional athletes like Kurt Warner, Payton Manning, and Carmelo Anthony, to name a few. These are all first-class athletes that at some point in their career were “fired” from their team. These athletes, and plenty more, can teach us some valuable lessons when it comes to being fired.

Stay positive in a negative situation

After 14 years and a Super Bowl title, Payton Manning was sent packing by the only team he’d ever played for, the Indianapolis Colts. At the press conference, Manning was noticeably emotional, but he stayed positive and respectful towards his former team.

“Nobody loves their job more than I do. Nobody loves playing quarterback more than I do. I still want to play. But there is no other team I want to play for,” he said.

Manning moved to the Denver Broncos in 2012, and over the next three years he would reach the Super Bowl; set the record for passing touchdowns; and eventually win the championship. Clearly, Manning came back even stronger, and his attitude played a key role.

When you’re fired, it’s easy to see it as a negative situation, and to hold resentment towards your company and former manager. None of that, however, is going to help you move forward. Just like Manning, it’s important to stay respectful and positive so that you don’t burn any bridges. More importantly, a positive mentality can help you capitalize on even better opportunities.

Trust in your abilities (even when it seems no one else does)

Kurt Warner is a Hall of Fame NFL player, but he had to overcome plenty of adversity to get to the top. Warner was originally signed by the Green Bay Packers, but did not make the team. He went on to work at a grocery store for minimum wage before playing Arena League Football. He would eventually work his way back to the NFL, but it was a long road.

Despite the career detour, Warner told NCAA.com that he never doubted himself.

“There was never a moment from the standpoint of, I don’t think I can play, maybe you should give it up. But there were definitely moments when you start to go, I don’t know if I am going to get the opportunity,” he said.

When you get fired, it’s easy to question your abilities and lose confidence in yourself. If you stop believing in yourself, though, it will directly impact your ability to seek out new opportunities. Just like Warner, it’s important to keep working hard and to keep your eyes on the larger prize. A new job will come your way.

Work harder in your next role

It’s hard to believe, but Michael Jordan was actually cut from his high school basketball team. Funnily enough, it was the best thing that could have happened to him. Jordan says he used that rejection as motivation: “Whenever I was working out and got tired and figured I ought to stop, I’d close my eyes and see that list in the locker room without my name on it. That usually got me going again.”

Jordan’s hard work paid off; he made the team the next year and instantly became the star player. The rest is history.

While no one is immune to getting fired, those that work hard and continue to put in the effort generally fare better. If you feel like you haven’t been giving 100% on the job, take a page out of MJ’s playbook, and get to work.

Find the right fit

You can argue that Phil Kessel was never the right fit for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The team at that point needed a leader, and the talented but subdued Kessel didn’t quite fit the bill. The press was quick to make him a scapegoat, claiming he didn’t take responsibility for his actions, and didn’t train or eat right. Eventually, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he instantly found success. Kessel didn’t change his play style; he just found a team where his game fit.

Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford backed that up in an interview with the Globe and Mail, saying that the line Kessel formed with Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino just meshed quickly: “They’re not forcing anything. They go with the game. It’s hard to find guys that can score goals and set them up. I really like how Kessel fits in the team.”

There are a lot of possible reasons for getting fired, but often, it comes down to fit. Maybe it wasn’t the right job or company for you; maybe it was just the wrong time. Whatever the case may be, don’t rush into your next position. Instead take the time to find the right fit.

Being fired helps build character

Brett Gardner’s playing days could have ended at the College of Charleston – he failed to make the team. Instead of giving up, though, he asked for a chance to join the practice squad, and by working like a dog, he ended up becoming the star of the team. That initial snub (and the fact that other colleges had overlooked him) acted as a motivator, and helped Gardner develop an intense work ethic.

Even when he made the Yankees he never stopped working.

“He was always the first one at the park and the last one to leave. No one is going to outwork Brett Gardner,” his teammate Andy Stankiewicz said.

Being fired can be a humiliating experience. It makes you realize that you aren’t invincible and that you might need to change your attitude, work ethic, or character to be successful in the future. It’s never easy, but there are important life lessons to learn from getting fired. And like these pro athletes have shown us, it can actually make us stronger in the long run.


Mia Gordon is a former professional tennis player and a sports broadcaster. Over the course of six years, she has worked for TSN, CBC Olympics, and the Sun News Network. She is now a host, reporter, and producer for Sportsnet and the National Lacrosse League.


See also:

4 ways to get yourself out of any slump

5 career lessons we can learn from Roger Federer’s comeback

What Auston Matthews can teach you about starting a new job


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