How I built up my work confidence after being fired

photography by jasper hede
words by mary madigan

“When I was fired, I was inconsolable. I took to my bed, cried so much I gave myself a severe migraine, and turned down every social invitation I was offered.”

Being fired is a unique kind of pain. Yes, there’s humiliation and stress involved, but there’s also a crippling sense of failure and self-doubt. It’s hard to feel confident in your skillset and ability when an employer has basically just said, ‘We don’t want you’. So how do you rebuild?

In my experience, there’s no magic answer or quick fix. Much like a gut-wrenching breakup, you have to go through the motions and remember the things you liked about yourself. Ultimately, I found that you must fake it until you start to make it and, eventually, you will feel like a girl boss again.

Interested to hear how others navigate the world? Head to our Life section.

This advice isn’t intended to minimise the experience. When I was fired, I was inconsolable. I took to my bed, cried so much I gave myself a severe migraine, and turned down every social invitation I was offered. I tortured myself with all the usual questions. What had I done wrong? Was it something I had said? Was it preventable? Was I just not good enough? I also spent far too much time scrolling through social media and feeling like everyone else had the perfect career.

Sure, there were some practical reasons for my misery. I’m not a trust-fund baby, and I’ve never been good at saving. So I was worried about paying my rent and electricity bills once I ran out of annual leave. But truthfully, the reason I was bedridden was that I’d let someone else make me feel small enough that I’d lost all faith in myself.

It also stung that I hadn’t lost my job from lack of trying; I’d lost my job because it wasn’t the right fit. After several months of desperately trying to contort myself so I could fit in, I was also exhausted and burnt out. I felt like starting again, applying for jobs, and networking was just too overwhelming. I just wanted some affirmation, but affirmation doesn’t happen unless you put yourself out there.

Of course, all of this pain is a perfectly natural response to being fired. Careers coach Alex Kingsmill tells me that “After being fired, your brain can go into overdrive – questioning yourself, wondering what you did wrong, doubting your own abilities and your capacity to make a positive change”.

While my response was normal and expected, it didn’t make the pain hurt less and job hunting was like signing back up to Tinder with a broken heart. So how do you build up your confidence again?
According to Alex, it’s all about being practical. “Proactively meet up with friends, exercise in new ways, ask people for career advice, make a people map of all your connections, refine your resume and try and make small positive changes at home.

“All these kinds of activities will return a sense of control over your life, which may have been really impacted by being fired. These steps will remind you that you have agency, and it will boost confidence,” she explains.

Of course, I know this sounds like a simplistic approach, but it did work for me. I realised quickly I wasn’t going to wake up, start applying for jobs online and suddenly feel capable. Instead, I needed to focus on what I could control, and I also needed to prioritise what made me feel good.

This meant I forced myself to get out of bed every morning by at least 10 am. I made sure I ate breakfast, and I went on daily walks. I started meeting up with my friends, sought out career opportunities, and I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. This didn’t immediately fix everything. Even when I did land a new job, I was anxious and nervous. I just had to keep reminding myself I couldn’t control the outcome, but I could control how I made myself feel every day.

I made sure I was doing things to feed my endorphins; exercise, social stimulation, even just fuelling my body with food that made me feel energised rather than sluggish. Just like a broken heart takes time to heal, rebuilding your work confidence after being fired also takes time. Time, and a few small wins. When those wins did come again, they felt like thumping pats on the back and gradually I started to feel confident and proud of my work once again. It didn’t happen overnight; it took several months, but I am there now.

Being fired taught me that no feeling is permanent and that your bruised ego will recover and your faith in yourself can be restored. It’s not an easy or painless process, and you do have to lean into the journey of it, but ultimately it will pay off. Still, what I’ve really learned is that if you treat yourself with kindness, you can overcome anything.

For more advice on how to deal with being fired, try this.

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