I can trace my sacking in my last job right back to a mistake I made in a previous role. I’d began my career at one of the world’s largest fashion houses. I loved everything about what I did – the people, the culture, the work; I was on a continual upwards trajectory and there were opportunities to travel too. When an overseas position came up I packed my bags, and without hesitation left Milan and moved to New York for the adventure of a lifetime.
Just 12 months later an offer came along from a rival company. It meant more money and more seniority, but more importantly it was something new.
I knew almost immediately that the new job wasn’t a good fit. The culture really slapped me in the face – the hours were crazy, there was politics every way I turned, colleagues would disappear overnight, I had no leeway, independence or real power, and within a short time my health and relationships were suffering. As my probation period came to an end I made the difficult decision to leave. I resigned, and for the first time in my career I found myself out of work.
I seized the first offer that came along – from a global music corporation. I’d done my background checks and believed I could be content in the environment; after my experience of the last few months, that was my biggest priority. I didn’t dwell too much on the fact that I was moving away from fashion or that the role – encompassing HR and some marketing – was far less creative than I was used to.
I was right – the culture was a better fit: I was much happier. A colleague who started around the same time as me became a fast friend. But, I quickly became bored in the role. It lacked the creativity I needed, but I felt I had to stay; I didn’t want another short-term appointment casting a shadow over my CV.
My solution was to inject more creativity into my free time, volunteering to style shoots for charity campaigns. Word spread and gradually I began to get calls to do the odd bits of freelance work. The evenings and weekends I spent working in fashion made up for the humdrum of my nine to five.
I knew this, but I told myself that I wasn’t working for a competitor – there was no conflict of interest so it was ok. And besides, I never thought anyone would find out.
They did, and in the most random way imaginable. I was in the process of moving to a larger apartment and had sent my landlord a scan containing bank statements, pay slips and reference details. He needed the latter items to be verified by my employer so he sent the set of scans onto the HR team, including my bank statements.
HR was onto me the same day. They’d gone through my transactions and wanted to know where the additional payments were coming from. I was horrified that they’d been through my personal effects, and my kneejerk reaction was to deny that I’d been moonlighting. But the issue didn’t go away. There was an investigation which uncovered examples of my work on the Internet, and after that I had nowhere to hide. I was invited to “explain myself” and I knew this meant I could either beg for my job or refuse and face the consequences. The process was already impacting my day to day; I felt I was being treated like a criminal – my inbox was being monitored, my passwords were changed and word was beginning to spread among my colleagues that I couldn’t be trusted. I knew that even if I apologised, things would never go back to how they were. My reputation would be permanently marked.
Losing my job was just the start of more problems. Without a reference I lost my new apartment. I’d already handed in my notice on my old place. And so it came to be that just a few weeks before Christmas, I found myself homeless and unemployed. My family were on another continent and my closest ally from work – who’d eaten lunch with me every day for the last five years – wasn’t answering the phone (she hasn’t spoken to me since the day I was fired – a fact which made me realise, sadly, that we were fair-weather friends).
My life boxed up in storage, I stayed on a friend’s sofa and gave myself the holidays to think about my next move. I was constantly in two minds about what to do. Should I return to Italy and hide away from the world? Or should I pull out all the stops to find a new job in New York? I’d have to use up my savings to live, and with no reference from my last employer, a new position might be hard to come by. In the New Year I gave myself a stern talking to, telling myself that things could be much worse, and that I should follow my passion. I’d realised that I’d only wandered from my role because I’d missed my first love of fashion. So I had to get back into it and quickly. Next time around culture would be just as important, but my passions mattered too.
I spoke to agents who advised me on how to deal with the inevitable ‘why did you leave your last role?’ questions, and I set myself a deadline: I’d spend three months looking for work and if nothing came up by the end of March, I’d pack my things and head back to Europe. Every day was terrifying, but I forced myself to think positively. I tried to adopt the mind-set of an athlete, fixated only on winning and the path to success. Every time the voice in my head piped up about getting a temp job doing any old thing, I firmly replied: “No: keep the dream”. I worked hard and put so much energy into my applications.
It paid off and I received two offers, both in organisations I admired and in the industry I loved. Just a few months ago I thought my career was over. With positive thinking I was able to find my way back. For that reason I cannot have any regrets about what I did. It’s taught me there are worse things in life than being sacked, and there’s a solution to every career problem.