Everything I Learned After Getting Fired From My Dream Job

Thanks to Kevin Espiritu, Zach Obront, and Tucker Max for reading drafts of this post and giving their feedback. You helped make it better than I ever could have on my own.

Tucker Max fired me, two days before Christmas.

I was the first full-time employee at his new startup,Book In A Box. I quit my corporate job, and moved to Austin, Texas at the start of 2015. I lived there for three months and then came back to the UK and worked remotely from home.

The role was everything Id wanted in a job for years. I escaped the prison of dull, unfulfilling corporate life and leapt into a fast-paced startup, working in a niche that I loved, not having to be at the office at any given time, free to work when and where I wanted. And I was working for someone that I had followed and looked up to for nearly a decade.

In the 12 months I was at Book In A Box, I helped grow the company from 3 people to 9 people, and from $50k per month to $400k per month in revenue. I worked with authors from all over the world, helping them to publish their books and share their wisdom with the world. I met some fantastic people, and had some amazing experiences.

And then I was fired.

And it was all my fault.

I want to preface this by saying that Tucker and his co-founder Zach are great people, and I have no bad feelings towards them at all. Were still on good terms, and they were 100% right to fire me. In fact, their biggest mistake was not doing it sooner.

So was I fired?

The easy answer is to say that I was fired for performance. Or, rather, lack of it. I wasnt doing a good enough job, so I was fired.

But thats not a complete answer. WHY wasnt I doing a good enough job? What caused me to fail so badly, when I should have wanted to succeed more than anything?

Ive thought about it a lot, and now I need to write about it. I need to unpack all of my issues, assumptions, biases and irrational behaviour. Ill warn you now, this will be long, and quite self-indulgent, but I hope it will help me deal with these issues, and stop others from falling into the same traps.

Its painful to write about it, because its painful to document all the different ways in which I screwed up. To write, in detail, about how I failed. But I need to do it anyway.

What it boils down to is this:

Thats the crux of the matter. But again, we need to go a layer deeper than this. Why didnt I like the job I was doing, and why did I choose to procrastinate so much?

To start with, lets look at exactly what my job was.

My role: Publishing Manager

Book In A Box helps people write and publish their own book. Our clients were typically CEOs, entrepreneurs, speakers and consultants, who were publishing their book to establish their authority in their niche, build their personal brand, and act as a lead gen tool for their business.

As Publishing Manager, I managed their whole project from start to finish. I was the clients main point of contact throughout the whole process, and talk them through every step of the way.

That sounds straightforward but in that description are the seeds of my downfall, namely…

That sounds straightforward but in that description are the seeds of my downfall, namely:

1. I was the main point of contact for all our clients. So I spent a large part of my day answering emails and on the phone, in responsive mode rather than actively creating things.

2. I was the main point of contact for all our clients. So if they had problems, they came to me, and I had to deal with them and solve them.

3. I was the main point of contact forALLour clients. I was the only one doing this job, and the only person at Book In A Box that our clients would interact with for long periods of time.

These attributes of the job, by themselves, arent bad. In fact, for some people, this job description sounds amazing. But not for me. They combined with some of my own personal issues to create real issues in my job. Issues like:

I dont like working remotely, especially with a big time difference.

This is actually a fairly simple issue. Ive often struggled to create routines and structure for myself Ive failed when Ive tried to pick up habits like exercising regularly, meditating, dieting, and the like. So for me, the structure that comes with a 9-5 office job is actually a good thing, as it forces me to get up at a reasonable hour, go to an office with other people, sit down at a desk, and work for a good number of hours. It forces me to be accountable.

When I started working remotely, I loved it at first. I could go to the gym at 11am when it was quiet, or go to the driving range mid-afternoon at hit some balls. But I quickly realised I wasnt actually getting much work done.

To try and impose some discipline on myself, I rented some office space, and would go there every day. But with the rest of my company, and most of my clients, asleep until about 1pm UK time, I would usually sleep in. I might go to the gym first thing, and get to the office around 10am, where Id basically browse Reddit and listen to podcasts until about 1pm, when everyone would wake up and start posting on Slack, which is when Id get to work. I would also finish working around 6pm, when my girlfriend got home from work. I was basically working 5 hours a day.

In many jobs, this would be enough to get everything done. But in a fast-growing startup. I was struggling to keep up, because it just wasnt enough time to get all my work done.

The other issue is that working remotely is lonely, especially when most of your company isnt awake until halfway through your working day. Theres a lot less banter and talk between colleagues, even with tools like Slack. Some people dont need that interaction, and like the peace and quiet that comes from working at home. Im not one of those people. Im naturally an extrovert, and I need the daily interaction and the energy it gives me. Theres no substitute for having people sat next to you that you can talk to, or having your colleagues sat next to you working hard, and making you feel like you should be doing the same.

And when youre working remotely, its a lot easier to ignore a problem. I didnt take ownership for the issues that I noticed or that were under my control. In fact, I didnt take ownership for myself: for my own productivity and work habits. I let myself be a victim to my circumstances, instead of doing the hard work to fix it.

I am too eager to please people, and I dont like confrontation.

I said that a big part of my job was solving issues for our clients. Unfortunately, these problems were sometimes partly out of my control — for example, if we were waiting on some book cover designers from a freelance designer. I was usually too eager to please the client, so Id give them unrealistically short timeframes for when wed have the designs back. That date would come and go, and the client would follow up with me, annoyed.

Rather than deal with that issue, Id just ignore it, and not answer their email. This happened multiple times, and as you can imagine, this is really bad customer service. But seeing as though I was the clients only point of contact, there was no-one for them to complain to–so I could get away with it. At least for awhile.

I was struggling to keep up, because the company was growing so fast, and I was the only one dealing with all of our clients. We could have hired more people to help me. But I didnt say anything to Tucker or Zach about it for a long time, for a couple of reasons:

1. I felt guilty about not working hard enough, because I knew the problem was partly my fault; and

2. I didnt want to complain and make it sound like I was causing problems. I was too eager to keep them happy, and just decided to suffer in silence, rather than raise the issue and have a difficult conversation (for me) about how to solve the problem.

This actually had a really harmful effect: I kept expecting to be found out, so I would put off opening up my emails or Slack in the morning, because I was always convinced that today would be the day someone would realise I suck at my job, and thered be an angry message waiting for me, telling me how bad I was.

I am sometimes humble to a fault.

Im a smart guy, but Im well aware that I dont have the answer to everything. And having followed Tuckers career and looked up to him for a long time, I knew he was extremely smart, and a good entrepreneur. But I looked up to him too much, and often substituted his judgement for my own.

I remember one occasion where we were talking about when wed need to hire someone else to do the same thing as me; how many clients wed need to get before I would reach breaking point.

I thought the answer would be about 50. Tucker thought it was more like 100.
What I should have said was:

What I actually said was…nothing.

Instead, I thought to myself, OK, Tuckers smarter than me, so he must be right about this — even though Im the only one doing this job and have a lot more information about it than he does, and he has a habit of anchoring to high expectations. Hes probably right.

I doubted myself too much, and looked up to Tucker too much to question his judgement. So I didnt step up to the plate and deal with the issue.

Again, I also felt guilty about not working enough, and thought, Well, if I just work harder, Ill be able to solve this problem. And I didnt want to face the issue, and couldnt deal with the confrontation.

I liked the status of what I was doing more than I actually liked doing it.

So with all of these issues, why didnt I just quit? Why not just say You know what? Good luck in the future, and I hope you all do really well, but this job just isnt for me.?
Well, partly because that means admitting the problem and dealing with it, rather than ignoring it. But there were two other reasons that stopped me.

First, I liked the status of the job. Its fun to be able to have conversations like this:

Me: I work for a startup founded by a NYT best-selling author. I was employee #1 and flew out to Austin for a few months to help them get the company off the ground. Im going to our next quarterly meeting in Las Vegas next week, we went to New York in the summer, but theres a couple of conferences in Vegas that we want to go to this time round. I used to work a corporate job, but it was just too dull, I had to go and do something exciting!

Friend: Wow, thats so cool! I wish I could do that!

Me: Well, I had to work hard and hustle to get this job, but Im so glad I did, I could never go back to being a corporate drone again.

Those conversations, and the looks of envy that they generate, are addictive. It feels great to say things like that about yourself, and have people think more of you. Even if its just a facade, and the reality is that youre anxious, miserable, and dont ever wake up actually WANTING to work.

The second reason was that I really like Tucker. I really like Zach. And I really like Book In A Box. They are great guys, running a great company, with fantastic people, and it will be a huge success. And even if its not, I had a blast with them and the rest of the Book In A Box team, hanging out at our quarterly meetings in Austin, NYC and Las Vegas, drinking amazing wine and eating incredible food, having great conversations, and all helping each other improve personally and professionally. I LOVED all that.

But admitting that might mean jeopardising my place in the team. And its a hard problem to face, and I dont like confrontation, and I just wanted to please them, and its always easier to avoid issues when your co-workers are thousands of miles away.

So I ignored it.

The Culmination

You see how these all add up? Theres alollapalooza effectof multiple issues here, creating a perfect storm that led to chronic procrastination, and a general inability to actually do work beyond that which is immediately necessary to prevent getting fired (in the short-term at least)

But it wasnt enough.

I actually recognised and started to face a lot of these issues in mid-December, when I started having daily and weekly check-in calls with one of my co-workers, Kevin. I started to tackle them and make progress, but it was too little, too late.

By that point, Id been underperforming for months, and Tucker and Zach had to take the decision to let me go, to protect the rest of the company. That was 100% the right decision — and like I said, they probably should have done it 2-3 months sooner than that.

I dont begrudge them at all. I still had a lot of fun times working for Book In A Box, and learned a ton about writing, publishing, marketing, running a small business, customer service, project management, process improvement and about 6 other things. But here are the main lessons I take from this experience.

1. I need to take extreme ownership.

Ironically I got this from a book that Tucker recommended to me,by Jocko Willink. You can listen to a podcast he did with Tim Ferrissheretoo.

The idea is this: everything, absolutely everything, is down to you. Willink uses the example of a platoon commander. Obviously things like his orders to his men, and the tactics he uses on the battlefield, are the responsibility of the platoon commander. But if his CO doesnt give him the equipment he needs, then what can he do? Thats outside of his control, right?

Wrong.

Its the platoon commanders responsibility to effectively communicate to his CO what he needs, why he needs it, and what the consequences are if he doesnt get it. And if he still doesnt get it, then thats his fault, because he didnt sufficiently communicate that need.

So if I was struggling to keep up, I needed to own it and make that clear. If I thought a process needed to be changed, even if I couldnt do it myself, I needed to speak up. That was all my responsibility, and I didnt do it. And thats especially true in a startup, where you need to be able to operate under uncertainty, and iterate your way towards solving problems. Ignoring it and hoping that someone else will tell you what to do is a recipe for failure.

2. I need to be around people who will challenge me.

I actually spent the first three months of my time at Book In A Box living with Zach in Austin, on the same street as Tucker. We spent a lot of time together, and I drastically improved professionally and personally. I picked up the job quickly, I became a lot more effective, and I also lost 20 lbs and got in great shape.

Its not a coincidence that all that happened at once (while NOT working remotely). Thats the power of being around people who challenge you. Not just associating with them, or talking to them via email, Skype, or Slack, but PHYSICALLY being around them. Eating dinner with them. Going to meetings. Sat at a desk across from them.

I know I should not work remotely (at least not full-time). I know for a fact that my next job needs to be in an environment where I am around other great people: role models, mentors, friends, and people who will challenge me and push me to be better. Not that theyll do the hard work for me, but theyll a) support me and motivate me and b) call me on my bullshit and make me realise when Im not facing up to issues.

3. I am actually pretty smart, but thats nothing without action.

I actually recognised a lot of these issues in myself as they were happening. I knew what I needed to do to fix them. But I knew that it would be hard. And I didnt think I needed to do it immediately.

So I put it off, and didnt do it. Which is why I got fired.

This also happened with business issues. I would spot a problem, and think through a solution. I would think up the 5-6 steps Id need to take to implement that solution, and solve the problem. Then I would congratulate myself on being smart enough to recognise a problem and think up a solution.

The missing piece, of course, was actually taking any action.

Tucker or Zach would often come to me later and say, Hey, Ive noticed this problem. Heres a good solution though. Can you get that done? It was often the same problem and solution Id spotted myself, but hadnt done anything about. Which meant that I started to get a reputation at someone who couldnt really see things through, and get things done.

At the time I thought that was a bit unfair, but its 100% correct. Thinking through a problem is great, but the perfect solution you dont implement is exactly the same as no solution at all.

4. All of these issues stem from a deep, deep fear of success.

These other problems — failure to take ownership, the need to be around other people who will push me, and my failure to take action and solve problems reflect one underlying condition:my deep, deep fear of success.

On the surface, fear of success sounds ridiculous. Think of the words that you associate with success: wealth, prestige, power, fame, accomplishments, satisfaction. All those words sound pretty great, right? Who on earth is afraid of success?

I am. Im of it.

Im scared that Ill get to the top of the mountain and all of a sudden, people wont like me.

My parents wont like me because Ill have more money than they do. My girlfriend wont like me because success will somehow change me. My friends wont like me because they wont be able to relate to me any more. Strangers wont like me because theyll resent my accomplishments.

Im also scared that everyone I know and love wont understand me any more.

When youre talking to family or friends about your work, how many people say things like this:

  • Cant complain!
  • Same old, same old. Boring, but Im getting paid well.
  • Its pretty easy, I honestly dont know how I havent been fired yet!

Id guess its greater than 90% (at least for me). This is especially true in middle-class England, where were all humble, quiet, understated, and generally dont like to make too much of a fuss.

Which means that if I succeed if I even START to do the work I need to do to get to where I want to be I know that Ill be an outlier. Some people will judge me for that. Some people will criticise me. And some people wont ever understand me.

Thats terrifying. And its exhausting, too. At first, its fun to be unconventional and get those envious looks, but when youre faced with the difficult reality of the work it takes to be different, and the energy you need to keep going with it, its so much easier just to give up.

I remember when I first quit my old job to go work for Book In A Box, and someone very close to me said, Well, if it doesnt work out, you can always go back to being an accountant.

That was one of the first things they said to me. Of course they were supportive as well, but that support was diluted by the constant reminder that it would be easier to fail, and go back to my rightful place.

Of course, its much better to fail now, early on, than it is to get to the top, and then fail.

Because thats the other big fear. That Ill achieve success, but wont be able to cope with it, so Ill fall back down to Earth. I dont have faith in my ability to stay at the top once I get there. Im afraid that Id get everything I ever wanted and then Id lose it all again, and thered be no-one to blame but me.

Then Id have suffered the hard work, odd looks, and the long periods of not being understood, and it would all be for nothing.

I wouldnt even have my comforting self-image of being destined for great things. If I try and fail, then I have to discard that. Then Ill have nothing left but the voices in my head that say I told you you would fail, and dreams of what might have been.

When I got fired, at first I was relieved. No more stress. No more anxiety.Then I was angry, at myself. I had an incredible opportunity, and I wasted it.Finally, over time, I accepted what had happened.

On reflection, Im glad for the whole experience. I realised some deep issues about myself that I need to solve if Im going to achieve what I want to achieve. Its been 3 months since I got fired, and I havent solved all of these issues yet. But now Im aware of them, Ive accepted them, and Im dealing with them.

And Im a better man for that.

Read more: http://thoughtcatalog.com/andrew-lynch/2016/04/everything-i-learned-after-getting-fired-from-my-dream-job/