Everyone knows you need to take risks in order to be creative, set yourself apart, and accomplish truly impressive things. Yet many of us still struggle to try things we might fail at. What are we so afraid of?
Public humiliation isn't nice, but if you dig down into people's motivations, their biggest fear is often getting fired. What if I lose the means to support myself and my family? Won't a black mark like that in my work history hold me back in the future? Who wants to hire someone who got canned from their last gig?
Turns out the answer to that last one is plenty of people. When the authors of a new book titled The CEO Next Door tracked more than 2,600 executives over a ten-year period they discovered something startling -- of those that got fired, an incredible 91 percent ended up finding a new position that was as good or better than their last.
Getting fired can actually be good for your career.
The good news from co-authors Elena Lytkina Botelho, BJ Wright, and Kim Rosenkoetter Powell doesn't stop there. Not only do nearly all fired executives continue their climb up the ladder, but an incredibly 78 percent eventually make it to CEO, they report in a recent HBR blogs write-up of their findings.
The authors even found evidence that getting fired can make you a stronger professional going forward. When the researchers had objective raters evaluate the job interview performance of executives, they discovered that those who had some sort of serious screw-up like being fired in their career histories were actually slightly more likely to be recommended for the job.
Of course, circumstances matter. If you were fired for some sort of gross negligence or heinous ethical lapse, that's clearly going to be a bigger stain on your record that simply leading an initiative that didn't quite succeed. But in cases where getting fired stemmed from a mismatch of skills and requirements at a given company or simple lack of results, the prognosis looks downright sunny.
Why some companies prefer to hire failures
In fact, some companies actively look for those who have tanked in the past, as it indicates boldness and resilience. HomeAway co-founder Brian Sharples explained to Inc.com that he prefers to hire people who have been through epic fails and can talk about them intelligently. And when a recent WSJ piece revealed Netflix is quick to fire struggling team members, the company's response was to stress being let go was no shame and didn't hold ex-employees back in their subsequent careers.
"Being part of Netflix is like being part of an Olympic team. Getting cut, when it happens, is very disappointing but there is no shame at all. Our former employees get a generous severance and they generally get snapped up by another company," it commented.
Both Netflix's competitors and companies like HomeAway realize that not failing is often the result of not trying. Reaching and coming up short demonstrates you're not afraid to dream big. All of which adds up to a simple lesson: you really shouldn't let your fear of getting fired keep you from taking risks. Playing it safe will harm you more in the long run than daring and failing.
The bottom line is getting fired isn't the end of the world, especially if you use it as an occasion for reflection, self-improvement, and renewed investment in your career. How do you do that exactly? Check out the complete HBR post for useful concrete advice.