Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why Getting Fired Was Probably One of the Best Things Ever to Happen to Me

No one likes losing their job, even less getting fired. But I have to say getting fired was probably the best thing ever to happen to me.

Thankfully, this happened nearly 30 years ago, not today! I think the story is worth telling to think about how we work in our business and with our customers in the “real world.”

When I was in 5th grade I really wanted a new red 10-speed Schwinn bicycle. For a variety of reasons, most of them economic, some of them to motivate me, my parents said that the only way I was going to get the bike was if I earned the money to buy it. So I went off around the neighborhood selling my lawn-mowing services, with an average price of $5 per lawn. The venture was successful, and soon I had 5-10 lawns that I mowed on a weekly basis. At the end of the first summer, I was able to buy the bicycle.

And I continued on mowing lawns. One of my most profitable customers was Mr. Pancake, who lived on the street behind us. He was older and was connected to an oxygen tank most of the time, but he was very fastidious on the appearance of his house and lawn. He paid me $10 per week, but I had to bag the grass and trim the edges EVERY WEEK.

It was a great gig for a kid my age – he was my best paying customer, his lawn wasn’t that big and unlike some people, he wanted the lawn mowed every week, not just when the grass got to a certain length. And then I got lazy and took my good fortune for granted. I cut corners. Sometimes, I didn’t trim all the edges. My bagging skills weren’t always up to the best standard and the trash bag would fall over, spilling grass on the driveway, which he would have to pick up.

After one such relatively poor performance, Mr. Pancake called our house. This was unusual and he asked me to come over. He then proceeded to show me where I hadn’t met his standards. The fence line wasn’t trimmed. The bag had fallen over and spilled. And he would no longer be needing my services. I was panicked. I had never been fired. I tried to pick up the grass in the driveway and put it back in the bag the right way. I said I would go get my trimmer now and finish it up correctly. He said that I had my chances and had I CHOSEN not to do the job, even though he thought he had been fair in reminding me a number of times.

I was devastated. But in retrospect, that lesson has stuck with me for three decades, when many conversations have come and gone. It is a part of who I am and why I insist on attention to details.

So do I suggest that you fire your team members to teach them a lesson? No… well not always.

The important lesson is that I took my best customer for granted. He seemed loyal and I was in a hurry to get to the next job. I missed the little signs that he had given me (likely a few big signs that went right over my head). I rationalized that I would spend a little extra time next week.

In building and growing a business, we can sometimes take for granted our most loyal customers to go after the next piece of new business or try and satisfy the hard-to-please customer. When we do this, we often forget about the customer that helped us launch the business or has stayed with us through thick and thin. Maybe we cut the corner on them, because “they’ll understand.” Mr. Pancake taught me a lesson that each time we have a chance to serve someone, that is a gift we should not take for granted.

Now in time, I kept calling Mr. Pancake to see how he was and occasionally stopping by. By the end of the summer he gave me a second chance. I never took his business for granted again and worked even harder to earn back his trust. It took me twice as long to win his business and trust back as it had to win it in the first place. But in this case, getting fired was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me.


  1. Great story, Jeff. I really enjoy these childhood anecdotes that shape us to who we are today. You're right; they never leave us because of the enormity of the situation at the time. I liked the fact that you were able to get Mr. Pancake's business back, too -- never taking it for granted, again.

  2. Got an email on this post I thought I would share. "Same could be said of family, friends and associates. Never, ever underestimate the value and importance of the people in your life."

    True words. Just like the events that shape us, the people around us truly enrich our lives today and make us who we are.