What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

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What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger

A for­mer stu­dent of mine decided he needed to send a thank you let­ter to a man who fired him.

The pur­pose was to tell the super­vi­sor that the dis­missal was an impor­tant expe­ri­ence that made him reflect on what he was doing wrong and how he could improve himself.

I decided to elim­i­nate the names of the indi­vid­u­als and the com­pany for pri­vacy rea­sons, but my for­mer stu­dent gave me per­mis­sion to use the letter.

It has been more than 12 months since my final day at [the com­pany]. In the time in-​between I real­ized I needed to con­tact you. I needed to con­tact you to thank you. By fir­ing me, you gave me the most effec­tive coach­ing les­son I ever received dur­ing my five-​year tenure with the com­pany: In order to be a suc­cess­ful leader, I needed to improve my work-​life bal­ance so I could be a bet­ter son, brother, cousin, nephew, uncle, friend, neigh­bor, com­mu­nity leader, vol­un­teer and employee.

My recov­ery from los­ing my job took longer than I wanted. But even­tu­ally I dis­cov­ered run­ning, and I lost more than 30 pounds from mid-​September to late Novem­ber. Next, I began to exer­cise my mind. I researched and thought long and hard about del­e­ga­tion, pri­or­i­ti­za­tion, boundary-​setting and multi-​tiered goal set­ting. I revised my resume and prac­ticed job inter­view­ing skills.

The mem­ory of what hap­pened to me over a year ago still haunts me today. When I recall that day, how­ever, I will always think pos­i­tively about your clos­ing words, ‘It’s time to start car­ing about your­self more.’ That sen­ti­ment pro­vided me with a glim­mer of light as I began my year-​long jour­ney inside the dark tun­nel that my life sub­se­quently became.

I respect your abil­ity to lead. Within the short amount of time that I was able to inter­act with you, I learned a few valu­able lessons. When you gave me your per­sonal phone num­ber, I should’ve kept it in a safe place. Instead, I lost it. And it is truly a shame because a year later, I real­ized that you were reach­ing out to me then.

Today a new job awaits me, and I have enter­tained seri­ous thoughts of return­ing to col­lege to obtain my Jour­nal­ism degree and also to pur­sue a degree in Edu­ca­tion. My con­fi­dence has soared in the past few weeks, and I feel like any­thing is pos­si­ble. The lows, how­ever, still remain. The jux­ta­po­si­tion of the extreme high of obtain­ing a new job has con­trasted with the extreme low of how my tenure at the com­pany ended. This inter­nal con­flict has pre­sented me with a tough men­tal chal­lenge I’ve had to face daily.

Am I con­fi­dent that I can deal with these up-​and-​down feel­ings? Yes, I am.

Again, I want to thank you for set­ting a plan in motion that helped me to dis­cover who I truly am.”

The let­ter under­scores the need to reflect on fail­ure — not to dwell on it. But the eval­u­a­tion of fail­ures – as well as suc­cesses – is a worth­while res­o­lu­tion for the New Year. It’s an analy­sis that helped my for­mer stu­dent and may help all of us. Happy New Year!


Christo­pher Harper is a long­time jour­nal­ist who teaches media law.

A former student of mine decided he needed to send a thank you letter to a man who fired him.

The purpose was to tell the supervisor that the dismissal was an important experience that made him reflect on what he was doing wrong and how he could improve himself.

I decided to eliminate the names of the individuals and the company for privacy reasons, but my former student gave me permission to use the letter.

“It has been more than 12 months since my final day at [the company]. In the time in-between I realized I needed to contact you. I needed to contact you to thank you. By firing me, you gave me the most effective coaching lesson I ever received during my five-year tenure with the company: In order to be a successful leader, I needed to improve my work-life balance so I could be a better son, brother, cousin, nephew, uncle, friend, neighbor, community leader, volunteer and employee.

“My recovery from losing my job took longer than I wanted. But eventually I discovered running, and I lost more than 30 pounds from mid-September to late November. Next, I began to exercise my mind. I researched and thought long and hard about delegation, prioritization, boundary-setting and multi-tiered goal setting. I revised my resume and practiced job interviewing skills.

“The memory of what happened to me over a year ago still haunts me today. When I recall that day, however, I will always think positively about your closing words, ‘It’s time to start caring about yourself more.’ That sentiment provided me with a glimmer of light as I began my year-long journey inside the dark tunnel that my life subsequently became.

“I respect your ability to lead. Within the short amount of time that I was able to interact with you, I learned a few valuable lessons. When you gave me your personal phone number, I should’ve kept it in a safe place. Instead, I lost it. And it is truly a shame because a year later, I realized that you were reaching out to me then.

“Today a new job awaits me, and I have entertained serious thoughts of returning to college to obtain my Journalism degree and also to pursue a degree in Education. My confidence has soared in the past few weeks, and I feel like anything is possible. The lows, however, still remain. The juxtaposition of the extreme high of obtaining a new job has contrasted with the extreme low of how my tenure at the company ended. This internal conflict has presented me with a tough mental challenge I’ve had to face daily.

“Am I confident that I can deal with these up-and-down feelings? Yes, I am.

“Again, I want to thank you for setting a plan in motion that helped me to discover who I truly am.”

The letter underscores the need to reflect on failure—not to dwell on it. But the evaluation of failures–as well as successes–is a worthwhile resolution for the New Year. It’s an analysis that helped my former student and may help all of us. Happy New Year!


Christopher Harper is a longtime journalist who teaches media law.