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.