On Being Fired-Part II: It’s Tough Not To take It Personally

On Being Fired-Part II: It’s Tough Not To take It Personally


Leonard Zwelling

“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” This is a quote attributed to Carrie Fisher in Wishful Drinking but probably has its origins earlier. It is true, nonetheless.

That being said, it was clear during former FBI Director Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 8 that he resented what Mr. Trump had said about him and about the state of the FBI under his leadership. He took the Trump statements and the Trump firing personally. He clearly loved being FBI Director and he will indeed, “miss it for the rest of his life.”

I can identify. Of all the many jobs I ever had, the best was being the Vice President for Research Administration at MD Anderson in the early 2000’s. I was running a big office with lots of bright and fun people on the staff. My interaction with the faculty is what I miss the most to this day and I thought I was supporting something important, the research of that faculty.

The job called upon all of what I had learned as a clinician, researcher, and manager in business school.

Admittedly, I stepped away from the oversight of clinical research in 2004 of my own volition. But a blue ribbon report castigated me and my office and I did not have mural dyslexia. I could read the handwriting on the wall. It was time to step aside after nine plus years. I stayed running ever tinier pieces of research administration as my office was sliced and diced into smaller and smaller bits until Dan Fontaine removed me permanently in July of 2007. I was lucky. I hated what had become of the job and the firing freed me to pursue my next career in health policy in Washington.

The fact that the firing led to a good outcome did not ease the resentment. It is still as fresh as new paint on a bathroom wall and smells just as bad. Even with the understanding that has come after almost ten years, it still hurts, but a bit less every day. Besides, I have drunk enough of my own poison for a lifetime.

Coach K also had a similar and more recent experience having been removed as Head of the Division of Pediatrics for no apparent reason by Dr. DePinho. Oh, Ron didn’t fire her. He left that to his sidekicks Dmitrovsky and Buchholz and they never really did tell her why she was fired. She struggles with this every day as all that she built in Pediatrics is almost gone, (all five MD-PhD faculty present on the day she was fired have left), wrecked by Genie’s ad interim successor. The clinical service is a fraction of what it was and the ad interim Head left the new guy with much to rebuild.

The lack of new outside talent is a problem throughout the Anderson clinical arena and I really doubt this crop of Division Heads is likely to fix that. We will have to wait for the new president to identify a route back to greatness if that person can be named and if he or she is worthy of the job. One sure sign that the new president means business is if he or she requests the resignations of all of the Division Heads and accepts most of them.

When you are fired, it is hard not to take it personally. Director Comey did. I did. Genie did. I suspect even Dr. DePinho did. But once you get past the rationalization for why you were fired, you arrive at the place where you know it had to happen this way. While you think it could have been avoided if you just did something differently or said something else, usually that is not the case. You were no longer the right person at the right time in the right place.

But it still feels like taking poison.

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