The Power of Second Chances

A few people who read my last blog asked me what to do if their reputation was blemished.  Many were unable to find a job because something negative had come up about their past in a job interview.  Some had been fired from their previous jobs and were publicly shamed via press releases or off-the-record comments to the media.  I’m not going into the details of my discussions; however I’ve met many competent professionals that had either made a mistake through lapses in judgement, or they were in the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up being a lightning rod and fired for political reasons.

There are a lot of people whose actions were so egregious that they needed to be fired.  This blog is not about those people.  This blog is for people that fall somewhere in the “gray” areas and their firing or forced resignations can be viewed as wrong by both sides.  I refer to this period in some people’s lives as “career purgatory.”   This is where you have so much talent to offer but you’re labeled as “damaged goods” and cannot find a job that fits your skill-set because of your past.

7 Steps to Getting out of Career Purgatory:

  1. Acceptance: Realize that whatever the circumstances that led you to lose your job has already happened. There’s nothing you can do to change this. You can’t go back in time and change the past. Sure you can file a lawsuit, write angry letters and play the “victim,” or you can accept what has happened and move forward.
  2. Know That Life Isn’t Fair: We’re not little kids anymore where everyone gets a trophy at the end of the season little league soccer party. We can’t always have it our way and win every battle. Once you realize that life isn’t fair, it’ll be easier to accept what has happened to you.
  3. Be Accountable, Own It, & Don’t Make Excuses: Whatever got you fired regardless of how unfair it may seem, you have to be accountable to the situation you’re in now. Own up to your firing and don’t make any excuses. I’ve coached many people that cannot let go and accept what has happened. They hold on to the past and ruminate over and over about the “should have, would have, could have” scenarios. It’s very rare for someone to be fired for no reason at all, so there’s some accountability on your part to own up to your mistakes and not make any excuses. This is very important for second chances to come your way.
  4. Let It Go: No matter how hard some people try, it’s really hard for them to let go of the past. They build incredible grudges for the people that “screwed” them over, or the organization that let them go. It takes a lot of energy to hold a grudge. You need to nurture the grudge, care and feed it, and it’s like a scab that you keep picking at and it’ll never heal. If you’re able to find a way to just “let it go” you’ll have more time to come to terms with your situation and move forward with your life and career.
  5. Keep Positive Surroundings: Misery loves company. If there are any negative people or circumstances in your life try to get away from it as quickly as possible. Nothing is worse than not knowing how negative you are because your surroundings make you that way. People will pick up on that real quick and this will only keep you in your career purgatory.
  6. Watch Your Health: No matter how hard it may be, get out of bed, open the blinds, and move. Try to eat right, go to the gym or just walk around the neighborhood and get into a rhythm. Get adequate sleep, take some naps when you’re tired, but keep yourself busy and on a schedule – even if that schedule is to take out the trash. You want to ensure you feel you still have purpose in your life.
  7. Don’t Be Ashamed to Seek Professional Help: Many people that I’ve spoken to that had been fired – especially if it was the first time they were ever fired – suffer from major depression. Depression is real and not just something you can shake off. Finding the right professional to help you through your career purgatory can expedite your path to a new career.

The Power of Second Chances – Make Yourself the Underdog:

Why are there so many movies about underdogs?  Because people love underdogs. Underdogs can even be someone you don’t necessarily like but they become more likable as you see them grow and learn from their mistakes.

You’d be surprised at how hard people work when they are given a second chance at a career.  They know how bad it was being in career purgatory and they never want to feel that way again, ever!  The one thing career purgatory people have over people that were never fired is “perspective.”  They have a perspective of how miserable life was when stuck in career purgatory.  This feeling will be with them for the rest of their lives and for the majority of them, they genuinely know they will give their all for a second chance.  They just need someone to give it to them.

Many hiring managers will quickly discount someone that was fired from their last job.  That’s why they are “managers” and not “leaders.”  It takes a very savvy and mature leader to recognize great talent even if on the surface the talent is labeled “damaged goods.”  These leaders know how to look at the person’s entire body of work and not only the negative stuff.  They know underdogs are hungry and want to prove to everyone that they are not damaged goods. They have so much to offer – and only need a second chance.  There are too many success stories to mention about people that were fired that are extremely successful now after getting a second chance. You need to keep this in mind when you start feeling down in the dumps.  Know that others have been in your shoes and succeeded.  You just need to remain positive and keep moving forward.

This is where “networking” is so important.  No matter how bad your situation is, do your best to continue to network within the industry you want to work in.  Be sure to leverage the 7 steps and being accountable, open, and honest with your network about your situation, people will see you as an underdog and start rooting for you.  Many will want to champion you and before you know it an opportunity will present itself and you’ll be on the road to career recovery.  Once you get back in the saddle and successful again, you’ll see yourself “paying it forward” to help someone in need.

*Disclaimer: The opinions and views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily state or reflect those of Microsoft.

22 thoughts on “The Power of Second Chances

  1. I needed that. I’m a cop caught in the modern lighting rod that is police scrutiny. My career is on life support right now due to a suspension and likely not going to end well with the agency I’ve called home for 10 years. I am college educated, a veteran, and have a family. Every word you wrote resonates with my situation and I found it very calming to find your reference to “perspective”… I have a new found appreciation for my career, or anyone in any career for that matter. I want a second chance because I think an entire life committed to this career merits more than the consideration of one fault or error in deciding it’s doom. Also to a greater extent, I want to redeem my name. I am absolutely in career purgatory, but having a sense that I need to march forward and plan ahead was refreshing. I appreciate your words, perhaps you will never know how important they were to a stranger on the internet. They were. Thanks man.

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  2. I sat reading every one of your posts after my shift. I’ve been in LE for 7 years in southern California and have recently been contemplating leaving it behind for a private sector job after a series of events in my life that made kissing my wife and child before every shift a priority. Everything you wrote about making the transition really struck home. You made the leap that so many of my co-workers, and myself, are afraid of doing. It really is possible…

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  3. Man…I’m so glad I came across this blog. This post speaks to me big time. I’m currently in “career purgatory”, as I have 12 years on the job, college educated and have a decorated career..too bad I’m seen as “damaged goods” by the upper chain of command at my department. I’m ready for a career change and to leave LE behind. Keep blogging, and I’ll be checking!

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  4. Great stuff I am public safety peer counselor her in Massachusets , I was put out on a medical after 20 year , Pryor to that I was cop in the military the hardest thing was letting go Your have to have a plan.

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  5. You are breath of fresh air. The voice of reason for all of us who walk that thin blue line. I just took the leap of faith myself today, and said my goodbye to an amazing 14 year journey as a cop. Then, I stumbled across your page. Now I know I’m not alone and I’m excited for this new chapter that’s unfolding.

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  6. Thank you for your words. I too, am seen as damaged goods and desperately need to see a path forward. I have over 20 years in LE, I’m only 47 and still need to support my family and feel like I’m contributing. I’ve done patrol, TAC, CID and SWAT. Do you have any suggestions on how to begin a search for Corporate Investigations in a specific area?

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  7. I’m so thankful to have stumbled upon this site, my husband just recently lost his career as a California Highway Patrol Sergeant after 16 years. He was fired on a few technicalities and un-intentional administrative mistakes nothing in my opinion worth being fired over. My heart is breaking for him and out family as he was the sole bread winner he is taking it extremely hard and having a hard time on not knowing where to start career wise. Law enforcement is all he knows. We currently have no benefits as my job does not offer any and he is really struggling finding job that will compensate him as much as CHP was. where does one start?

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  8. Update on my path. So I resigned from my LE career after 10 years. It wasn’t bullets or bad guys that brought me down, but rather scrutiny. The accusation of excessive force is practically a kiss of death in the current Law Enforcement landscape. I am proof that LE will be canabilzing itself over the next few decades. I am college educated, a military veteran, a minority, married w/kids, and born/raised in the community I policed. I was the exact definition of what “people” say they want for police. The ubiquity of video everywhere is exposing “people” to what a violent and dangerous world police have always known of. Reconciling this ugly reality will take a generation to resolve. Until then everyone in LE will be throwing each other under the bus eveytime a video surfaces of someone using foul language or going hands-on in a chaotic scene. LE by its nature is not the business of delivering flowers… it’s ugly. The only reason you go somewhere is because something is wrong. You don’t get invited to BBQ’s to enjoy burgers, you get called to BBQ’s because someone is drunk and acting out.

    Don’t get me wrong, I loved LE while I was there. I saved lives, ran into burning buildings, chased bad guys, even faced a loaded gun. Sadly the job has changed, and in a very dangerous way. I imagine guys on the job criticizing my comments, but your lying to yourself if you think I’m wrong. You know damn well those guys at roll call may back you up at a call, but once something goes sideways your on your own. Cover Your Own Ass couldn’t be a more dangerous concept. Public pressure, news coverage, IA, and DA investigations can change the hearts of weak men very quickly. I imagine those intelligent enough to understand this phenomenon and realize the impossible burden of modern police will avoid this career field.

    Brian, I know this was a long post and probably not the flavor of the message you intended. I am a post LE success story however. I got myself accepted into an Ivy League college and will be completing my MBA. My BA in Criminal Justice is pretty useless at this point so diversifying into another career field while leveraging my experience and narrative is key. There is a world post LE, even after a stumble… or a collapse. Point is that just like Leila’s husband I had no fall-back skills. My career was built around LE, even my education. I chose to continue growing as a professional, and sometimes that means adapting to your environment. I am no longer in a LE environment, but that doesn’t mean I can’t deliver value and professionalism to an organization. My family is depending on me to pull through, and trust me Leila, your husband will be needing you to keep him in one piece while he figures out a new path. He will, just encourage him to remain a professional and adapt.

    Good luck to those of your reading this in cruisers parked behind office buildings. Use the tactical red dome light, it won’t kill your night vision. Sucks I had to go out the way I did, but man is it nice to kiss my kids every night for bedtime and know that I’ll be around to see them grow up. Way I see it, Cop-Me was killed in the line of duty… Me-Me is alive and moving on to bigger and better things!

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    1. I had my husband read your post this morning just to make him feel a bit better after not being able to sleep at all the night before. I’m my husbands rock and I never thought I’d see a guy who was so respected In the LE community and still is to some degree break down and sob . It’s not so much the fact that he’s no longer a LEO but the fact that he was dismissed over correctable BS it all comes down to politics when you work for the state . He was in the Marines for 5 years and with CHP for 13 years this has been his life it was not just a job but his passion and he was damn good at it , and to be treated like yesterday’s trash and to be labeled as dishonest is a hard pill to swallow . Thank you for your post . We just continue to pray that he finally finds peace , his sense of purpose and self worth.

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      1. Everything happens for a reason and your husband will find his way through your support, strength, and faith. It’s not the end of the world and as “F” posted, he was able to find life after law enforcement. The biggest challenge for LEOs is that police work is their only identity. The stresses of the job creates the us vs. them mentality but if you’re kicked to the curb, and policing is all you know, it’s hard. Be prepared also to find out who you real friends are at this dark hour.

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    2. F – thanks for your candid comment and this is exactly the type of dialog I was looking for my blog. There are so many officers today that have similar stories and I wanted a forum for people to candidly discuss their situation. Congratulations on your academic path and it will definitely help you find life after law enforcement. Maybe your new career will be used to help with the reform of policing as its current model will have to change as you outlined in your comments. Best of luck with your career, and if you don’t mind, I’d love to cite your points at my upcoming panel at the FBINAA in July on Life After Law Enforcement. Many thanks, Brian

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  9. Wow, this was powerful to read, and exactly what I needed to see today. From the comments, I can see I’m not alone with what we are going through.

    I was forced to resign two days ago after a 15 year career with no disciplinary record and after recently being promoted to Sergeant. I’m the sole breadwinner in my home. I managed to leave with my professional reputation mostly intact, but feeling totally lost as to what my next move is. Do I go to another agency and start from scratch? Or do I look into the private sector? These are not easy decisions, especially when the emotions are still so raw.

    I did my undergrad at an Ivy League university and am halfway through a master’s degree, but my entire professional development has been focused on LE. I feel like it’s all I know, and I have no idea how to market myself to the non-LE job market.

    Thank you for your thought and thank you to the others who shared their stories.

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    1. CLM – thanks for sharing your story as it will help others dealing with similar situations. Good that you found a path in academia and try not to fret about the past. I know it’s easy to say but if you keep looking in the rearview mirror, you will not be able to focus on what’s ahead. You’d be surprised at how quickly things can change for the better once you surrender and vow to move forward releasing any hard feelings or grudges. Focus on your future. There are things you can do and services that you’ll be able to survive with the support of your family and true friends. True friends will be the ones with you now, not the fake ones that have abandoned you in your time of need. It happens all the time form others I’ve spoken to. Focus all your energy and thoughts to positive things. There will be a day, and hopefully soon that you’ll be back on your feet. There are many that say they even felt their forced resignation or firing was a blessing in disguise. Who knows if the path that brought you to this point in time was for something better and greater. When you get to that point, be sure to post a note on your progress and then don’t forget to pay it forward to a fellow brother or sister officer that will need your support and guidance. All the best, Brian

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  10. Thanks for sharing that story, I have sixteen years of experience and right now I’m on administrative leave with pay. It does not look good for me and I am afraid I will be fired. I have already prepared for the worse and starting looking at private sectors via internet searches. Is their any place in particular you recommend I start. Thanks for you blog and this second chance blog really picked my spirits up.

    Thanks,

    James

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  11. I was in LE for 16 years, I was first in a major city then took a job in a small town. I was terminated in May and threatened with criminal charges, I have filed an arbitration which was mid December. I should hear sometime in late March early April on the decision. Even if its in my favor I could never go back after what they have done to me professionally and personally. I have never been fired from a job my whole life and the threats of criminal charges are just unbelievable. I have been in some very dark places the past 7 months. To all that are in a dark place right now, it will pass. There is no shame in asking for help whether you need to contact a hotline, seek therapy, talk to a co-worker, friend, or family member.
    At first I was in survival mode and I was sending out my resume to everyone and anyone. That wasn’t a good idea because I was making a ton of mistakes and wasn’t concentrating on the position I was applying for and adjusting my resume. I have stepped back the past couple months and have worked on getting mentally healthy first. Now that arbitration is over I have started to feel a little better about who I am and also realizing that they can no longer hurt me or take away my reputation as a great officer. Now I have been able to concentrate on finding a job. I’m having a problem because all I know is LE and I have only 30 college credits. To me anything besides being a Police Officer is cake, I felt as though I could do anything. Well the rest of the world doesn’t see it that way. I haven’t applied for any government jobs because I was terminated. Should I just wait until the arbitration decision, go back to college, or continue looking for a job?

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    1. Jody – thanks for sharing your story as it’ll help others going through the same challenge. Now that you see some light at the end of the tunnel, you can start looking at life after law enforcement. Being a cop gives you skill sets and competencies that can transcend to many other jobs outside of LE. The key is being able to let go of law enforcement, and looking through the windshield not the rearview mirror. Rebuilding your career may take a long time but you can’t move forward without taking that first step. Wishing you the best! Brian

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  12. Brian, your blog has given me hope as I begin the process of ending my 30 year career as a Sergeant. I am going to fall into the “damaged goods” department as I used poor judgement and laziness from years of doing the “routine.” I had a bright unblemished career and was being eyed for promotion within weeks. Now it appears to be ending in the blink of an eye. I identified 100% with your blog on the power of second chances. I completely own my downfall. I am happy to say that prior to reading your 7 points, I was already working my way through it point by point. You are spot on sir! As a 54 year old, I struggle with where to begin looking because I have A LOT of work still left in me. Do you think Cop to Corporate principles apply to someone of my age or do you have any pointers of which way to go?

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