I got fired from a job because I didn’t listen to Louis CK

I got fired from my second grown up job.

I was 23 years old and working at a small startup tech company as a writer.

I lasted there about 4 months until they let me go. It was the right decision on their part. I was a terrible employee.

When they would give me feedback, I would ignore it and instead write what I wanted to. When they would correct me, I would inwardly roll my eyes, disappointed they were unable to fully recognize my genius. When they would ask me to work harder or redo something, I would huff and puff at the inconvenience they had just thrust upon my day.

One afternoon, they had experienced enough of the Jon Acuff show and fired me.

The problem wasn’t my age, I know lots of wonderful 23 year olds who are capable of amazing things. It was my attitude that blinded me to the simple fact that I was there to do the work they hired me to do, not the work I wanted to do. I was their employee. You would think that arrangement would be painfully obvious and yet, so many people, of varying ages, seem to forget that.

Have you ever hired a developer to build a website? Sometimes in the middle of the project, as you give feedback on changes you’d like made, they get frustrated. They revolt and act like they are client. As you write an apologetic email to them, expressing your regret that you see a few things they need to fix, it will hit you, “Wait, I am paying them money. I’m the client. I hired them to do work, not the other way around. Why do I feel guilty right now?” (Great developers, and there are many, know that if you want to absolutely dominate the marketplace, you should never make a client feel like this.)

Comedian Louis CK commented on this phenomenon recently on Late Night with Seth Myers. When he was in his mid 20s, writing for the Conan O’Brien show, he forgot how work worked.

“I was in my twenties, so I just thought that I wanted to get my stuff on the show. Now I know that I was working for people that I should have been helping because they were giving me money. If somebody hires you to do anything and they pay you money that you then go live your life with, you should really want to do anything that they need. At the time I didn’t believe that.”

I didn’t believe that either and I got fired.

You will too if you’re not careful.

Whether you’re 23 or 53, don’t show up to work like they’re doing you a favor. Show up like they are paying you to do something and then go do that something. Show up helpful. Show up grateful. Show up humble.

Listen to Louis CK.

It just might save your job.

21 Comments
  • Kevin
    Posted at 07:15h, 04 June Reply

    I totally agree with staying humble, being helpful and doing the work you are hired to do. But at what point do you become a vending machine? Designers especially can feel like this. We are hired for our experience and expertise. We want to do designs that will work and make your product/service stand out. What can then happen is all we become is an extension of our boss’ hands because they don’t have the comprehension of how to use the design programs we have. I am all for doing my job, but when it feel likes someone is walking up to you and pressing B3 and walking out of the office when their selection is in hand, I don’t think one of the main reasons we were hired is being acknowledged. Yes do your job and be grateful, but also remember why you were hired.

    • Ian
      Posted at 11:51h, 04 June Reply

      Kevin, you’d be fired If I were your boss reading this.

      • Ian
        Posted at 13:40h, 04 June Reply

        Sorry, I was being tongue-in-cheek. Internets don’t convey tone well. But the whole point of the article is: kind of, yeah, you are an extension of your boss’ hands of helping complete his or her company goals and dreams. You’re there as a tool on a team to make their dreams come true.

    • Reuben Klopek
      Posted at 15:56h, 04 June Reply

      Great topic. I mostly agree, however, I feel there is a significant difference between the expectations of an employee vs. a professional hired to provide you a service (i.e. Web developer). Too often well intentioned clients presume to know more than the “experts” they’ve hired.
      If I hire an architect to design me a home with no foundation is that architect obligated to follow through with my foolish plan simply because I’m paying him?

    • Jeremy Streich
      Posted at 19:01h, 04 June Reply

      As a developer, I agree. I was hired to a job, that job is to make products that your users can use. I read the studies, I research the field, and I have years of experience. That said, at the end of the day, they are the clients.

      My take is typically that of, “We can do that. Before you decide that though, the research suggests that X is better option for the following reasons. … So, which way would you like me to do it?”

      If it is something I feel strongly about, I’ll suggest an A/B test. One of these A/B tests made an estimated impact in the millions of dollars over the course of year. When I proposed the idea the client laughed at it, but thought “what’s the harm.” When I emailed the results, she happily kept the version I proposed. That said, I’ve gotten it wrong, too — and the A/B test sometime shows that the client’s intuitions are correct. I’d love to be able to split-test everything, but I don’t have the man power Google does. 🙂

      I also typically hold on to the emails in which the client makes decisions against the advice I/we give them. So, if they come back and say “X isn’t working, users are confused and not doing Y.” I can defend that the request came from them. This typically happens when “X isn’t working” comes from someone higher in the food chain than person who made the request and ignored our advice.

    • David
      Posted at 10:02h, 05 June Reply

      “And the award from proving the articles point the fastest goes to…..”

    • Mary
      Posted at 10:32h, 05 June Reply

      Well said Jon and Kevin! I agree that there are many associates that fail to realize that they can be replaced. While it might not be “easy” no one is completely irreplaceable, and if they are they haven’t been doing their work well.

      Kevin hits the nail on the head of a problem I’m experiencing in my workplace as well. In the realm of technology development and design there comes a point when one person/group has done the job so long and hasn’t needed support that they can easily become forgotten. It seems like there is a responsibility on leadership to be aware of what associates are doing through a helpful and mutual day-to-day interaction and explanation of their expectations. I think most associates that become hostile to constructive criticism have become “spoiled” much like fruit does – they’re placed on a shelf and forgotten.

  • Susan
    Posted at 07:59h, 04 June Reply

    As an employer I salute you!

  • Lisa
    Posted at 08:47h, 04 June Reply

    This is amazing!! We have a family-owned swimming pool/repair business. My now 17 and 14 year old sons have worked part-time every summer with my husband since they were 7. My 17 year old now has his own pool route and, for the most part, has grasped this concept! My 14 year old…. not so much! He recently worked a few days with his brother and our full-time employee. As a result, he decided that working with them was more enjoyable than being dad’s service repair helper. He texted me last week, asking what days he would be working this week. When I told him he would be with his dad, he got upset, sent me a text that said he QUIT! He said, “I do not want to work with dad! I’ll work on the route trucks, but I won’t work with dad.” I normally don’t allow heated conversations via text; we call or talk face to face. But when I get flip-out mad, I do this crazy thing and actually start crying and my neck turns all sunburn-red! So… I replied to his text, “YOU don’t get to pick and chose what you will and will not do when you are hired. YOUR BOSS tells you what you are going to do and you do it! You talk to a boss like you just spoke to me, and I guarantee you will be escorted out the door and be looking for a new job. This business is a family business; you either work for money, or you work for free. Looks like you just made the decision to work for free. When you grasp the concept of how an employer/employee relationship works, then maybe you can start earning a paycheck again.”

    These middle school years have not been pretty. ? I’m just praying this hard lesson will save him from being that 23 year old Jon Acuff one day. Thanks for writing this…. It sure has encouraged this mom today!

  • Suzanne
    Posted at 09:06h, 04 June Reply

    Unfortunately, experience has shown me that too often the employer hires under false pretenses, so you find yourself trying to do a job you don’t understand with little or no training in how to accomplish the tasks assigned. You’re hired to do job X for Z hours per week for Y compensation, but the joke is on you! Suddenly, you are expected to do job Q + X for Z+ hours a week all for the same Y compensation which may also change on a dime. Had you known any of this, you would have turned down the offer, but now it’s too late! All this making it very difficult to show up terribly grateful…

  • B. Weaver
    Posted at 10:11h, 04 June Reply

    I completely agree! Humility and admitting that there is always room to grow is the true mark of a well-adjusted adult. Every year, I know less. 🙂

  • skottydog
    Posted at 11:23h, 04 June Reply

    Great point, and should be so simple to remember, that it shouldn’t need reminding!

    Thought you were going somewhere else with the Louis CK reference…

    I was thinking of the bit about being 40. “..,you’re not old enough for people to bring you hot meals, and you’re not young enough that people get excited about what you do. “Yeah, just do your job, a______.”

    He is one wise fella.

  • Bert Savarese
    Posted at 11:47h, 04 June Reply

    also, it’s helpful to do more than expected. If you just do a bit more than they ask you to do, which improves the results, your boss will be thrilled they hired you! Have an attitude of giving & it always returns in your favor at some time or other.

  • Tom Swan
    Posted at 12:31h, 04 June Reply

    Thanks for the reminder Jon! So many times we want to put our agenda first.

  • Hal Thomas
    Posted at 12:43h, 04 June Reply

    There’s truth in the notion that you were hired to do the work your boss/client wants you to do, not the work you want to do. However, if the two are not one and the same, what you have is a broken relationship that will only lead to mutual frustration. If you find yourself in a situation like that, it’s probably time for a Do Over. (See what I did there?)

    With that being said, sometimes the work you were hired to do and the work your client/boss asks you to do are not the same thing. You’ll be asked to perform work in order to achieve a particular outcome, and somewhere along the way your boss/client will ask you to go about doing that work in a way that all of your training and experience suggests will be detrimental to achieving the goal. Your role as a professional is to convince them otherwise.

    This might mean having some difficult conversations along the way. They will not be fun conversations. Be as pleasant as possible—avoid being an insufferable jerk/child—but do not confuse keeping your boss/client “happy” with hitting the mark you were hired to hit. Because if the project misses its mark, it likely won’t matter how “nice” you were once the Blame Game starts. (And that’s a game you can’t win.)

    Despite your best efforts, there may still be times when you get overruled or outranked. It’s rarely worth getting fired over. And if your good advice keeps getting ignored by your boss/client, then it’s probably time for a Do Over. (See what I did there, again?)

  • Melissa
    Posted at 14:39h, 04 June Reply

    I may be getting old, but I am straining to read this font. It’s all light and dark and skinny and scrunched up… But anyway, if you are a Christian you should also remember the words of Paul “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV) and remember that you should be working hard because your work ethic should glorify God.

    • Suzanne
      Posted at 11:26h, 05 June Reply

      Agree

  • Monica
    Posted at 15:16h, 04 June Reply

    I love this post. Mainly because I was in a similar situation. I was in a job that made me miserable, and everything my boss told me to do I felt was so stupid. I did the same thing as you… inwardly rolled my eyes, and then procrastinated. I didn’t get fired, but maybe should have. I did leave that job, but the reason I acted the way I did was because I wasn’t living my dream job. I should have left that job long ago, and let someone who had deep passion for that job take it. I sometimes become bitter towards the people I used to work with, but I know deep down that I was in the wrong place, and therefore – I was letting out negative energy, and they were at me. No good! So, I just wanted to say – yes, show up! No matter where you are – that’s your purpose and you need to show up. BUT, also evaluate why you feel that way, and get out and do what you love!

  • Daniel Dessinger
    Posted at 15:46h, 04 June Reply

    So true. That reminds me of my favorite YouTube clip ever. It’s Louis CK on Conan explaining how everything is awesome, and nobody is happy. He addresses with amazing humor how entitled this generation is.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEY58fiSK8E

  • Rachel
    Posted at 06:50h, 05 June Reply

    This was a great article! Thank you for being such an honest writer!

  • Nicole
    Posted at 14:10h, 05 June Reply

    You make some great points! Whether I am an employee, freelancer or service provider- I am there to meet the needs of the person paying me. I have been and employer as well as an employee, on both sides of the fence I had a hard time wrapping my head around the popular notion that your employer/client owes you anything other than your compensation package.

    The website developer example you give is a bit curious to me. I have to wonder if in the design process you happened to change directions several times or increased the scope of the project. If you did this and were willing to pay for the extra work the developer had to put in, more power to you. But if you are a person who is indecisive and expects the developer to foot the bill for your exploration, I wouldn’t be surprised when they get frustrated.

    The relationship between the person paying and the person serving is delicate. If either person has a poor attitude or won’t live up to their end of the bargain- there is going to be trouble.

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