A Different Type of Identity Theft

[Hey guys! Caught this article on a newer blog on the scene, FiredandFree.com, and just HAD to re-share it because it’s so thought-provoking! Really makes you challenge how we perceive ourselves and the overall purpose in our lives, particularly around what we do for a living… Great stuff to marinate on over the weekend, thanks Dan!]


On October 18, 2016, I walked into a board room as the CEO of a multi-million dollar business with responsibility of over 200 employees.

The business was my first-born, grown from an idea hatched in 2008. Minutes later, I walked out of that board room no longer a business owner nor a CEO. It was on this date when I was fired by my former partners and stripped of the business I had worked so hard to create.

As I stormed out of that room, the first thought that went through my head was of my team. I would no longer be there by their side, working to achieve our goals. Today, a year later, I don’t miss the power of running a company or the money or the excitement – I miss my friends.

Immediately after getting fired, I went through one of the most disorienting periods of my life. A period that has taken the better part of a year to come out of.

For so long, my present and future involved this business. I had 5 and 10 year plans as to where I hoped we would progress. Nearly my entire life was crafted with the company in mind. My wife and I ran the business together, and we even delayed trying for kids until after we got out of the startup phase. The office was just blocks from our house. We “lived the brand” as they say. Now, with one 5 minute meeting, I was locked out of the office I had established and my future was a blank sheet.

One of the most difficult aspects to come to terms with was not being able to work. I couldn’t accept that I was no longer the leader of this company. We had goals left unfinished and my team was on their own to pick up the pieces. I felt like I had abandoned them. The frequent 4am panic attacks were a reminder of my helpless predicament.

As the shock began to wear off and I came to terms that this business was no longer mine to run, I soon found myself looking for and needing something. For so long, my identity was wrapped into the company. For so long, my purpose was to lead the company.

Now, I had neither and I was desperate for both. After a therapeutic trip to New Zealand to just get away and let time heal, I found myself back home in Maryland after the holidays. One day, I was literally running around my house trying to find something to do. I had so much energy and nothing to do with it! My wife had to tell me to calm down. I was lost in my own home.

It started to sink in that I was no longer the person who I thought I was.

Soon after, I attended a function for an entrepreneur’s group that I was a part of. The attendees were asked to introduce themselves and talk a little about the company they led. Strangeness ensued when I was asked to go first. “Uhhh, my name’s Dan and uhhh, I was just fired from my business.” I was met with sympathetic faces, and a couple business owners came up to me later and shared similar stories.

But, what I remember most from that night was going a bit numb and truly realizing that the CEO who looked back in the mirror at me every day wasn’t quite there anymore.

In the United States, so much of our personal worth is tied up in the question, “what do you do for a living?” Being fired and taking a year off has provided me with the space to get truly comfortable with not having my identity tied to an occupation. Now, I’m proud to reply, “I don’t work right now and my family and I are taking some time to travel.” I’ve taken on a new identity – one of being a former CEO, now chilling with his family before doing something new.

This stripping of my former identity, however, has allowed me to see that my “CEO identity” was never “real” to begin with. It was in my head and a creation of my own imagination. While my ego has created a new identity to provide stability and balance, I know that that’s just temporary as well.

This experience has also highlighted another fallacy of my psyche – judgement.

Prior to my firing, I am ashamed to admit that I judged people a lot. Whether this was brought on by business, society, or solely my own doing, I don’t know. What I do know, is that my judgements were rarely correct. I still judge, but seeing the impermanence of my own identity has provided clarity of this character flaw that I didn’t have before.

During my trip to New Zealand, I found myself watching a couple of twenty-somethings in an RV park. Their clothes were a bit dirty and their dinner consisted of potato chips. They were “car camping” and one of the first thoughts that went through my mind was, “they probably don’t have a job and are living out of their car.” Then it dawned on me, I don’t have a job and I’m living out of MY car! (Albeit, a bigger variety as an RV) I wasn’t any different from the people I was judging.

Identity is such a curious thing. We have our names, clothes, sports teams, jobs, ethnicity, etc. Some chosen, others not. Take all of these identifiers away and who are we?

This is a question I’ve been working to answer for the better part of a year. I don’t have many answers yet and the journey hasn’t been the easiest, but it’s one that I am so thankful to be undertaking.

A year later, I am grateful to have been fired. I thought I was being freed from a partnership that apparently wasn’t a positive one. However, once I started to move past the pain and abandonment of the firing, I realized a whole new type of freedom. Freedom not from a job, but from myself.

This post first appeared on FiredAndFree.com, a blog that began as a travelogue for a 6-month Airstream adventure, and later turned into a father in search of happiness and the next big thing. You can learn more about Dan and his temporary retirement here.

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  1. Lily | The Frugal Gene February 2, 2018 at 5:57 AM

    Aha I’m so hipster but I found and read it before you J$! I should have know you would enjoy it because it deals with fatherhood, meaning, freedom and entrepreneurship.

    “Take all of these identifiers away and who are we?”

    Shoots deeper than the grand cayon.

    1. Mr Fired & Free February 2, 2018 at 7:58 AM

      Thanks for being an “early adopter” Lily!

  2. Laurie@ThreeYear February 2, 2018 at 6:00 AM

    Wow. What an inspiring story. Thanks so much for sharing, J. Can’t wait to check out the blog! (Traveling with his family?!! Yes!!).

    It’s so cool that Dan was so honest about what work means for us in the US. I noticed the judgement a lot from people who worked when I was a stay-at-home-mom. I was “dismissed” a lot after they found out I didn’t “do” anything.

    I can only imagine how great him being fired felt for his kids, who got to then travel and be with their mom and dad all the time. They’ll remember those memories for the rest of their lives. :)

    1. Mr Fired & Free February 2, 2018 at 8:04 AM

      Hi Laurie (Dan from F&F here). I’m really glad you enjoyed the story. It was a bit tough to live through, but it certainly feels good to know others can get something out of this “experience”.

      You mention my kids and my 4 year old was definitely happy to have us around more. A couple of days after getting fired she asked my wife and I at dinner, “mommy, daddy, did it hurt when you got fired? Was it hot?” Yet another moment that really put things into perspective as to what matters!

      1. J. Money February 2, 2018 at 9:41 AM

        SO CUTE! Hahaha….

        My sons will bring their fake keyboards to bed so they can “work” and be like daddy haha… Though hopefully that doesn’t mean they think I’m a workaholic!

  3. Jason@WinningPersonalFinance February 2, 2018 at 6:08 AM

    Thanks for sharing Dan and J. It’s so easy to self identify with a job. Life is about so much more. I personally think that’s why the financial independence movement is so popular these days. I’m sorry to hear you lost the job. I think it will turn out to be a blessing in disguise for you.

    1. Mr Fired & Free February 2, 2018 at 8:06 AM

      I think you’re right Jason about the FI community. A really great group of people in my experience. It’s been so cool how supportive someone like J$ is, rather than take the competitive approach that most of the “real world business world” would have taken.

  4. Joao@GrowtoRetire February 2, 2018 at 6:33 AM

    “Identity is such a curious thing. We have our names, clothes, sports teams, jobs, ethnicity, etc. Some chosen, others not. Take all of these identifiers away and who are we?”

    Spot on! Remove all those things, and learn more about you. Life is about much more than work. FIRE community is on FIRE.

    1. Mr Fired & Free February 2, 2018 at 8:09 AM

      It took me a long time to realize life is more than about work, but I’m glad I did. Then again, finding out what it’s about is part of the fun of it all :)

  5. Ms99to1percent February 2, 2018 at 6:41 AM

    Thanks for sharing this amazing story. If they called you and begged you to come back to the company, would you?

    1. Mr Fired & Free February 2, 2018 at 8:12 AM

      Not for all the money in the world!

      Immediately after getting fired I would daydream about that potential, but no longer. I’ve moved on 100% and truly see the positives in how the experience played out (took me a year to get to that place though)!

      1. J. Money February 2, 2018 at 9:42 AM

        What if they wanted to hire you on as a *blogger* for them? ;)

  6. Cubert February 2, 2018 at 6:43 AM

    Sweet. You took a different path than good ol’ Elon, who can’t stop trying to get that CEO gig right. Good luck in your journey – not everyone gets the opportunity to get fired from a CEO gig, so you’ve got a good perspective to work with!

    1. Mr Fired & Free February 2, 2018 at 8:15 AM

      Thanks Cubert. If I had a space company to play around with, I might be in the same place as ol Elon though!

  7. [HCF] February 2, 2018 at 7:08 AM

    It seems that you are searching for the answer for the best and hardest question on earth. I still don’t know how to approach this question, but you gave some good insights, thank you :)

    1. Mr Fired & Free February 2, 2018 at 8:18 AM

      You hit the nail on the head HCF. I don’t have many answers either and I imagine it will take the rest of my life, but that’s the moonshot goal (or whatever the analogy is for a goal bigger than getting to the moon!?)

  8. Accidental FIRE February 2, 2018 at 7:22 AM

    Awesome post! I’ve recently semi-retired and had to give up my position as a Senior Director at my job, with the big office and all the trappings. I’m also confronting the new reality and your story connected with me. When I look in the mirror, I sometimes think the same thing “Senior Director?” Then I say “No!!! – and who gives a crap anyway!”

    What does it matter!? Now I have way more time to do what I want to do, but the identity I built is always there.

    1. Mr Fired & Free February 2, 2018 at 8:21 AM

      Thanks and I love the “who gives a crap anyway” comment. So true!

  9. Leo T. Ly February 2, 2018 at 7:56 AM

    This kind of prove a view that I have for a while now – no job is safe. Not even the CEO’s. This is one of the reasons why I strive to achieve FI as soon as I can so that I am able to determine what I want to do – not anyone else.

    With a sudden termination of a part of your life, it must have been a dramatic shock, especially when it’s termination by your partners, the people that you trust. Hope that you are able to assume a new identity, Dan. One that will be much happier and freed

    1. Mr Fired & Free February 2, 2018 at 8:23 AM

      Thanks Leo and I hope you get to realize what it is that you truly want to do!

  10. Ms. Frugal Asian Finance February 2, 2018 at 8:02 AM

    I’m so sorry to hear about the incident. It is definitely not something we want to ever happen in our lives.

    Like you, I having thought of my identity as my job and what I do for a living. People can use the job title to deduce someone’s level of education, income, experience, skills, and talent among other things. But it’d true only to a certain extent.

    1. Mr Fired & Free February 2, 2018 at 8:29 AM

      In the early days of starting up my business, I was a CEO with less than a year of experience leading a company, my salary was zero and my education was a bachelors degree at an average university. While my title was CEO at the time, I was probably doing a good bit of “fake it, until you make it!”

      Best of luck with your own journey Ms Frugal!

      1. J. Money February 2, 2018 at 9:53 AM

        Fascinating!! You would never think of a CEO like that!

  11. Sean @ Frugal Money Man February 2, 2018 at 8:53 AM

    This was an awesome post, and I can’t thank you enough for sharing such a humbling story.

    Although this isn’t the same, it reminds me of a scene in the movie Anger Management with Adam Sandler & Jack Nicholson. Adam Sandler’s character is sitting in an anger management meeting where Jack Nicholson is the instructor/moderator of the meeting, and Nicholson then asks Sandler to tell the group “Who you are?” Sandler struggles with answering the question because he doesn’t really know how to answer it. He shoots out his name, hobbies, physical attributes, work, etc., but it becomes clear he doesn’t have a good grasp on who he really is.

    Point of all that was we can become so consumed in our work at times, we can lose touch with who we really are, and what makes us unique.

    Congrats on finding your personal freedom!

    1. J. Money February 2, 2018 at 10:01 AM

      Forgot about that movie!!! So true through – career trumps everything usually and hard to wiggle your way out and really get at the essentials.

  12. Bernz JP @Moneylogue.com February 2, 2018 at 8:58 AM

    One of the main reason why travel is the best form of education. You seemed to have rediscovered yourself and became a better person inside and out. There is still a big possibility that you will once again be looking for a new venture one day but the change will definitely make you look at Entrepreneurship from a different perspective.

    1. Mr Fired & Free February 2, 2018 at 3:17 PM

      Couldn’t agree more Bernz. It’s rare when I take a trip and don’t learn something about myself. I look forward to the day I have something new to lead and you are absolutely right, i’ll be doing so with a completely different perspective.

  13. Lisa O February 2, 2018 at 9:21 AM

    Life is a journey and you are in the midst of a great part. Best of luck Dan finding what your life truly should be. You proved yourself in the past with work, money and family so you know you can accomplish anything. I look forward to seeing where you are next year!

    Nice read for a Friday….

    1. Mr Fired & Free February 2, 2018 at 11:11 AM

      Thanks so much for the kind words Lisa! Best of luck with your journey as well.

  14. Rocky February 2, 2018 at 9:27 AM

    I loved this article the first time I read it and it has not lost its gravitas. Amazing story! Glad to see you sharing it here J$

    1. J. Money February 2, 2018 at 10:02 AM

      Gotta spread the gems when I see ’em! Despite what I may want to believe, they don’t always come from me ;)

    2. Mr Fired & Free February 2, 2018 at 3:21 PM

      Thanks Rocky and I’m glad you got something out of it the second time! Many thanks to J$ for having my back.

  15. Menard Solve February 2, 2018 at 10:46 AM

    I love the post. Wish he had mentioned the name of the company though. In the end, it doesn’t matter what your level of power, wealth or prestige– we are all the same (e.g. we all go to the bathroom to poop). When I was still working in the Philippines, we had to address our bosses with “Sir” or “M’am” as a sign of respect. I was so used to this aspect that I brought it with me on my first job in the U.S… Wish someone had warned me of this because I’ve been addressing my 29 year old manager with “Sir” the first month of my employ (which he probably enjoyed).

    1. Mr Fired & Free February 2, 2018 at 11:10 AM

      Hey Menard – I still think fondly of my old colleagues and friends and don’t wish them any ill will. Furthermore, while I’m not at the company, it was my “first born” and don’t want them to suffer any “bad” publicity. Just wanted to let you know my thinking on keeping the company name out of the post.

  16. caroline February 2, 2018 at 11:28 AM

    Thanks for sharing.
    I am facing a similar dilemma , without the abrupt announcement, and I am struggling with it !
    I am trying to prepare myself for what’s coming, I have worked for my company for most of my life, but I am not sure where to start?
    Glad to see you are managing well:) Are you working at all or just “retired”?

    1. Mr Fired & Free February 2, 2018 at 3:48 PM

      Hi Caroline – these transitions can be challenging but they can also bring upon a change for the better. In my situation, I am now very thankful to have been fired and am working towards building the life/work situation of my dreams. I’m still figuring it out but I am actively looking for new biz opportunities – somewhere between “working” and spending time with family. Best of luck with your own transition. If you are interested, I wrote a post titled “Starting Over” that addresses some of this. Take care

  17. Frankie February 2, 2018 at 1:43 PM

    Amazing story – thank you so much for sharing. I feel like I’m often fighting very hard to avoid being pulled into that place where your job becomes your identity, resisting being made a ‘leader’ of a business. And its for exactly the reason your story highlights – I like my job, and the people –
    I just don’t want to become my job.

    Congratulations on the exciting journey ahead of you!

  18. Krystal @ Simple Finance Mom February 5, 2018 at 8:54 AM

    Kudos for turning this into such a positive experience. I’ve learned that some of the hardest things I’ve gone through turn out to be the biggest blessings. Those life-changing experiences gave me so much more purpose and meaning to the life I live today. Now, I can go through my days with so much more intentionality. I look back with so much gratefulness for those soul-searching lessons learned.

  19. ZJ Thorne February 12, 2018 at 11:27 AM

    I’m sorry you had to go through such a disorienting experience. I hope that it has truly helped you become who you’d like to be and let you stop fussing about what other people are doing. There is so much freedom in not “needing” to judge other folks and their choices.