What did I learn from losing my last job? A square peg will never fit a round hole

All through the evening, I was dreading it.

I mean, when it comes to leaving a job, one should only be doing it at the ‘eleventh hour’ when you’ve exhausted all other options.

You don’t throw in the towel at the ‘seventh hour’, do you?

No, you don’t.

But I did. Or at least to the rest of the world, that’s what I did.

Up until that evening, I had been with the company officially for barely three months, if you disregard the 13 months that I freelanced for them before that. 

Either way, that’s well below two years. Most would recoil in surprise at such a rapid exit.

Yet that was just what I was about to do. I had been sitting at my desk the whole night, typing my resignation letter in a state I can only describe as “utter stupor”. 

Henry Francis Lyte once wrote:

Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide:
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

That aptly described my feelings that night, and how desperately I needed help!

Taking the Plunge

Photo by Doran Erickson on Unsplash

I had started on a new job in 2018 with such lofty goals. It would move me away from 15 years of a staid and predictable career in academia, and into the great unknown that is the wild wild west of the commercial world.

What an adventurous tale to tell future generations! Here I am, making a bold career move two years shy of 50. Take that my fellow half-centurions! You’re about to see what true courage looks like.

Most sensible people would have seen the ship wreck that was about to come.

But me? Nope.

I was too heady with the aroma of accomplishment, completely oblivious of the hole that I had dug for myself, and would soon plummet into.

What I Tried

Photo by Naufal Ardi Santoso on Unsplash

After all, I had this whole career re-profiling thing all mapped out way before, when I obtained my Masters in 2014.

A couple of years later, when the wide open door to more subjects I could teach my students (because of my Masters) started to close, I realised what the next step had to be.

To keep me relevant.

To keep me in the game.

I had to go “fully digital”! Yes, I think I was ahead of many of my peers then, and super proud of my foresight too. (Right)

And go digital all the way I did.


I did a part-time six months internship with a social media consultancy while still teaching full-time.

I took up both an online certificate course and a specialist diploma course in digital marketing, and cleared them all in less than a year.

I chased down the dream digital job I had been eyeballing for over a year, and nailed it.

In short? I came. I saw. I conquered.

Or so I thought.

What didn’t work?

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

Because that evening as I sat at my desk numbly preparing my resignation letter, I could only look back at what was supposed to have been the great mid-life adventure I booked myself for, and watch helplessly as it came to a complete and utter stop.

Like when all global flights were grounded as countries everywhere locked-down earlier this year to curb the spread of Covid.

That evening, I had to come to terms with the hard truth: I was never cut out for the job.

Just because I could admire a painting in a museum, doesn’t mean I can create one just like it. Similarly, just because I liked all things to do with digital media, doesn’t actually mean I can master it.

Because every stupid blunder I made in my brief time with the company showed that I was the wrong fit for the job. Or maybe it was the wrong fit for me.

Either way, I finally learned my lesson.

So what lesson did I learn?

Photo by Lokava

If you’re a square peg, don’t bother trying to force your way into a round hole!

I think that’s what a lot of governments worldwide refuse to acknowledge, as they herd their citizens like sheep into the field of digital employment; ’cause that’s where future job opportunities lie.

And the tailspin that Covid-19 propelled us all into this year certainly didn’t help either.

With nearly everyone working from home now, the world’s sudden forced entry into the sanctity of our households, via all things digital and wireless, makes it clear that this is one path we can no longer back paddle from.

Not when we’re on it now for better or worse.

But while it’s still early days yet to determine the full extent of this pandemic’s impact on employment everywhere, I’m going to stick my neck out and say this:

Just because Covid has fast-tracked nearly everyone’s move into digital, it doesn’t mean the move is smooth and fool-proof.

If like me, you’re not into numbers, no amount of mugging and slogging is going to turn you into a successful data scientist. It’s like asking a pilot to turn overnight into a social media marketer. Or a retailer to become a digital analyst or computer hacker.

This isn’t to say it can’t happen. And no doubt if you’re in your early 20s, you probably are more adaptable than a mid-career professional like me, switching from a brick-and-mortar industry into something totally virtual.

But if all we do is follow blindly what’s trending, and float with the tide like a rudderless boat, then we best brace ourselves for that ship wreck!

If my experience is anything to go by.

The Mantra I Now Chant

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

Perhaps I’m fortunate that I learnt this before and not during Covid, which is the reason most mid-career guys have lost their jobs. Not me. My loss was my own doing.

The tragedy is that it took me nearly half a century to figure this out! Assuming I have, you know, figured this out.

But in any case, thanks to what I went through, it’s now something I chant to myself daily whenever I feel (foolishly) invincible and adventurous:

A square peg is a square peg. And a round hole is a round hole.

And, as Kipling once said: “Never the twain shall meet.”

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