Hire Slow, Fire Fast: How Something I Learned at Work Changed my Relationships

Shortly after completing my PhD, I was hired as the Senior Director of Cognitive Science at a tech startup. One of my first responsibilities at the company was to build my team. It was exciting and scary work. I couldn’t believe that, for the first time in my life, I was the one reading the applications instead of submitting them. I wanted to take the responsibility seriously, and I did.

But also, I had this bizarre tendency to fall for people quickly. If I saw even the tiniest glimmer of chemistry there—whether that was in a professional or personal context—I became almost immediately attached. The connection I felt toward people back then clouded my judgement, causing me to see only the good stuff and to quickly dismiss or overlook the bad. It was a problem in general, but it was especially problematic in interview settings where applicants were doing everything they could do to put their best foot forward. It made hiring my team an incredibly over-complicated process.

I made plenty of mistakes. I hired unqualified people because I liked their personalities and figured the rest would come along with training. I also hired people who were highly qualified but were major assholes, and figured that with time they’d eventually mellow out.

In both scenarios, I was always wrong.

In my haste to see the good in people, I failed to do my due diligence. I let people into my orbit who didn’t belong there, and I paid the price for it. My team became dysfunctional, disorganized, and unpleasant. I was filled with anxiety every time I arrived at work, wondering who I was going to have to micromanage that day, or what interpersonal conflict I’d have to sort out.

It really robbed me of all the joy that should have come with the first major job of my career. I failed to build a team that could be successful, and in addition, I then had to choose to either grit my teeth and deal with the consequences of my choices, or start letting people go. Since hiring the wrong people was definitely my fault, it didn’t feel right to fire those people. So, instead, I kept them on board way longer than I should have. And this time, we all suffered for it.

My now-husband, who was my colleague at the time, said something to me that I’ve never forgotten. He said, “hire slow, fire fast.”

He said this was the only way to ensure a positive and healthy workplace. You have to hire slow—taking time to let the rose-tinted glasses lose their hue and allow you to see what’s actually there. This means you can’t just hire someone because their CV looks good or because they share your sense of humor. You also have to fire fast—being willing to cut off a limb that’s poisoning the body before the necrosis sets in. You have to let the wrong people go even when it’s uncomfortable, even when it comes at a cost.

Something I’ve learned as I’ve aged and matured since then is that this sage wisdom doesn’t just apply to the workplace. It applies to our personal relationships, too.

Why are we so fast to declare that someone we just met is our soul mate? Why do we embrace someone we just met as a “bestie” because we happen to get along well with them? And why do we hold on to those relationships well past the time we realize they are no longer benefiting us, or worse, are actually harming us?

For the past several years, I’ve worked on trying to answer those questions for myself. It’s an ongoing process, but what I’m starting to understand is that it mostly comes down to the need for acceptance and approval. I am constantly looking for someone to make me feel important, worthy, and welcome. Life can be lonely. Even when I’m surrounded by people, I can feel unseen and unheard. So, when I meet someone who makes me feel the opposite of those things, I cling on. I attach too quickly. I hold on too tightly.

Through therapy and a lot of self-reflection, I’m learning how to let go. I’ve begun a road of healing that has mostly had to do with building my self-esteem, learning to see myself as worthy and valid regardless of what other people think of me. Healing has meant understanding that my value stays with me always. It does not change based on whom I have around me and what they think of me. Embracing this one very simple idea has been invaluable in my pursuit of “hire slow, fire fast.” I take time letting people into my orbit because my time is precious and limited. I want to put my energy into people who deserve it and who will return that energy back to me. I am also learning to release people quickly when I realize they aren’t what I need. It hurts, always. I don’t think it’ll ever get easier. But, in doing that hard work, I build my self-esteem even further. I show myself what I am deserving of, and what I am not. I also show others, and they begin to treat me the way I deserve as a result.

In every way, the hire slow, fire fast mentality is making me a healthier and happier person. I’m surrounding myself with the right people. I’m building positive relationships that enrich and empower me. And, I’m becoming a better friend and loved one to the people who matter to me.

It’s what I deserve. It’s what they deserve.

A win/win in its truest form.


Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

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