Getting Fired Twice Before Age 30 Taught This CEO An Important Lesson

Sarah Robb O’Hagan / Facebook

Sarah Robb O’Hagan

Sarah Robb O’Hagan / Facebook

Alex Wilson
Alex Wilson

Dealing with getting fired is hard, especially if you’re just starting your career. But getting fired twice before you’re 30 can feel like a double whammy of bad luck.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, you can feel at peace knowing that Sarah Robb O’Hagan, CEO of Flywheel Sports, found herself in that position not too long ago. She was first fired from the lead marketing position at Virgin Atlantic Airways on the grounds that she was “too cocky.” The second time was during her tenure in Atari’s marketing department.

Instead of letting those experiences hold her back, O’Hagan’s career has continued to thrive.

Since those roles, O’Hagan has served as president of Gatorade and president of Equinox before moving on to lead Flywheel Sports. During an interview with Pattie Sellers at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit, O’Hagan said that her negative experiences were crucial in helping her find positive ones.

“Early in your career, you think you’re in this place that isn’t you,” O’Hagan said at the summit, according to Fortune. When referencing her past experience at Atari, she joked, “I didn’t even like video games.”

O’Hagan believes that your seemingly random experiences give you a great knowledge base to build the rest of your career. But ultimately, being fired twice also taught O’Hagan to pick something that you care about, and pursue it.

“I had a huge amount of perseverance that contributed to my own personal interests and turned them into areas of deep passion,” O’Hagan wrote on LinkedIn. “While I absolutely love all of the work that I get to do these days — and have done for pretty much all of my career — a huge amount of my career path has been grueling and enormously difficult.”

Since becoming CEO of Flywheel Sports, O’Hagan has also written a book called “Extreme YOU” to help young professionals achieve the same levels of success. In the book (as well as in real life), O’Hagan encourages people to follow their interests so they can find their path.

“I started my career in the airline industry. Not because I was passionate about aircraft types, fuselage, or the smell of jet fuel, but because I wanted a job that would fly me beyond my tiny little island nation,” O’Hagan wrote. “I was fired up about the idea of exploring and seeing the world, and in order to do that, I had to work my ass off to get the opportunity.”

Without her first airline industry position, O’Hagan wouldn’t have worked at Virgin Atlantic Airways, so her path would have taken her somewhere other than her current role. Following your interests can clearly have an impact on your career path.

But, just in case you need some additional help in finding your footing, here’s some more advice from O’Hagan on how to get to where you want to be.

1. Don’t think about what everyone else is doing.

During Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit, O’Hagan stressed the personal and professional importance of understanding yourself. “Do not get distracted by the competition,” she told the audience. Focus on you, your strengths and your challenges.

2. Determine what motivates you.

When O’Hagan evaluates business opportunities for Flywheel, she thinks about what motivates people to exercise. Think about your motivations when you’re looking to find something you’re passionate about. What excites you about your day? What do you look forward to doing? These questions (and all the ones that follow) are great brainstorm starters.

3. Focus on what you’re good at.

O’Hagan uses the airline industry as an example of what not to do in business; because airlines focus on everyone, they have few loyal, excited customers. The same strategy can be applied to determining what you want to focus on; be specific and concise. “Be spectacular for a few,” O’Hagan said. “Not average for many.”