How Prepared are You for a Career Crisis?

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There was controversial article out last week, How a Former Currency Strategist Went from $150K/Year to Serving Lattes at Starbucks (Yahoo! Finance), and it’s one of those stories that we all have an opinion on. This guy went from a high paying job to a career crisis, a situation that’s hardly unusual these days.

At age 38 this guy was working at an investment firm making $150,000 as a currency strategist (what ever that is!), and was living the good life complete with “$200 steak dinners”. Today, he has a $9.70 an hour job at Starbucks, the good life is gone, and he has had to pawn possessions and tap into his 401K plan just to survive.

Before we go passing judgment on this man, I think we first need to stop and consider that what happened to him could happen to any of us. I’ve said many times on this site that in today’s economy the loss of a job often means the loss of a career, and he is an example.

What’s most important for all of us is that we learn from his experience. In the past few years millions of people have had a similar experience, falling from a high income occupation to none at all. It’s the nature the economy in the 21st Century—employers are learning how to survive and grow with much smaller payrolls.

Preparation should be the takeaway, and the best time to prepare for any crisis is always before it happens; here are some suggestions…

Never assume this can’t happen to you

How Prepared are You for a Career Crisis?
How Prepared are You for a Career Crisis?

A lot of people will read this guy’s story and think either “this guy’s an idiot”, or “that could never happen to me!” I would argue that if you think either way you’re a prime candidate for going down the same path.

We’re never more confident than when we’re riding high—when everything is working well we can’t conceive that life will ever be any other way. But it can. The guy in the article knows that only too well—now.

Enjoy the prosperity you have, but remember ”To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven”—Ecclesiates 3:1. Will you be prepared if your season changes? Don’t bet it won’t.

No matter how much money you make always live beneath your means

It’s human nature to want a better life, and as you make more money you’re in a better position to give it to yourself. Prosperity is a blessing to be enjoyed, but it should never define your life or change who you are. Living beneath your means is the way to do this.

By spending less than you earn you accomplish two things:

  1. You free up money to save for the future, and
  2. You never fully “settle in” to your high income level

Each leaves you better prepared for the day the music stops. In a perfect world it never will—but this isn’t a perfect world.

Investigate health insurance options

The guy in the article works at Starbucks because they provide health insurance for part-time employees. Anyone who’s shopped for health insurance knows why he did this.

Here’s a newsflash: many of the “new jobs” being created today are “casual” (contract, part-time, temporary, etc) or in industries that don’t offer health insurance. Private plans can be expensive and hard to get if you have pre-existing conditions.

If you can’t get reasonably priced private coverage, part-time jobs are one way to get it. You can check out my post, 20 Part-time Jobs With Health Insurance as a starting point. And, yes, Starbucks is on the list.

Share some prosperity with those around you

There’s a widespread philosophy that the way to become successful is by keeping company with other successful people. There’s more than a grain of truth to that, but while you’re fraternizing with the high and mighty be aware that there are less fortunate people in your life as well, if only on the fringes. Don’t ignore them.

If you’ve been blessed with prosperity in your life, be purposeful about sharing it with others who haven’t. You can do this through organized charities of course, but you can also give direct help to those in need.

Never forget that you may one day be one of the people on the receiving end of someone else’s generosity. How would you want prosperous people to respond to you in your own time of need? In the Bible we’re told “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required”—Luke 12:48. By blessing others in their time of need they may one day bless you.

Look into career alternatives

Even though you may love your job, consider and investigate alternatives. It will be far easier to do this when you don’t have the income concerns that come with the loss of a job. Also, it may take time to gear up for a new career—you may need to develop a whole new set of contacts, do some deep research, get training or even earn certain credentials. All of those are best done while you still have a paycheck.

The best solution to a career crisis: start your own business

This can be the single best step you take if only because you can probably start and grow your business while you’re still on your job. If you lose your job, you won’t have to transition into your business, it will already be there waiting for you. In the meantime you’re earning extra money and have an exit strategy if the day comes when you feel like firing your employer.

Some businesses are better in the side business-to-full-time transition than others, including blog writing and online stores. Both cost little to start and don’t require a bricks-and-mortar type set-up. There are all kinds of possibilities here, but it’s best to get them started before a layoff forces your hand.

Network outside your career field

If you’re an established career person, you probably have a fairly large network of contacts in your own field. Here’s a radical direction: try establishing a network of business contacts outside your career field.

Here’s the thing, if you’re subject to a layoff, chances are high that it’s because of a general layoff in your industry. You don’t want your network to be filled with people who are going after the same jobs you are. Better to have one or more networks in different career fields, or even in some in entrepreneurial circles. If you experience a full blown career crisis—of the laid-off/can’t-get-back-in variety—your in-career network may be no use to you.

Being part of networks in different fields will be an enormous advantage if you need to make a career change. Start networking now with people who are working in another career field you might want to switch to, or a business you’re interested in starting. The idea is to create momentum before you need to.

The world looks different when you’re on the outside of a long time career; you’re success or failure may very well hinge on how many people you know in completely different fields.

Have you experienced a career crisis? What advice would you give to someone who’s in one now, or is well-employed and doesn’t think it can happen to them?

( Photo from Flickr by A_of_DooM )

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2 Responses to How Prepared are You for a Career Crisis?

  1. Good advice. I’m fortunate that I’m close to retirement because this economy would have scared me to death 40 years ago when I started my career. I agree with being prepared, you never know what is around the corner.

  2. Hi Charlotte, Good for you in getting close to retirement, early or otherwise! In a way I think preparing to retire or at least semi-retire early is part of the solution. The sooner we become independent of a paycheck, at least to some degree, the sooner this is no longer a problem. If your entire income is from your job, and your lifestyle is defined by the job and income level, it’s courting disaster.

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