You might not have a job tomorrow

If you don’t believe your life can change twenty-four hours from now, you’re deluding yourself. Twice in the last three weeks I was reminded in the most graphic way possible that you can be out of a job tomorrow.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been with your company, or how invaluable you think you are. If you violate corporate policy, or your role is no longer important, or you just piss off the wrong person, you might find yourself job hunting, perhaps for the first time in 20 years.

So, what are you going to do about it?

I have a few suggestions.

  • Accept that your company has very little loyalty to you. You provide a service, and if you’re lucky, maybe even directly affect their bottom line, but if money’s tight, or they decide to go in a “different direction,” or maybe they get acquired by another, bigger entity, what little loyalty they did have will be replaced by cold, hard logic.
  • Get rid of anything personal residing on your work computer. If you’re unemployed tomorrow, you probably won’t have time to delete it, and who knows who’ll go through that stuff. Have a computer at home. A Mac mini is cheap.
  • Don’t keep your only copy of your baby’s first steps on your work computer. Really. If you understand the previous suggestion, this one follows logically. Your office machine should never be the only copy of important personal files. Grab an external drive, move your personal data onto it, and take it home.
  • Don’t be stupid. If you love watching naked jello wrestling, or think music ought to be free, pursue your predilections in the privacy of your own home. Don’t download copyrighted or objectionable material at work. That’s just dumb.
  • Keep notes on your successful projects. Key dates, accomplishments and other details are valuable reminders of the great job you did, should you find yourself putting together a new résumé. Keep in mind that some of that is company confidential, so making copies of your address book, email, project files, and other documents that belong to the company is probably a bad idea.
  • Prepare financially. Losing your only income is, to understate it, a bad thing. So, save some of it. Take a few dollars every paycheck and stick it in a savings account, or, if you’re a risk taker, the stock market. If you don’t have a few months of ready cash already, start building that up, now. Figure out how much you need to pay your monthly expenses, and get one month in the bank, then try for two months. Eventually three to six months would be ideal. Cut out those daily lattes for a few weeks.
  • Diversify your income. If your only source of income is your nine-to-five, brainstorm other ways you might generate some free cash flow. Buy growth or dividend producing stocks. Sell stuff on eBay or Craig’s List. Start a business online. Have some other way of bringing in money so losing your main gig isn’t a major setback.
  • Think about the future. Do you want to work for this company forever? Do you even want to work forever? If you want to retire eventually (or sooner), envision how you’d spend your tomorrows, and start planning for that today. Want to travel when you retire? Buy a condo somewhere else. Or get a credit card that gives you miles toward free tickets. Or join a hotel rewards program that offers free nights. Or star writing about travel so you can get paid to do it when you “retire”.
  • Realize you’re employable. You have this job, don’t you? You can always find another one.

I consider myself lucky. I learned these lessons over twenty years ago. Now, I’m not afraid to lose my job. I’m eminently employable, with a broad set of highly marketable skills and, putting aside salary, job satisfaction, and the vagaries of the job market, I could get a job almost anywhere. Not to mention all these business ideas rattling around in my brain.

I’m also lucky enough to have the financial wherewithal to withstand a sudden loss of income. I’ll still be able to pay my mortgage, put food on the table and even enjoy a brief vacation without worry. At least for a little while.

And most importantly, I know that I can count on my family and friends in a time of crisis. I know that, should the need arise, I could stay with The Girl for a few months. Or, as I joked to her recently, all it takes is a $500 JetBlue ticket back to the East Coast to stay with my parents.

I used to think I would never lose my job. I found out the hard way how wrong I was. I was reminded how true it remains. Now I’m prepared, without being paranoid.

Are you ready?