Working Without A Net
Two years ago I was talking with a friend who, at the time, owned a Deli in New York. He hated it and listed several reasons why he wanted to get out. He said the lease for his store was up in two years and that would be the time for him to get out. So I asked him what he was going to do when he sold it. “I don’t know yet” was his reply. We talked and I gave him several “next steps” he could explore in order to get out of a business he clearly didn’t like and get into something else. I also told him to call me any time he wanted to talk about possibilities.
The two years is up, he sold the business in the last week of his lease, and when I asked him what he was going to do, he gave me the same answer he gave me two years ago, “I don’t know yet.”
This guy is now in “free-fall” and there is NO NET. He has some money from the sale, but not much, he is 50 years old, worked in a deli his entire professional life, high school education and he has no direction. Luckily, his three kids are on their own and his wife has a small State job.
“Working without a net” is a term typically used by trapeze artists and tightrope walkers who practice their craft and at a certain part of the show drops their safety net as they perform some of their stunts. This heightens the excitement for the audience. What would happen if they fall? It’s a scary thought. It’s fun to be on the edge of your seat as you watch them, but you are always hoping they don’t fall and you think that you would never do what they do.
And yet, many people are in a job that could go away. Because of today’s busy and changing business environment, their job can’t be guaranteed and they have no backup if they lose it. They have no options immediately available to them. They are, “working without a net,” and if they lose their job, they will fall…a long long way.
Needless to say, if you are working without a net it isn’t “exciting,” it’s dangerous and disturbing. So, what are the things that make up your “net” that will help catch you if you do fall? Let’s take a look at 8 things anyone could use to “construct their “net.” You can order them any way you like.
If we truly have a strategic plan for our future, there is a better chance of actually achieving our goals. Setting our plan in motion requires that we research and know our strengths and weaknesses and how we intend to use our strengths in improve our professional and personal lives. Some plans have us staying in our present field of work until retirement and other plans may have us preparing to change in the next 3-5 years. The point is, if we know where we need to be and are working toward that goal, we are also aware of the possibilities of getting there and what to do if roadblocks pop up. At least you will have a plan to adjust and still get where you want to be. It’s much easier to adjust a plan rather than create a plan out of thin air and under pressure.
Possible Work Options
Knowing your plan allows you to think about available options or ask yourself “What if things don’t go as planned?” For example: you may be working as an insurance agent, but your plan calls for you to move into the IT field of work in 3-4 years from now. In the mean time you are going to school at night preparing for the transition. Once you finish your education you will have the choice of staying where you are, or sending out resumes for an IT position. You now have options.
Another example is someone who is working in the nursing field and has been doing it for ten years. Although being a nurse has been very rewarding, they find that training has a great appeal for them due to their extrovert personality and desire to help others learn. With their experience, there is a strong possibility to move into the Health Care system as a trainer in the medical field and train other people to be nurses. Yes, it took ten years to get the experience, but they now have options.
Have you been in your line of work for a significant amount of time? Do you have the desire to train and educate people? Perhaps that will give you an option. Is there some education you can get allowing you to branch out and have other options in the work force? If you are locked into a particular field or profession, the only way to guarantee you are going to have a job is you must have an incredible passion for it and you need to be one of the best. Key words here are, “The best.” Being just really good at something doesn’t guarantee anything.
Spouse (or Friends)
You would think this goes without saying, but nothing could be farther from the truth. We are professionals who know our job really well. We have been doing it for years and our spouses can’t really help us with it because they have no idea what we do on a daily basis. They have no idea of the pressures we have or the problems we face every time we go to work.
You’re right, they don’t know everything about your work, but they know you. They might not know what causes your stress, but they know all the symptoms and how you deal or don’t deal with it. They know more about you than you think and if you do fall off the tightrope, they will be the backbone of your “net.” Keep them close. Keep them in your loop. Let them know your thoughts and ask for their views when you are thinking about moving, quitting, or taking on a supervisory position. They are the ones who will go through all the same drama you will should the worst happen. Shouldn’t they be knowledgeable of the situation so they can be part of the solution?
Mentors can be part of your “net construction” team. Keep in mind we are talking about “mentors” here and not coaches. Coaches can certainly help too, but in a different way. Coaches can help you with several professional and personal problems. Mentors are laser focused and are in the business of helping you successfully reach the same high-level position they achieved. Good mentors will help you understand the risks you may take and how to prepare for them. They can help and ensure that you plan for and are ready to move to the next level at the earliest possible time. In your discussions with him/her they will advise you of negative situations evolving and how to combat them. They can do that because they have seen the “puppet show” already and know where the strings are. They are not only a major part of your net, but also a “net monitor” to ensure your net is strong enough. There are several reasons why your mentor made it so far. Seek their counsel.
For those out there who think that they can do this “professional career” thing all on their own, you might want to rethink that idea. If you believe that you can single-handedly triumph over the work gauntlet, then you also must think you know all the good ideas possible and how to do them already. You are saying that nobody else has any good ideas for you. Does that make sense? Of course not!
So why not find two or three people who are friends you trust and meet with them once in a while. I have three guys I meet with once a month to talk about what we are doing and how we were doing it. In the group of four there is a real estate agent, a marketing wizard, an electronic engineer, and a professional leadership trainer. None of us have the same background and yet we give each other fantastic ideas because everyone approaches issues from a different perspective. We get candid and honest feedback from thoughtful guys in a confidential environment. It works. Should things get tight or go really bad, this group will be an irreplaceable sounding board.
Good supervisors are critical in your “net” and network. Good supervisors are informative, honest, fair, and consistent. They also should know you very well. Their annual reviews should be helpful, not only for the company, but for you too. Reviews should tell you where you stand and how you can improve. Supervisors should also know about upcoming changes in the company. That does not automatically translate into them being able to tell you everything that will happen, because there are several reasons why they cannot do that, but when they can – you want to be the first to know. Supervisors can also help prepare you for shifts in the company or possible re-organizations. IF that is going to happen, you want to know as soon as possible. A boss who let’s you know a year out is far better than the guy who gives you 2 weeks notice. That’s why our supervisor is part of our net.
There is simply no way around this one. If you work for a company that pays for your medical coverage – that’s a pretty big deal. Medical costs are crippling (no pun intended) if you get hurt or very sick and you are not covered. If that medical coverage goes away, for any reason, what will your backup be? What can it be? Everyone has different situations and I couldn’t cover them all here, but the question here is: “What is your backup plan for a loss in medical coverage?” This is a piece of your net you hope you never need, but what if? Knowing your options now, regardless of how good or bad they are, will take the stress of computing them under the additional pressure of dealing with a layoff.
You can talk to your finance manager, read any one of 50 books out there, or go on line and Google the question of how much money you need to have in the bank if you lose your job. There are several different answers, and that’s because everyone is different. Simple math tells me that you can look at your checkbook over the last 3-4 months and see where your money MUST go and also where it goes. You decide how much it takes to run your life for a month and then multiply it by the number of months you think it will take you to find a job equivalent to your last position. In my opinion, you should put that number somewhere between 6-9 months and have that put away. If you can, I’d suggest the nine-month number, and here is why. When I got out of the Air Force, I had a good job waiting for me and it took seven months before I put my butt in that seat. And I knew I had it. So, from a dead stop, how long will it take (in today’s market) to find, interview for, be selected, and paperwork completed to get you into another professional position? What ever you come up with – put it away someplace where you can’t get to it. This is a major portion of your net. Major. You have not felt stress until you don’t have a job, only have one month’s worth of money left and you don’t have an interview on the horizon. Like I said, major.
Is all this new “news?” Not likely, but a reminder of some things we may have either forgotten or overlooked. Are you walking the high wire with no net? Or do you have a dysfunctional broken net? No better time to repair (or construct) your net then right now…when you don’t need it.