Have You Been Making Risky Career Decisions?
We all do at some point - Issue #91
I wouldn’t consider myself to be a thrill-seeking risk-taker. Maybe compared to some, but not when I look at some of the crazy stuff my friends do. I also felt like I was reasonably careful about the choices I made for my career path.
But, conventional wisdom and many of the things that I thought I should do ended up being risky decisions. The high risk only revealed itself slowly over time once I was far down the path, and it was almost too late.
Like many others, I had made myself vulnerable to serious financial risk with the career choices I had made.
Sooner or later, we all become vulnerable in our careers.
The reality is that the majority of us are always vulnerable, even if we don’t realize it or admit it to ourselves. Eventually, something will happen that wakes you up to this fact.
I learned the hard way. I made several mistakes at various points in my career. I was vulnerable on more than one front. I promised myself that I wouldn’t let it happen again.
I was supporting my family with a sole source of income.
That source of income was a corporate job where one boss controlled my fate.
We lived in one of the most expensive places in the U.S.
We weren’t crazy spendthrifts, but we weren’t careful enough either.
I got promoted up to the point that new roles above that level were few and far between.
I committed one of the cardinal sins in the SV Tech industry: I got older.
…it has fallen to Matarasso to make older workers look like they still belong at the office. “It’s really morphed into, ‘Hey, I’m forty years old and I have to get in front of a board of fresh-faced kids. I can’t look like I have a wife and two-point-five kids and a mortgage,’ ” — source
Risk #1: One source of income controlled by one boss
If your primary source of income is from one job and you have a single boss who controls your fate, you are vulnerable.
I think this is true for most of us for the majority of our careers. It certainly was a reality for me. I had a few other smaller income sources, but the majority was from my full-time corporate job.
You may be thinking that this is all well and good because you’re doing a great job and get along well with your boss. But that can change.
If and when your great boss leaves (e.g., lands a better role somewhere else), you may or may not end up with a new boss who works out just as well.
If your organization is merged with another one during a re-org, you may end up reporting to someone new. If your company is acquired, your entire job description might change, as well as your reporting structure.
I’ve been through all of these. Some didn’t end very well.
It’s a roll of the dice. You don’t usually have much personal control over corporate mergers, acquisitions, or re-orgs (unless you’re a C-level executive or on the Board). You do not get to handpick your new boss.
You may even be quite surprised by who they hire for that role (buy me a drink sometime, and I’ll tell you a story). If you don’t mesh well with them, or they aren’t a good manager or mentor, your promising career path is now uncertain.
Risk #2: A high cost of living
If your regional cost of living is so high that your rent or mortgage consumes a lot of your income, then you are vulnerable.
I used to live in one of the most expensive places in the world: Silicon Valley. In 2015, a Zillow analysis found that San Francisco residents spent about 41% of their income on a monthly mortgage payment or 47% on rent. Ouch!
When your housing costs suck up almost 50% of your income, you are living on a razor’s edge. In the San Jose metro area, the median housing price is more than $1.2M.
The salary required to afford such a home is more than $216,181, with a recommended $600,000 down to fit the mortgage comfortably in your budget. The median household income for the San Jose metro area in 2018 was $114,411.
The average employee in San Jose isn’t going to be able to buy a home anytime soon. When the cost of housing alone is so high, you can’t save much money.
When you can’t save and create a financial cushion, you will eventually run into trouble. Bad things happen.
If you heavily depend on a single source of income to make ends meet, sometimes paycheck to paycheck, you are vulnerable.
Risk #3: Industry volatility and the future of work
Ask the residents of Sidney, NE what it is like for almost 1/3 of the city’s jobs to disappear practically overnight. What is your backup plan?
You could be making all the right moves in your career. You could be doing a great job, getting promoted, and the future looks bright.
However, the world is changing faster every year. The future of your industry and your profession is far from predictable.
A study published in 2013 by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne of Oxford University estimated that 47% of jobs in the U.S. would be automated over the next two decades. A more conservative study on the risk of automation estimates that around 66 million workers in 32 countries have jobs that are at high risk of being automated (i.e., no human worker required).
The growing work in artificial intelligence and robotics is creating job demand for more scientists and engineers. Still, it will eliminate millions of blue-collar jobs (e.g., self-driving trucks, robot baristas, robot cooks). Give it a few more years, and white-collar jobs will start disappearing too (e.g., AI software writing AI software).
Outsourcing and offshoring will also continue to be a trend. Tech jobs, for example, have been shifting out of the U.S. for many years.
It was happening on a fairly massive scale when I was at eBay back in 2002–2006. IBM now has more employees in India than in the U.S.
Jobs are also moving out of the traditional Tech centers in Silicon Valley and Seattle into other locations in the United States. Apple and Amazon have both announced new campuses elsewhere. Tesla decided to build its Gigafactory in Nevada, not in California.
Risk #4: Growing older
Dear young people, I am your future. Ok, now that I’ve scared you, let me explain.
If age discrimination makes it harder and harder to find employment in your chosen profession, you become increasingly vulnerable with every passing year.
Unless you know some secret that I don’t, you will continue aging. Working out a lot does help, but it’s no fountain of youth.
You may be thinking that you’re going to strike it rich with one of your startup gambles and be the next 20-something billionaire like good ol’ Zuck. Or, you’re planning on moving up the career ladder so quickly that you’ll be a C-level executive before ageism strikes.
I wish you the best of luck with either one of those strategies!
For the rest of us, the reality is that we’ll do well in our careers, get promoted, and enjoy what we’re doing. But, we won’t become so fabulously wealthy that we can retire at 30 and never work again.
Some professions don’t seem as rife with age discrimination. For example, my optometrist is far from being a spring chicken. But, that might be more due to owning his own business vs. being an employee.
Sorry if I’m the first one to break this to you, but you’re not immortal, and you will grow older (wrinkles, gray hair, and all). If you are in a profession or industry that has issues with older folks and you can’t — or won’t — retire, then moving up the career ladder and finding new jobs will become much harder with each passing year.
Without a backup plan, you will be vulnerable at some point.
Risk #5: Moving up the ladder
If you have a senior job title with a good salary, a new job search can take six months to two years. Some experts also estimate that it takes about one month to find a job for every $10K of expected salary. So, if you are looking to earn $120K a year, your job search could take up to 12 months.
Unfortunately, the higher you climb the career ladder, the more vulnerable you become (despite the obvious perks).
Look around at your current organization at work. How many individual contributors are there? How many managers? How many directors? How many VPs, SVPs, and C-level executives? It is a steep pyramid.
There aren’t as many senior-level positions available, especially if you have several years of experience and desire a significant compensation package.
It’s great to move up in your career. The majority of us want that. However, it does leave you more vulnerable when it’s time for a change.
I didn’t have the patience or desire to wait for a year or two to land that perfect next job. So, I decided to create my own job and make my own luck. I’m glad that I did!
“I am a great believer in Luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have.” — Coleman Cox.
Ok, enough of the bad news.
There is a way to considerably reduce the risk in your career path before it is too late. You can intentionally make choices that help you eliminate vulnerabilities. You can choose to become more invincible in your career.
What is an Invincible Career?
Having an invincible career means that — as much as possible — you have removed single points of failure from every aspect of your overall career ecosystem.
No single event can disrupt you for very long. None of the issues that I mentioned earlier will be allowed to sabotage your long-term career and life plans.
You may even become stronger as you are exposed to adversity. You bounce back from any setback, wiser, tougher, and more prepared for what comes your way.
Before you can forge your invincible career, you need to understand your existing and potential areas of vulnerability. How invincible do you feel in your career right now?
Check out my course that provides various challenges and exercises to help you identify, mitigate, and eliminate your points of vulnerability. Doing this will give you the confidence required to make the best decisions for your career and life.
Benefits of an Invincible Career
In general, the primary benefit of an Invincible Career is that you become an “opportunity magnet.”
You can work and live your life on your own terms. You forge resilience into your strategies and plans.
You understand that the most successful and wealthy people have multiple sources of income. You refuse to be vulnerable with only one paycheck. You stop limiting your income to the daily hours you can work.
Tom Corley, the author of Rich Habits, conducted a five-year study of the rich and poor. Upon studying the self-made millionaires, he found that:
65% had three streams of income
45% had four streams of income
29% had five or more streams of income
You also no longer live in fear of upsetting your manager or losing a great boss.
You no longer worry that the ups and downs in the industry might capsize you.
You have a backup plan so that you don’t become too reliant on a single profession or get edged out by ageism.
I plan on working in my business until the very end. I’m doing something I love and working with people I enjoy spending time with, so I see no point in stopping.
You also don’t let golden handcuffs keep you chained to a company that is no longer serving your career well (been there, did that). You find or create work that is aligned with your personal values and leverages your core talents and strengths.
The positive ripple effects of living this way are enormous, with far-reaching impact. I can’t even begin to capture all of the ways your life might change.
However, I summarized what I believe it means to have an invincible career in terms of ten core principles below. This is how I choose to focus my career and life. This is also what the members of my Career Accelerator are working on for their own careers.
The 10 Principles of an Invincible Career
Live where you will truly enjoy your quality of life
Work where you want to spend your days
Become an expert at what you do for a living
Transform your work to be meaningful and satisfying
Take control of how you want to do your work
Work when you want, and as much as you want
Work with people who bring out the best in you
Achieve fulfillment by leveraging your expertise to help others
Take charge of your career and never again feel trapped
Empower yourself to never again feel vulnerable
Do the following Career Tips interest you?
How to uncover blind spots that may be holding you back.
Why you must ask for what you want at work.
How to decide when it’s time to quit your job.
How to use fear to your advantage in your career.
What I’ve been reading and writing
I wrote You May Not Have to Quit Your Job to talk about how you can get the career growth you need within your current company. Job hopping can help in certain situations. But, it isn’t the solution to all problems. Career progress will never be a magical cakewalk, no matter how fantastic the job, boss, or company is. It is hard work.
I also wrote What Weightlifting Taught Me About Work and Life. One day, it struck me that many of the fundamental lessons that I’ve learned in the gym apply more broadly to life. As a career coach, I find that they are true for personal development, professional growth, and getting what you want in your work and life. I shared the eleven lessons I learned that could help you on your journey to achieve the goals that are important to you.
In Why you should stop trying to find your passion at work—and 4 things to look for instead, the author says,
“A major mistake professionals often make is prioritizing working for a prestigious company or high pay over a job that will provide more professional and personal development. However, Perel says finding a good boss is more important than the company or the actual responsibility of the job itself.”