What would happen if you lost your job tomorrow? Would you be able to walk away excited for the next opportunity, or would you worry about how to support yourself and your family?
What if you realized that you are one of the 52.3% of Americans who are unsatisfied at work? Would you be able to walk away to pursue something more fulfilling, or are you trapped by your need for a paycheck?
The reality is, everyone needs a career backup plan. Even if you're happily employed, there is always the chance that an industry, company, or personal change will result in job loss.
This isn't something to be afraid of, but it is something to be prepared for. By implementing the following six strategies, you'll be ready for whatever tomorrow may bring.
1. Always do your best work
It's been said “never burn a bridge” – and putting in lackluster work is a sure way to burn bridges for good recommendations or references. Even if you're in a dead-end job – do good work. And when you leave – leave on good terms.
From opening up new opportunities with your current employer, to maintaining strong references, to developing new skills for whatever project you pursue next, always doing your best work is one of keys to preparing for a life of success.
2. Establish an emergency fund
The biggest concern for anyone looking to leave their job (whether voluntarily or forcefully) is covering their expenses until they find their next place of employment.
The easiest way to overcome this worry is to develop an emergency fund that can cover all of your expenses for at least 3 months – but preferably closer to a year. This money is separate from your retirement accounts and regular spending. It should include enough to cover all expenses – including any house, student loan, or other debt payments.
Establish an automatic transfer from your regular account every pay period to ensure that your emergency fund grows on a regular basis. Whether you create an additional savings account using something like Qapital, or use an investment service like Betterment, make sure that the process is automated so that you don't neglect it and spend the funds on other leisurely expenditures.
3. Continually grow your network and make new connections
When you find yourself unemployed, a lot of people will tell you to start networking. However, you should start networking well before you ever need a job. By creating a diverse network of acquaintances across a variety of fields, you have a group of people you can tap anytime you might need an introduction or reference.
If the thought of networking sounds sleazy to you, then consider reading a book like Keith Ferrazzi's Never Eat Alone. When done right, connecting with others is about developing mutually beneficial relationships – and one of the best ways to do this is by always finding ways to benefit the other person when you interact, rather than trying to get something from them.
The more people you know, the more exposure you'll have to new jobs, partnerships, clients, and opportunities.
4. Position yourself as an expert
Considering how easy it is to establish yourself as an industry leader, I'm surprised that more people aren't doing it.
The moment you know what type of industry you want to be a part of, start establishing credibility in that field.
How do you do this?
First, follow the current experts on Twitter and LinkedIn. Subscribe to industry newsletters and read up on the latest trends.
Then, find ways to continue learning and improve what you can bring to the table.
Finally, contribute to the conversation. Initially this may be through comments and forum discussions, but it should grow into articles and blog posts on the topic. Whether you use a free platform like LinkedIn or Medium, or set up your own website (which I recommend), it doesn't take long to establish “industry cred” online.
By becoming an established member within your industry, you become more valuable to your current company while getting onto the radar of other potential employers.
5. Have a profitable hobby on the side
Your career backup plan doesn't have to be in your current industry – and it doesn't have to be finding a job from someone else.
Today it's easier than ever to launch a business from home in your spare time.
Use Etsy to sell your homemade crafts; Fiverr and Upwork to offer your freelance skills to massive audiences; or use Shopify and AliExpress to start your own online shop. You can even start consulting in your specific industry.
Invest a few hours a week into experimenting with your own business ventures on the side. If they flop while you're still employed, you've lost nothing. Meanwhile, if one becomes profitable, you now have extra income and a fallback plan if your current job doesn't pan out.
6. Know what matters most to you
Life is a never-ending list of tradeoffs. You'll be hard pressed to find a tenured academic, prolific novelist, concert pianist, or successful entrepreneur that binge watches Netflix for 6 hours everyday.
So determine what matters most to you – and focus on that.
Not only will doing what you love make your life more rewarding, but it will make you better at your work and more passionate about life – two traits every employer values.