It was one of those situations where he worked at the same place for 11 years and worked his way up the ladder.
Then, one morning, he was asked to come up to the front conference room. Without much of a reason or excuse, he was told he was done. Hit by a train that came out of no where.
I’m always a little unsettled when I hear the news of someone I know and respect being let go from the job they’ve worked so hard at.
Perhaps it’s because it reminds me of just how vulnerable we all really are when it comes to this thing we call employment.
One of the hard truths that we must accept about our jobs is that they’re really just paradigms made of glass. As we get better and deeper into our careers, we think we’re building up our empire. We think we’ve got castle walls and defenses. With every promotion or victory, we’re adding more and more to this structure.
But at any time for practically any reason, someone else can come along, swing a hammer, and – in an instant – the whole thing will come tumbling down. You’ll have the look of “surprise” as it takes the floor out from right beneath your feet.
Only then do we actually see how fragile the whole thing really was this whole time.
Sometimes the Employer Decides for You
It seems to be that 50 or so years ago, situations like this were not the case.
Whenever you talk to an elderly person, they’re very proud to tell you that they worked at one job or another for 30+ years. They took care of the company, and the company took care of them by giving them a pension for life.
However, this is just simply not the case any more. Today, the average person switches jobs 12 times! I’m sure that the primary reason is because the person decided to leave. But I’d bet you that somewhere up in the Top 5 Reasons, the employer itself plays a big part in this. Sometimes it’s not your decision whether you stay or go. Sometimes someone else makes that decision for you.
With “at will” employment, an employee can legally be terminated for any reason (or no reason at all) at any time; so long as it does not violate any discriminatory laws. This means something as trivial as your boss not liking your haircut or that blue shirt you wore last week is enough to let you go.
I’m sure if most people knew the real story behind “why” they were let go from a job, the capital offense would be nothing more than you simply pissed off the wrong person off. Perhaps it was something you did that unintentionally but inadvertently made that person look bad. Maybe you simply stood up for yourself or refused to do something you knew was wrong.
Sometimes you’ll never know.
Work is Not the Same As School
As children, school IS your job. You go there every day. You do the work and get good grades. You’re taught to be respectful.
If you were a bad kid, then you got in trouble. You’d stand in the corner, go to the principal’s office, or (worst of all) get kicked out of school.
But if you just did what you were supposed to, then you were fine. No problems. You keep going to school and will eventually graduate.
Then you get your first real job and the rules change.
On the surface, there are still the same basic rules about being respectful and completing your tasks. You boss gives you an assignment, and you get it done. You have your first review, and everything is cool. You mingle well with your co-workers, and everything seems fine.
But as a former manger myself, if you were to go behind closed doors, I can assure you that you’d find out that it’s a lot more complex than that. The higher-ups talk. Opinions are made. Impressions become fact. There’s not necessarily always a rhyme or reason. Maybe someone a little higher up than you doesn’t like you. Maybe you’re a threat. Maybe the employer simply wants a change to happen, but has absolutely no idea how to go about it. And so you become the sacrifice.
At that point, the grades you got as a child no longer matter. In fact, your performance up to this point no longer really matters. You’re being evaluated based on a snapshot in time; one out of a billion possible photos that could have been taken.
More than we’d like to believe, the grounds for termination is based on nothing more than a matter of “opinion”. There are no tangible offenses. No dereliction of responsibility. Someone up on a higher glass structure than you simply decided that “you’re not the right guy” anymore.
I’ve heard of people who were awesome at their jobs for 30 years. Great reviews. Raises and bonuses every year. Then a new manager comes in and everything changes. All of the sudden, the employee is no longer deemed to be doing well anymore. What was good enough yesterday is not unsatisfactory performance.
You can try to fight it if you want. But the new manager is judge and jury. Their opinion becomes fact. And when they sit you down and the train comes, the shit gets real.
The Truth Behind What Employment Really Is
For as long as there has been the concept of employment, there has been a sacred contract:
- A Person needs money for food and shelter.
- The Employer needs workers to get jobs done, and is willing to pay for services rendered.
- Person becomes a Worker by exchanging service to the Employer for money. Hence, they enter the Employer-Worker arrangement.
That’s it. There’s simply nothing more to it than that.
It wasn’t really until the last 100 years that this idea seemed to change. Perhaps one of the most significant contributing factors was when Henry Ford started paying his employees double at $5 per day.
(Though that was well-praised as a glorious social model for an Employer taking care of his Workers, make no mistake. He didn’t do it because he wanted to help humanity. The real reason was more selfish than that. In his 1926 book Today and Tomorrow, Ford explained that the real motivation behind the wage increase was to turn his Workers into future customers. He simply did it to sell more cars.)
Yes, it’s exciting to see pictures of modern work facilities like Google with smiling people working happily on bouncy balls and taking ping-pong breaks. We’d like to think to ourselves that the modern contract between the Employer and Worker has evolved.
But make no mistake. Brush aside all the shinny company perks and the bonding experience of pot-luck Tuesday, and at the core there is still just that one simple Employer-Worker contract: Service for money.
The Only Unemployment Insurance You Need
When you buy a house, you get home owners insurance in case the house burns down.
When you get married and have kids, you get life insurance to cover years of bills in case something tragic was to happen to one of you.
But when you lose your job, you’ve got nothing. (Yes, I know – the government provides unemployment benefits. But let’s be real. There’s a big difference between the way sluggish government unemployment benefits work and the swiftness of an auto or home insurance claim.)
This leaves us with one VERY important conclusion: Our only insurance against a job loss is the equity we build in ourselves.
Remember: This is bigger than just money (however, we’ll talk more about that in a minute). Don’t underestimate:
- The experience you’ve gained.
- The connections you’ve made.
- The degrees and certifications you’ve earned.
- Your ability to communicate.
- Your attitude.
- Your ambition.
- Your flexibility.
- The way you solve problems.
- Your gifts.
Think of Steve Jobs
Could you imagine firing someone like Steve Jobs? Believe it or not, in the 1980’s, Apple let him go after an internal power struggle among management.
Even though he was fired, he was still Steve Jobs. He still had ideas and drive. And with or without Apple, he was going to succeed.
Jobs went on to create NeXT and help start Pixar (the company that made in the wildly famous Toy Story movie) while Apple floundered.
Then in the late 1990’s, the company and people that had rejected him years ago asked him to come back. Apple went on to become one of the strongest companies in the world to date.
After all, he was Steve Jobs.
Why We Need Financial Freedom
In this Employer-Worker exchange, when it comes to money, there is one thing you should be focused on with laser accuracy: Building up your wealth as quickly as possible to decrease your dependency on this arrangement.
In other words, achieving financial freedom.
People often confuse the goal of financial freedom with wanting to retire early or quit your job at a young age. But in reality there is a lot more to it. Financial freedom is really about having complete peace of mind that money is no longer an issue. Whether you work or not is irrelevant. You’re prepared for anything.
It’s your insurance.
Jim Collins and F-You Money
Perhaps this concept is best explained (and certainly more entertaining) with the legendary F-You Money post from blogger Jim Collins. If you’ve never heard of this, I highly recommend listening to Jim’s interview on the Mad Fientist podcast where he does a brilliant job discussing it.
But just in case you don’t listen to it, here’s a summary of the story he tells:
As a young man, Jim was a good saver and had stashed away $5,000. He decided he wanted to go away to Europe for a while. So he asked his employer for the time off, but they said “no”. Knowing that his $5,000 would carry him for several months if he didn’t work, Jim decided he was going to go to Europe anyways. So he went back in to his employer and told them he was going to resign. The employer, realizing they needed Jim more than he needed them, quickly renegotiated and gave him the time off he wanted.
In the end, Jim kept his job and got what he wanted. But he also gained something more important that day: He learned just how much F-You money can empower you!
All You Have Is You
I actually wish more people would do the opposite: Love their jobs! Take pride in your work and what it is that you do everyday.
Though this Employer-Worker arrangement is a contract, that doesn’t you can’t have good times or take away good experiences. If the end is going to come, then its going to come. But until then, why not make the best of it? Why not:
- Feel good about what you do.
- Dig deep into the parts that interest you.
- Learn new skills that you can take anywhere with you.
- Meet unique people.
- Travel the world.
- Challenge yourself.
- Become an expert.
- Stay relevant within your career.
- Have some fun.
Take the Time for Yourself
I remember years ago as a young professional, I was caught-up (like most people) with climbing the corporate ladder and trying to be the person on top.
Then, after a brief (disappointing) talk with my boss, a wave came over me and I asked myself: What am I doing?
All of this work? All of this effort? Who was it really benefiting? Me or my employer?
I decided that I would honor the Employer-Worker arrangement. BUT every extra spare minute beyond that, I was going to work on me. I was going to “lean out” rather than “lean in”. I was going to focus on the skills that would make me valuable ANYWHERE; not just here.
But on top of that, I was going to work on my life at home, my relationships, and my family. I was going to invest the time required to learn how to grow our fortune. With each day, my dependency on the Employer-Worker arrangement would weaken. I’d be putting “me” in charge and slowly become my own boss.
When you work for yourself, you can never be fired. You’re indestructible. And that’s the greatest form of unemployment insurance you could ever ask for.
Readers – If you lost your job today, how prepared do you think you’d be to handle it? Does job loss factor into your goals for saving and trying to reach financial freedom? What skills and talents are you working on that will make you indestructible?