Being Unemployed

I ended off last week with reference to things-that-scare me.  The thought of being unemployed is often scary, especially against a background of high unemployment in our society.

I’ve been unemployed three times in my adult life:

  • My 20s, transitioning from University to the real world;
  • My 30s, when I decided to take a break from finance; and
  • My 40s, when I took part in the decision to put my employer into bankruptcy.

My most recent experience was the most real.  We had a baby at home and the family’s income went to zero.  At the time, I wasn’t scared but I was stressed and focused.

My periods of unemployment have proven to be transitions between lives.  Across our adult lives, it would be unusual not to transition at least a few times.  I’ve had major changes every decade and four things helped me make the transition:

  • Business Basics
  • Network & Personal Brand
  • Experience Working
  • Capital

Business Basics – understanding the basics of spreadsheets; programming; accounting; finance; market research… I use these most days of my life.  The more you find these intimidating, the greater the gains you’ll receive from improving your fundamentals.  If I had to give you three things to learn: spreadsheets; basic financial accounting and cash flow analysis.

Network – I’m fortunate to know a lot of interesting people.  I also have a blog that enables interesting people to find me.  I spent ten years consistently building my triathlon network before I (really) needed to tap it.  Lots of energy went into connecting with triathletes around the world (my book, articles and emails).  I do it because I enjoy it but it also created an option value which proved extremely valuable.  What’s most interesting to me is my option was in a field that was very distant from my workplace (athletics vs finance; coaching vs capital management).

Personal Brand – all day, every day, we are projecting our personal brand.  It’s a mixture of things we can control (attitude, reliability, integrity) and things we can’t.  The soft-skills of our brand are particularly important and it’s common for intelligent people to undervalue their role in business.  Being polite is smart, not soft.

Experience Working – do you remember when you wrote your first resume?  We’d list out the schools we went to and the job positions that we held.  Totally useless!  What really matters is experience getting stuff done.  Early in your career look for opportunities to get stuff done.  People that can do stuff are valuable!

Capital – Capital offers time.  In late 2008, I gave myself five years to sort out the family’s finances.  If I had been highly leveraged then that would have been impossible.  If you don’t have capital then you can compensate with low personal overheads – both buy you time and time is valuable.

Working on the above when I was employed sure helped when I wasn’t.