Choosing to be ready to face economic disaster | Mike Cook

By Mike Cook
Contributing Writer 

At least twice a month, I stand in front of groups of managers and supervisors and ask this question: What is your personal economic-disaster recovery plan?

The looks I get when asking about individual readiness range from glazed bemusement to knowing nods. Unfortunately, the knowing nods are most often in the minority. The glazed looks predominate.

As the conversation continues, I might ask, “When was the last time you interviewed outside your company or even perused local classified advertisements or websites scanning for alternative employment opportunities?”

Now the faces of the glazed and bemused take on a look of concern. It’s not unusual for someone to raise a hand at this point and say the conversation is uncomfortable.

Those with the look of concern often know what is going on outside their companies. They have simply been choosing to ignore modern reality and hope that they are somehow immune to global forces simply because their company is “doing well.”

That attitude needs to change.

Allow me to offer some of my own perspective on the importance of individual readiness in today’s global economy.

Today, many Americans are experiencing what was once only the prospect of a future filled with economic and employment uncertainty. Most of these people hope things will change. That is a fruitless approach to the challenge.

We all, employers and employees alike, need to get clear on the truth. The global economy can indeed impact us directly and without notice with potentially negative economic consequences.

This knowledge, while not happy, will be easier to adapt to if we choose a posture that places us in charge of the changes we need to make, rather than be victimized by circumstances beyond our control.

A few guidelines might prove helpful. They may not relieve your anxiety completely, but a little anxiety is probably healthy in that it keeps us awake.

Declare full responsibility for your own economic future. It’s time to give up the flawed belief that if you just do a good job everything will work out. That was never true. Only fluky global circumstances made it seem so.

Get over the idea that you deserve anything. Americans have an unrealistic sense of entitlement about everything economic. Here’s what you deserve: whatever you have, now—that’s it!

Commit to a personal financial plan that can carry you for at least six months in the event of an unanticipated loss of employment. Yes, this means you are going to have to make some tough choices. You might have to switch from double lattes to a large drip at your local coffee shop, or even make your own coffee at home and carry a thermos. Remember those?

You might have to stop eating out regularly and instead reserve restaurants for special occasions. Given the alternative, these seem small prices to pay.

Lengthy periods of economic stability in this country have given many of us permission to be financially irresponsible. It’s time to get responsible for living in an unpredictable world.

Interview for alternative employment opportunities at least once a year, if not every six months. The way the world is changing now, it is impossible for either you or your employer to predict with any certainty just how stable your position is. Believe it or not, knowing your market value may make you a better employee, as well.

Once you are realistically confident that everything can work out for you, there is a greater chance that your engagement at work will increase. This suggestion makes employers queasy, but come on, real is real.

Caution: This practice might also mean taking an unpopular course of action such as leaving your current employment or forcing tough conversations with your employer about workplace satisfaction and your roles and responsibilities.

Know what you are like to work with. Interview those around you: managers, peers, direct reports, if you have them. Find out if people are getting what they need from you. Find out what they count on you for.

Find out whether you have habits that some find difficult to deal with, and commit to making adjustments where it makes good sense.

Understand your talents as well as your skills. Skills are transient in a world where new knowledge is being created daily. Talents are much more important in the long term than skills. It’s your talents that enable the level of skill you’ve attained.

This is by no means a complete list of actions you can take to develop a personal financial disaster plan. The most important takeaway is that you can choose to not be victimized by circumstances.

This awareness alone will launch you on to a more secure path. Realizing that you can choose to be the author of your own future will make more difference than all the tips I can offer.

Mike Cook is a management developer who lives in Anacortes, Wash. His columns appear on every other Tuesday. He also publishes a weekly blog at


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