Just a few months ago I was talking to a new flight attendant about her job. I remarked at what a stable job it was, since people always need to fly, they have strong unions, and the airlines are big. Now she’s waiting to be furloughed once the conditions of the bailout money allow it. Luckily she has a very stable financial situation and life, so being furloughed won’t have a huge effect on her, except for putting her career on pause.
Life is full of people chasing the ghosts of things that used to exist. Just look at those who want things to be like they were in the 50s. One such ghost is a stable job. There are relative degrees of stability, and I’m sure there are some jobs that are still mostly stable, but the average job in the US these days is not stable. If you value stability there’s nothing wrong with looking for the most stable job you can find, but you must accept that it may disappear.
Before you join the ranks of those who want to go back to the 50s, think about what this loss of stability has given us. Now we have way more flexibility and the ability to create our own jobs through entrepreneurship or gig working. It’s not good or bad, it’s just different.
Most people build lives around the presupposition of a stable job. They save very little money and think of their salary as monthly credits which they can use to pay off financing for whatever it is they want to buy. This works pretty well as long as they keep their job, because it’s a very easy formula (money in = money out) and it allows them to maximize their immediate pleasure.
What happens when they lose their job? Well, about 1/3 of my state, Nevada, is finding out right now. I believe that people are resilient and will figure out how to survive, but there’s no denying the stress of the situation.
You can’t control the stability of your job, but you can control the stability of many other factors in your life. Relying on a stable job creates a single point of failure, but creating a stable life affords you resiliency and flexibility.
My cruise business, CruiseSheet, is my biggest source of income and was affected dramatically due to COVID-19. Not only did sales drop to zero, everyone canceled their cruises, so my income looked like someone just added a negative sign before the usual number. It’s not accurate to say that I don’t care, because I like my business and want for it to succeed, but I didn’t worry for even a moment.
If you have good enough shocks, you can’t feel bumps in the road. You might still try to avoid them, but when you hit them you barely notice. Having a stable life creates big shocks.
So how do you create a stable life? First, minimize your housing costs. Housing costs are the least flexible costs that most people have and they’re also generally the largest. Way too many people live in expensive cities. Did you know that you can buy a fixer-upper 5 bedroom mansion for under $100k in many areas of the country? There are plenty of places where you can rent an apartment for $500 or so a month. People feel entitled to live in expensive cities, and while you’re certainly entitled to try, it doesn’t mean that it’s a smart thing to do.
When you expand your search area beyond the five most popular cities in the US you drastically expand your options. It takes a little more searching and research to figure out where is a good fit, but I suspect that most people could find a city that would suit them better than a top five city. If you live there for a year or two and don’t love it, great. You saved thousands of dollars and will have an easier time in your next place. And if you do like it, you might be able to buy a house in cash within a few years and never pay for housing again. How’s that for flexible?
My house in Las Vegas literally cost about 1/40th of what it would cost in San Francisco. At the time I would have certainly preferred to be in SF, but I could easily recognize that it wasn’t 40x better than Las Vegas. Now that I’ve gotten to know the city I wouldn’t move back even if the price was exactly the same.
Beyond housing, don’t finance things. Pay cash or go without unless it’s an absolute necessity. Build up savings, not because you know what you want to spend it on some day, but because you don’t. Just like those car shocks, flexibility is stability.
Finances are a large part of stability, but they aren’t everything. Create emotional stability so that you can weather storms and be happy no matter what happens. Create a stable friend circle so that you have people to turn to if you need to. Learn an array of valuable skills so that if your industry dies you can move to a different one. Learn skills like writing and social skills which will help you in many areas. Always improve your health so that you can be at your best and avoid medical bills.
Create a life where it doesn’t matter if your job is stable or not. A litmus test could be whether or not you could live the exact same life for a year if you had to spend the whole year job searching. That sounds out of reach for most people, but that’s only because most people have created precarious lives. Spend the next five years creating a stable life that can weather any storm, and enjoy the benefits of it for the rest of your life.
Photo is a from a hike in Zion last week. It felt amazing to be out in nature and moving around a bit.