This month, as the United States celebrates its national independence, I’ve been giving some thought to something I call professional independence.
professional independence: the feeling that you can do what you want to do for work, regardless of circumstances changing around you
The presumption, especially here in America, is that independence is not just good, it’s the ultimate goal. And while that may be the case for some people, it’s useful to resist labeling it as something categorically “good” or “bad”, and instead think about what level of independence each of us prefers to have in his professional life.
The independence scale
Independence is not a binary, yes/no, on/off proposition. There can be varying degrees of professional independence.
On one end of the professional independence scale you have the folks that I call professional preppers. They want to feel ready for any eventuality. They’ve considered any number of dire scenarios and know how they’d survive each of them.
Preppers feel equipped to transition if their company reorganizes, if they’re laid off, and even if the industry they’re currently in collapses. They’re well networked and can tell others about their transferable skills that would make them desirable in a number of other companies, environments, industries.
Preppers have Plans B, C, and D ready to execute. They may even be ready to start their own business, should the right set of dire circumstances present themselves.
Then on the other end you have the folks who have never given any thought to the idea that their work circumstances could change. I call them professional chillers. They’re content with what they’re doing and what they’re earning, but should a situation arise that would require them to do something different, they’ll think about it from scratch at that time.
Are you a Prepper or a Chiller?
Most of us are somewhere in between, right? It may seem like we should all want to be at the prepper end of the scale, where we’re 100% ready to go do something else for work. Fully professionally independent. But, it really depends on how you want to go about your professional and personal life.
For those who are very risk averse and detail oriented, it would seem that the prepper end might be right for them. For those who like to “go with the flow” and enjoy the present moment, they might be absolutely comfortable on the chiller side.
The question to ask yourself is:
Am I as prepared as I want to be in case my current work circumstances change?
Answering this question for yourself requires:
- Knowing how prepared you actually are to pursue different work
- Being aware of your desired state of professional independence
Here are some additional questions to help you increase awareness and determine your desired state of professional independence:
- If things change around me, how dependent am I right now on those things?
- Am I OK with my current level of dependence?
- If things change, will I survive smoothly, or will my life be turned completely upside down?
- How well can I communicate my marketable, transferable skills?
- How well networked am I?
- Does not having a plan cause me stress?
- Does thinking about it too much cause me stress?
There are no right answers here. Just food for thought.
The Advisable “Plan B”
While professional preppers have their Plans B, C, and D ready to implement, most of us would do well to just have a Plan B – not because it’s the “right” thing, but because it’s empowering.
Once you’ve thought through at least one thing you’d want to do if you weren’t working where you are now, you can then think to yourself:
“I can leave if I want to. I have a plan B. I’m here because I choose to be.”
Leaving or staying at your current job on your terms can be incredibly affirming and empowering. When you focus on your work situation in this way, you’re less likely to feel like the victim of circumstance.
And yes, if you end up needing to launch you escape pod to exit your current situation, you’ll be much more ready to go if you have that Plan B!
Ask yourself how ready you are to do something different, if you had to or wanted to. Are you comfortable with your state of professional independence? If not, how much more prepared do you want to be to do different work?