Your Career is an Illusion; What the Government Shutdown Should Really be Teaching Us.


I don’t often talk about politics. Not because I’m worried about potentially offending someone or because I’m concerned about having a different point of view than my friends, family or clients.

I mostly keep away from politics because I don’t usually feel educated enough on various topics to plant my stake in the ground and enter the dicey world of political arguments. I just don't want to go there.

However, there are some things I know for sure and one of those things is that the most important issue at the center of this government shutdown is not a border wall, whether it should be concrete or steel, border security or which political party wants what.

The most important topic is the fact that a large percentage of the 800,000 people that did not receive a paycheck, as a result of the shut down, almost immediately found themselves in a serious financial emergency.

I’m not talking about whether or not it is appropriate to withhold America’s government workers from being paid, although in my opinion that is a disgraceful tactic that both sides should be ashamed of.

I’m talking about the fact that workers thinking that they have stable government jobs is an illusion. In fact, your “stable” career is an illusion too, and so is mine. The problem is not the government shutdown or that people aren’t getting paid, the problem is that the majority of Americans are not prepared for a financial or career crisis of any kind.

In a recent survey conducted by GOBankingRates, it was concluded that 58% of Americans have less than $1,000 saved. And 32% percent of respondents said they have nothing saved at all, zero dollars available for an emergency.

This is the real crisis that should be making Americans sick.

How much do you have saved? Are you one of the 58% people out there that are living paycheck to paycheck? If your salary all of a sudden stopped this week and no paycheck was deposited into your account of Friday, what type of situation would you be in? How long could you live on the savings that you currently have?

Money Magazine reports that 61% of Americans will have lost a job for more than 1 year by the time they are 70 years old. While the statistics fluctuate year to year, we can assume that roughly half of us will experience the same kind of financial and career stress that our 800,000 government workers have recently felt, at some time in our lives.

Your career is an illusion.

Even high income earners with seemingly stable jobs need to be financially, mentally and professionally prepared for a shutdown, lay off, or termination. If you’re thinking the odds of losing a job aren’t going to apply to you, then what about missing work due to injury or illness?

A person who is 20 years old today has a 1 in 4 chance of experiencing a long term disability (6 or more months) in their working life time, and 6% of all workers will experience a short term disability (less than 6 months).

I’m not trying to scare you - this is a harsh reality that we all need to understand.

I was laid off from a job once. I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t have enough money saved. Despite making a great salary and working for a growing company, I wasn’t offered a fabulous severance package. I was one of those 58% of Americans that was screwed at the news of no job.

I’m scrappy, resourceful and determined, and I was employed 6 weeks later with an even better salary at an even better company. I got lucky.

As I grew in  my HR career, I unfortunately had to sit on the other side of the table during many of those same lay-off conversations. There are memories ingrained in my mind of colleagues in tears over the news that they had lost their jobs. Of people stammering about how unprepared they are to be unemployed, how they’re in debt, or have a huge mortgage, kids in college, a new car payment, or no savings to fall back on. It was heartbreaking for all involved.

So why aren’t our leaders more concerned about the millions of Americans that are living paycheck to paycheck, that don’t have anything saved for an emergency and don't even realize that they’re at risk?

These seem to me to be the issues that really matter, or at least matter just as much as any other issue that politicians are talking about these days.

I wish there was more taught in schools about career and financial preparedness, I wish that more young professionals saw career growth, debt free living, spending less than you make, and having a large emergency fund, as aspirational or enviable.

I know that through my own financial and career failures I’ve completely change my perspective on what’s important and what I define as success.  That includes being completely debt free, house and everything, having a large emergency fund in the bank and living beneath my means - all so that I can enjoy the security and freedom of knowing we’ll be ok, no matter what.

This is often the cross roads where I find many of my clients to be. In search of that same career and financial freedom that I was once seeking. People who have been laid off or have become sick of their current work situation. People that want more and aren't sure how to go about getting it. Talking through financial goals is a big part of crafting a career and life that you love. There is nothing worse than wanting to enter a new career field or start your own business, but feeling like you can’t… because of money.

Don’t think that having a good career or a high paying job is your ticket to stability, it’s not. Your career is an illusion of security. The income we earn at our jobs is a tool that we can use to build a secure and stable life for ourselves, but the job itself is nothing, and can be taken away at any moment. Just ask the government workers, or your friend or neighbor that was recently laid off.

What really allows us to be secure, free and living life with a sense of peace is getting your financial house in order. From there your career can be a joyful express of who you are and not the only thing keeping you from an empty bank account and collectors at your doorstep.

My wish for all of our futures is that our senior leaders in government, the private sector and education alike, begin to see the 58% of people living paycheck to paycheck as the crisis that it really is. More conversations about how to earn, save and live in a way that supports ourselves and our families, regardless of unexpected setbacks, for the long term is a much needed and long overdue conversation that needs to be had in America. Wouldn’t you agree?

Thanks for reading.