One day, a coaching client asked me if she was crazy to be going out on her own, pushing herself towards the goal of earning a living through her art form and foregoing atypical employment. I told her that I had an answer and that she wasn’t going to like it. She thought that I would go with the standard, “suck it up, cupcake”, (her words, not mine) but I told her that what I had to say was much different and probably much, MUCH scarier. Her question was really about letting go of the safety net that is a “real job” and the answer that I gave her was… that safety net is a myth.

Your job is likely far less stable than you really think. Consider your industry, company turnover rates, the shift to overseas labor and any number of details and you’ll start to realize that there is really nothing stopping you from losing your job, or your benefits, or something similar IMMEDIATELY. Let me tell you about the two times I was VERY sure about my job.

The first time I was very sure about my job, I was a manager and trainer at a call center. At one point we were THE largest private sector employer in Nova Scotia and I was pretty sure that we could ride out anything. But over the years, we worked our way through the labor pool, until we were sort of working with the lowest common denominators and then missed target after target until all but a few managers, who now manage work from home teams from OUTSIDE Nova Scotia, were left. That’s the long game. People sort of saw that coming. But here’s what they DIDN’T see coming. Let me tell you about the worst day I ever had at work.

One day I arrived to work and was pulled into my managers’ office. They let me know that our company was dramatically cutting health care packages and eliminating a long-standing retirement plan savings-matching program. Because I was well known at the center, had worked multiple departments, had a background in teaching, leading and training and was GENERALLY, (I think), well liked, my job…was to tell everyone. For two consecutive days my job was to stand in a room while they marched in 15-20 employees at a time and tell them that this was the best thing in the world and that it kept us competitive and stable and able to stay in business (which as we now know was a farce). I would tell 15-20 employees, some of who expected to retire and live off their retirement plan with the company, that that was all gone away. They would get mad. I would tell them everything was going to be fine and then we would send them back to work. I’d get a 5 minute breather and then they’d send in the next group. All day. For two days.

What I learned over those two days is that your situation can change like THAT. These employees went from a situation of perceived stability to desolation in a matter of 10 minutes. THAT is how quick your job can change. I have a friend who works for a bank that is closing their office operations in Atlantic Canada shortly but they told everyone that it would be slow, they’d be given warning, people would get packages, etc. Later that day, they got a call from an actual branch out west and were told that the company had come in, removed the ATM from the lobby and told them they were closed, immediately. There is no such thing as job security, even when you think things are unsecurely secure.

In the case of that job, I knew that things weren’t great. Agents weren’t performing, the client wasn’t happy and I think most of us in the know realized that it was only a matter of time. So, I know what you’re thinking. “Not at my job. Things are going really well at my job.” Let me tell you that second story.

I used to be an assistant manager at a long standing, well performing computer shop. We were THE option for Apple retail and service in Atlantic Canada…and then Apple opened up shop. It was fine. Our owner decided to keep the shop open and forge ahead. There were still a lot of options still for us, with a good location, a strong business clientele and a bit of a niche market. We were going to make a go of it. Our manager was moving out west with his family and told me that I was up next. He told me that the owner was coming into town to take me out to dinner and the plan was that I would be the new store manager.

We went to Q for supper (a restaurant that interestingly enough closed shortly after we ate there) and as we settled into a delicious chicken and rib dinner with Alabama sauce, the owner told me that he was closing the store. Now, he offered me an opportunity in an organization that grew from that closing which never panned out (the people he chose to partner with were bad news) but imagine it. You walk into a dinner meeting all but assured a significant raise, a change in responsibilities and a chance to really grow your career and you’re told that it’s all over. The lesson in these two tales is that feast or famine, death can occur almost instantaneously.

This is not a sad story. This is a realistic story. There is no certainty in your work life. None. Zero. Everything could come crashing to a halt at any moment. What this does is frees people from the shackles of presumed dependence. People don’t start businesses because of the uncertainty. They stick out their jobs because it’s secure. But if you knew that things could change that quickly, what would you do differently?