The McDonalds in my town is going to close down for several months. During that time, they are going to tear down the current restaurant and build a new one. The man who owns the McDonalds has another one in a nearby town and he did something similar there a few years ago. Still, it seems like quite a leap of faith to shut down your successful business and the cash flow for a few months in order to be able to serve more customers in the future.
When the iPod Mini was at the peak of its popularity, Apple stopped making it and instead switched to the flash-based iPod Nano. On one hand, it didn’t make sense. They had a successful product that had increasing demand, but they stopped making it and decided to make something else. On the other hand, it allowed them to get the necessary scale to drive the price of flash memory down so they could use it in more devices. Today, many of their laptops use flash memory instead of mechanical hard drives.
Sometimes that is just what it takes to succeed. You have to stop what is working well now in order to prepare for what you need to do in the future.
Michigan has a relatively low percentage of people who attend college. I didn’t understand why until I lived there for a while and realized just how much people were able to make working union jobs for the automobile plants. Pursuing education after high school doesn’t seem quite as attractive when you can start at a pretty high-paying job without needing to invest much in schooling.
However, as time went on and more of the high-paying jobs left or were automated, many people found themselves with a skill set where there was no longer any demand.
When I drove by McDonalds today, I thought of the people I knew in Michigan who were struggling to find work. They had gotten too comfortable with the way things were to prepare for the way things would be in the future. When the future came, they weren’t ready to change with it.
So here is the question. Do you need to make a change in your career like McDonalds is making to their building? You may not need to quit your job for 6 months to “build” a new career, but you certainly should be preparing for changes that you see coming. Here are four tips on how to do that:
1. Don’t Stagnate
You have to be careful not to get too comfortable with your current job. If you haven’t done anything new in the last 3 months, you should start really re-assessing where you are going to be in 5 years. You might be fine as long as the job continues, but what happens when you need to look for a different job?
2. Watch For Trends
I heard the story of a millionaire who died, leaving his fortune to his family but in a trust that only allowed it to be invested in streetcars. As the use of streetcars declined, so did his family’s income until they were eventually living in poverty. You want to be careful not to do the same thing with your career. Tying yourself to a particular skill set that is becoming less in-demand isn’t a good long-term strategy.
3. Keep Learning
For some people, this might mean quitting your job and going back to school to gain new skills, but there are ways to continue your education without quitting your current job. Many colleges have online degree programs where you can take classes on your own schedule in the evenings and on weekends. The average American watches about 28 hours of television per week. That is more than enough time to go back to school while keeping your current job.
Also, look for educational opportunities outside of formal education. Company training and the experience of taking on new responsibilities are valuable ways to acquire new skills and strengthen the foundation of your career.
4. Think Of Value Beyond Your Paycheck
It is easy to get so focused on the dollar amount of your payroll check that you lose sight of other benefits your job can provide. The job that lets you acquire the skills and friends you need to advance your career may not be the one that has the highest starting salary. I once took a 40% pay cut to go to a different job because it was going to give me management experience, a large educational stipend, and a flexible schedule to work on a second master’s degree. Over the past 10 years, the value of those things have far exceeded the pay cut I took to get them.
There you have it. Four things to consider when it comes to the long term viability of your career. Maybe you don’t need to be like McDonalds or Apple and kill off something profitable to make way for the new. But everyone can benefit from remembering the story about the streetcar millionaire and making sure your career isn’t tied to skills that are going to be in less demand in the future.