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Worried About Losing Your Job? Here’s Your Game Plan!

3 questions to ask when your career feels threatened

Illustration if hand carrying chalkboard in place of briefcase with sports plays written on them
Paul Spella/Getty Images

At the beginning of our careers, we wondered: What do I need to get ahead?

Today, in the middle of our careers, we wonder: What do I need to stay ahead?

Here’s the crazy thing: They’re really the same question. And they require the same approach.

Today, of course, we have something that our younger selves lacked. We have stature! Experience! We know what we’re good at, we’ve been rewarded for it, and we’d like to keep it that way. But the world has other plans. A recession, corporate reorgs, major industry shifts — our stability is under threat.

Just like our younger selves, we have no choice but to forge into the unknown. So how can we prepare? It’s simple: We ask ourselves three simple questions, and we take the answers very, very seriously.

1. What do I have?

2. What do I need?

3. What’s available?

This is a strategy I developed early in my career, as I grew from a small-town newspaper reporter into the editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine. Now, when I meet successful people who love their work, I often discover that they all asked themselves versions of these questions.

To see how it works, consider the story of Jay Yow.

Yow was an assistant in a New York City recording studio. But in 2016, he noticed something alarming: His boss was taking fewer and fewer meetings — and spending more and more time talking about photography. This worried Yow. Was his boss losing interest in the studio? And if so, would he be out of a job?

Yow didn’t want to wait for the answer. Instead, he asked himself those three questions:

What do I have? In this case, he had a job at a recording studio — which meant that he had a place to develop his skills as a studio engineer, and he had access to the studio’s clients.

What do I need? He needed stability and bigger opportunities. At the time, his future was tied to the studio — which meant that he was an assistant at his boss’s mercy. But if Yow could beef up his skills and present himself differently to clients, he might be able to find more work.

What’s available? This is the big one, and you must treat it realistically. This is not the time for fantasies or hypotheticals or what-ifs. It is the time for cold, hard reality: You need to identify the opportunities truly within your reach, even if they are not easy or convenient. What is truly, actually available to you?

In Yow’s case, the studio’s clients were available. He had developed good relationships with them, and he knew what their needs were. He made sure to foster those connections — and then, when the studio indeed closed a few months later, Yow reached out to many of them and offered a range of services. 

Instead of just being their recording assistant, he said, he could help them with recording, mixing, logistics and more.

“Before I knew it, I went from an audio engineer/assistant to full-fledged audio engineer/producer,” he told me. Eventually, one of Yow’s clients decided to hire him full-time — which is why he now lives in Atlanta and produces The James Altucher Show, one of the premier podcasts for entrepreneurs.

Here’s the most amazing thing about these three questions: They will always be relevant, no matter your age. 

What skills do we need next, or what opportunities do we need to develop? What feels like higher ground, so the tides of disruption rise above us? When we look at it like that, we know what we have. We also know what we need. And now, it’s time to figure out what’s available.