what desperation looks like

I am going to be laid off soon. I know that sounds terrible, but I’m prepared for it. We live within our means, I have an alternative income stream (and I’m working on more of them) and I am always looking to earn more than I spend. I work with a lot of consultants and terrified Wall Street employees who don’t think the same way – their terror is “being laid off.” Their reaction to an arbitrary mass layoff is to scramble to the next mega-employer who is just as likely to lay them off in the next round of downsizing as their previous employer was.

Island in the stream
photo credit: James Jordan

The same people who crave stability and the idea of “never being without a paycheck” are often in the most unstable positions – they just don’t realize it. They are so dependent on the next paycheck that they can’t begin to imagine even two or three weeks without a paycheck. There are other people who never anticipate a paycheck – they are always working on freelance gigs or alternative income. I’m somewhere in-between; I welcome the chance to work on my alternative income streams when my paychecks from clients run low. For me it’s a challenge, and I think it’s largely because I’m willing to think of life without a paycheck. Too many people think that life without a paycheck almost literally means death and despair.

Many of the employees around me are in total terror of a single week without a paycheck. Their expenses continue without pause and their income stops at the drop of a hat. I am much more comfortable knowing that some of my income will trickle on even when my consulting income stops, and far more comfortable knowing that I have a long-term plan of succeeding with my alternative income – something far too many of my colleagues don’t even admit is possible. Most are consumed with worrying about their IRAs and 401(k)s that they aren’t eligible to touch for years and years. Their time would be better spent worrying about what they can do to make more money on the side, NOW.

What all of these people fail to realize is that the instability they feel in uncertain times like these arises from their own lifestyle, and not from the government or the corporations or “the economy.” Learning how to build prosperity, not just surviving paycheck-to-paycheck, is a big first step. Learning to live within your means gives you a more stable life. Learning to think more about making money than saving money helps create stability. Creating alternate wealthstreams in your life gives you stability. Getting a paycheck twice a month doesn’t guarantee any sort of stability at all.

Desperation arises naturally when people face an unknown future with limited choices for action. Creating more choices for yourself is the best way to avoid desperation. Being an employee is a necessary evil for a lot of people (and there are still, believe it or not, people out there who love their jobs). Health care benefits are a big reason. The idea that being employed is “more stable” is hammered into many of us from school age. Even an entrepreneur can tie up too much of his or her wealth into one stream. The real answer to desperate times is to constantly look for ways to start new “wealthstreams.” Just as a chair with four legs is more stable than one with three, a person with multiple income sources is always going to be more stable than someone with only one income source – regardless of who makes more in total.

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27 comments

  • Brip, you seem to be railing on “regular paycheck” jobs in this post, but at the same time you've expressed how you're going to have to adjust now that your consulting gig is over.

    I agree that a lot of people are hooked into the “Security” of their jobs and live beyond their means, but someone like myself is simply hooked on stability. I can't travel somewhere if I don't know I have a reservation to sleep somewhere and so consulting would be tough for me. Not knowing that there is at least a little stability is tough for me. Sure, having a cushion with which to live off makes it easier, but some people just aren't wired for it and it doesn't necessarily mean that we're at the other extreme.

    You know?

    • WC, the point is that any “stable” job is just an illusion, it's NOT stable. YOu can get laid off any day, fired. I bet people at Lehman thought that had a stable job until they woke up one Monday morning and had NO job to go to, No boss to report to, No Human Resources to pick up checks from and nice apartment and nice car to be paid for. Poof, it's all gone overnight!

      BTW, I once traveled within Turkey without any hotel reservations or bus tickets till last minute. It was unsettling to my nature, to someone who loves to plan everything and hates any surprises. It turned out to be OK, no big deal. We were able to find cheap deals once we got to our destination. (I was single, though. If I had to do this while traveling with kids, I wouldn't take the risk). YOu see where I am going with it.

    • @WC: I'm a victim of the same paycheck mentality in a lot of ways – I've got one foot in and one out so far. My consulting is somewhat transitional – not quite an employee, not quite a solo practitioner/entrepreneur. And I'd certainly second the idea that some people aren't cut out to be entrepreneurs, just as some aren't cut out to be employees. I guess my only point would still be that you THINK you have stability in a job, but the real stability comes from having multiple sources of income, not a steady paycheck (although I guess you could argue that could be one of the sources).

  • I think I agree with your general point, Ine of the problems that most people have in developing new income streams is that if you have a full-time job, there are only so many hours in the day. And, not many income streams are truly passive – I wouldn't like to do my day job, and blog, and have rental properties for example. I'd struggle to leverage even a second paying website out of my current free time.

    • @plonkee: You've probably made one of the biggest arguments against full-time employment if you're looking for multiple income streams: it takes up a LOT of time to commute, work, etc. and then turn around and work on side projects. Trust me, I know, that's why I consider myself in transition – once I can replace 60-70% of my consulting income I'd leave my consulting gig, but making 60% “on the side” of what I make as a consultant is tough given the limited time. It's a bit of a catch-22, which is why I almost welcome these pauses between contracts.

  • Good post. One question, are you going to apply for unemployment insurance? I know several people who were laid off and were just too proud to take unemployment for a few months. They had had it drilled in their heads that it was “welfare” that when it came their turn to need a safety net they rejected it!

    I didn't know them well enough to ask, WHY?!?

    • @Chris: Absolutely I'll apply. I've been paying into the system my whole life, I hardly see why I should be embarrassed to take a little bit back out. I certainly don't have any qualms about that!

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  • mybossmybusiness

    “Their time would be better spent worrying about what they can do to make more money on the side, NOW.” I agree completely.

    But if you're going to try and make money on side, you need to try and make money on the side. What I mean by that is, as I say in my latest post: “If on Sunday night, you’re debating on whether to watch The Simpsons or work on your business, you need to get turned upside down! The correct answer is that there’s no debate, and the only TV you see is when you pass by Best Buy. It’s a balancing act. But life is choices. You need to make the choice.”

  • This sounds like a good opportunity for you to add another income stream by offering financial counseling to your desperate co-workers. It must be a very surreal environment to be in right now.

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  • can i wax philosophical? i think desperation arises when we think we can actually control anything beyond our actions. you are right that more choices is best, but as for whether it creates more stability is questionable. for some, too many choices is paralyzing.
    i think stability comes from knowing you have options because you haven't closed any doors, and you've expanded your mind to think in possibilities. it comes from *not* seeking stability, because seeking puts you in a constant state of worry. instead, i think true stability comes from having a mindset of trusting in your ability to turn seemingly bad situations into opportunities.
    but, i'm also an idealist who flirts dangerously with the law of attraction. so far so good, though!
    and thanks for the link! i got a nice reminder of what it means to have a “good job” this week, when my colleagues rallied around during a difficult (work) situation. having a supportive environment (at the peer-level, but also in the hierarchy) is more important than making more money. 🙂
    but, in 4 months, i'm leaving the cushy job to venture into places unknown. it's a wonderful opportunity, and yet another reminder of how i have it so good here – it would never have been within my reach if it weren't for the support here.

    • @deepali – certainly from a philosophical point of view, living in the moment and refusing to worry about stability, or lack of stability, or too many choices, or lack of choices, etc. would make anyone a happier person. It's not in most people's nature (not me, for sure)! I work on it, but I do have my blap moments…

  • It is very frightening to know that there is no such thing as stability anymore. And that not only one income, but possibly 2 incomes may not be enough to take care of a family these days. It's nice to hear you have extra income streams and I think it is important to try to save or come up with an extra income stream.

    Craig
    http://www.budgetpulse.com

    • There never was such a thing as stability. And a one income family forty or sixty years ago was likely to be living in a 900 square foot home heated with an oil furnace, with one telephone (if that), one TV (if that), no appliances other than a stove and refrigerator, homemade clothes, and the experience of dining out once a month (if that). If you wanted to live like that today, you could easily afford it on a single income.

  • Personally I feel that consulting is great business to get into. The problem is that it is by no means passive income nor is it scalable. I am unfortuneatly in a position where I have a steady paycheck I rely on and only one source of passive income. My ultimate goal in life is to not have to worry about looking for a full time job, and to have many streams of passive income. Will this happen? Only time will tell I guess.

  • This article really resonated with me, Brip Brap. I admit as an employee of a Fortune 500 company its scary as hell to think about being laid off. If it were happen to me tomorrow I would probably be in trouble. Given that, I have taken the steps to build up more short term savings and develop alternative income streams – as you discussed.

    One thing is for sure. Money = Freedom.

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  • Isn't it funny how creative we can get when faced with financial uncertainty? Being able to create side hustles, alternate income sources and additional money has always been a part of my life since becoming self employed. I'm very fortunate to do what I love and to be able to manage my fluctuating income.
    Who would have thought frugalism would be hip? (haha)
    Love your post!

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  • Great post. I am in a similar position as you are. I already got laid off. I should be ok for at least a year, which now gives me the opportunity to work on an income stream I have been developing over the past two years. Like you I was ready when I got laid off. During the past two years I have spent many hours (and lots of money) on this project in addition to a full-time job, commuting, 5 children – mom works -, and running a personal record in my most recent marathon.

  • You are right about the desperation part. When in Ghana, there were a couple of times (actually more than a couple) when we had to pay salaries late. The Ghanaians took it well. (we always explained). The Malaysians who were with us in Ghana, some of them went just short of beserk.

    It shows just how razor thin the income minus expenditure equation is for so many people.

    Hope your situation turns out ok.

    Regards

  • “What all of these people fail to realize is that the instability they feel in uncertain times like these arises from their own lifestyle, and not from the government or the corporations or 'the economy.'”

    Well, I do believe the deck is stacked against us. And I say that as someone who is financially well off and makes a living from her websites (aka multiple streams of income). 🙂

    If you haven't seen Chris Martenson's Crash Course, it is well worth the time it takes to watch. There's a reason it's harder to make ends meet today (and this will just get worse in the future), and it does indeed have a lot to do with the government and the banking system.

    http://www.chrismartenson.com/crashcourse

  • “What all of these people fail to realize is that the instability they feel in uncertain times like these arises from their own lifestyle, and not from the government or the corporations or 'the economy.'”

    Well, I do believe the deck is stacked against us. And I say that as someone who is financially well off and makes a living from her websites (aka multiple streams of income). 🙂

    If you haven't seen Chris Martenson's Crash Course, it is well worth the time it takes to watch. There's a reason it's harder to make ends meet today (and this will just get worse in the future), and it does indeed have a lot to do with the government and the banking system.

    http://www.chrismartenson.com/crashcourse