Some years ago, a friend busted out a saying that I’ll never forget: “He’s got one foot in the grave, and the other on a banana peel.” The phrase came from our talk about someone who, with the merest slip, would plunge into a situation from which there was a meager chance of recovery.
In February 2009, I had my slip. After working for three years with Macy’s Downtown Florida at one of the best jobs I ever had, The Great Recession had taken hold. Eight hundred jobs from the Florida headquarters of the famous retailer were distilled to just 100. A more dramatic version of our mass firing made the local news, and that was when I crafted the “Banana Peel Theory.”
It goes something like this:
Premise 1: Your foot is always on a banana peel
When you work for a company that you don’t own, you must always assume that you have one foot on a banana peel. This means you can’t afford to be so comfortable that you’re complacent and expect you’ll always get a paycheck. Assume you’re going to be let go at some point, and keep your eyes on other potential opportunities.
I used to scour the job boards of competing organizations just to see what positions were open. When I found something interesting, I would ask some friends if they knew anyone at the company because I wanted to learn more about a position.
Keeping my eyes open kept me ready in case of a downsize. And when my company announced their plans to make cuts, I solidified my plans to move on.
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Premise 2: It’s not about having a job; it’s about being able to get one
Many people assume that having a job means they’re employable. That’s incorrect. Having a job just means you are employed, which can change at any given time. Therefore, it makes sense to ensure that you are a desirable candidate if things fall through. This means keeping your resume current and assessing your skills. Thankfully, there were many free courses available, like Coursera, for me to brush up on current skills or even acquire new ones that would look good to potential employers.
In addition to that, I would look at the jobs on the market that were either comparable to mine or a step higher. I found some resumes for these positions and looked at their wording. One takeaway was how to judiciously quantify what you can. It’s helpful to say that you achieved x% growth for y brand by using z strategy, or something in this vein that’s appropriate to your field.
Premise 3: Always have a side hustle
During my time at Macy’s, I had a little e-commerce side business, where I sourced and sold products like jeans and makeup online — I made little money, but more importantly, it slowly built my entrepreneurial confidence.
Whatever side venture you’ve always wanted to try, do it. The trick is to put in the time to lay enough groundwork to set yourself up for success. Working a full-time job and then coming home to your hustle is hard, and you might be tempted to shrug it off. Even if it’s just an hour after you get home, this kind of discipline helps you to try new opportunities while earning a paycheck.
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Premise 4: Don’t wait for them to train you; you train you
Just before our severance was official, a soon-to-be-former coworker made a simple, brilliant point. He noticed many people were waiting on their company to pay for their professional certification courses instead of paying for them themselves. Sure, it’s great when the company invests in its employees, but self-learning opportunities for almost any niche skill are abundant and relatively inexpensive – if not free.
Online platforms like Coursera or EdX partner with universities to provide inexpensive classes in a variety of subjects, such as human resources, data science, or finance. With these sites, you can keep yourself trained and pay a nominal fee to earn certifications, which you can add to your work file or your LinkedIn profile.
Navigating any downturn requires a skill that many don’t have naturally and may not know how to acquire. The Banana Peel Theory lets you stay at least a half-step ahead and find your focus, regardless of how slippery it gets.
Originally published on June 14, 2021.