How to take control of your career in times of uncertainty

So many of us have fears around what ‘might’ happen and how these uncertain times may impact your career or business. This is completely understandable, and in many ways inevitable as we navigate what’s happening around us.

Read how to safeguard your career, mindset and personal finances with these top tips from Skye Robertson, COO of Escape the City.

1. Identify your fears

So many of us are sitting with fears around what ‘might’ happen, which is completely understandable. The most useful thing you can do in this situation is to really understand what is at the root of your fear. Ask yourself – what is it that you’re worried might come to pass?

If you can identify what it is that you’re concerned about and the different scenarios that may occur, you can start to do something about it. At the very least, you can get yourself in a place where you know what you need to do if things start to shift in a negative way.

One way to tackle this is Tim Ferriss’ framework called ‘fear-setting‘. It’s pretty simple but very effective. His framework has three primary steps:

  1. Define: Actually naming these fears and what the worst-case scenarios might be.
  2. Prevent: Thinking about what you can do to prevent the worst-case from happening.
  3. Repair: Being creative and specific about how you’d repair things if your worst fears did come to fruition.

Naming your fears is the first step to conquering them. If you do this work, you can rest a bit easier knowing that you’re doing what you can do to prevent anything untoward happening, but also that if things do go wrong, that you have a plan.

Having a worst-case scenario plan is a really easy way of putting your mind at ease. Most of the time you don’t need to use that plan, but you’ll know that if you do, you’re prepared.

2. Get the basics in place

Like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it’s hard to think about much else if you feel financially insecure. There are 3 key things to think about here:

  • Look your finances in the face

Think about how much you need to feel more secure, is it 3 months salary? Is it 6 months worth of expenses in the bank? Identify what you need to feel stable if the worst comes to fruition.

I found out about the idea of a F*ck off fund a few years ago after reading this article and I think everyone should start to build one so that you have a financial buffer if your career or business is suffering and you need to make a change. Knowing where you are is key to being able to do anything about it.

2. You have 2 levers you can use when trying to build a financial safety net – you can either spend less or save more

Set yourself a goal, and think about what you can easily cut, or what you can do to earn some extra cash to get you closer to your goal. Tools like Monzo & Chip are great for helping you budget & save without thinking about it.

It’s worth really thinking about what matters to you the most. If you are going to say yes to building up some financial security, you’re going to have to say no to something else. Small things make a big difference, think about how you can make your assets (time, property, skills, networks) work a little bit harder for you during this time.

3. Build your support systems

The worst thing you can do in this situation is to keep quiet about any of your concerns. Reach out to friends, colleagues, family, who can support you if you’re feeling worried. Make time to talk to people who lift you up, make you feel positive and can provide proactive advice.

If you struggle to think of who those people might be, it is time to build some new networks via communities such as our own ‘Escape Rebels: Doing work that matters‘ Facebook group or reaching out to people conversing on social networks like Twitter.

dealing with career uncertainty

3. Plant some seeds

Future-proofing your career is all about being proactive, not waiting for the future to come to you. Three things to think about as you plant the seeds:

Assess your income portfolio:

Relying on one source of income is what most of us do, but it’s risky in that we’re putting our eggs all in one basket. Start thinking about your income portfolio as you would an investment portfolio:

  • Blue chips: Solid, consistent income generators ( for example, your full-time job)
  • Growth investments: Future blue chips
  • One-shots & long-shots: Quick cash but highly competitive (think freelancing sites like Fiverr)
  • New ventures & growth: Speculative, exciting long-term bets

Thinking in this way is a really good way to de-risk yourself and grow in the future. As you would balance a portfolio of investments, you have to spend time to balance the different levels for yourself.

Maybe you reach out to small businesses that are struggling right now. Your valuable support now might turn into something later when they are more financially secure.

The key to this is thinking differently about how you set yourself up, thinking a bit more like an entrepreneur about your career. This helps in two ways:

1) If you do lose your job: you already have irons in the fire that you can lean on or put more energy into to sustain yourself

2) you can use any extra income to build up your financial buffer: so that you’re more agile and aren’t blocked by your finances when you need to do something new. Need some ideas? Check out this article.

Start thinking like a supplier: 

Most of us are taught to think like customers, waiting for someone to provide us with work, education, opportunities, etc. Flip this thinking on its head, assess the skills you have, and proactively reach out to organisations you think you can help. This is a great way of planting seeds.

The key here is to focus on what you can help them with, the skills you can bring, and the problems you can help them to solve. It’s a great way of standing out and something that very very few people actually do.

It’s how you can build meaningful relationships! The key is to really take stock of what you can offer and backing yourself.

If you struggle to think of how you might be able to provide value, ask a friend what they think you’re really excellent at, and make a list of 10 organisations you think you can help in that way, and reach out to them. Be human, and as much as you can, think about how you can provide value for the organisation and help them with the problems they are facing.

career uncertainty

Build out your personal brand: 

We all have one, whether or not we actively craft it is another matter. If you Google yourself, whatever comes up, that’s your personal brand. So taking some time to think really carefully about what you want to come up when someone Googles you or finds you online, is always really important.

A lot of people have issues with the idea of a ‘personal brand’, but all it really is, is your narrative and how you’re represented in the world. If you’re not happy with what your online profiles say about it, take the time to define the narrative you want to come across. It’s key to planting the seeds you need to stay relevant and agile in a changing economy.

Build a personal website, take some time to work on your LinkedIn to make sure it’s reflective of your skillset & what you want to be doing. Make sure you have some evidence of things you say you can do on your CV and link to work on your Linkedin profile. This is how you’ll get discovered and the first thing people will look to when they’re trying to find out about you. In a busy and noisy world, you have to work harder to stand out. It doesn’t have to be flashy or egotistical, make it about what you care about and how you can help others in the world. 

doubt career

4. Build the skills of the future

In this time of uncertainty and an ever-changing world of work, we have to be proactive in our own learning and design our own learning plans. Sadly, no one else is going to do it for us!

When we think about upskilling ourselves, a lot of what I hear is a real emphasis on technical skills. They are important and it does depend on what it is that you’re hoping to do, but when you’re thinking about trying to build some new skills, keep in mind the 3 areas of skill development:

  • EQ (Emotional intelligence)
  • IQ (Tangible knowledge)
  • AQ (Your adaptability quotient)

When I’m thinking about what I need to learn and how I need to grow, I think of how I can balance each of these areas. Most of us think that if we get some tangible skills (IQ) then we’ll be all set.

The reality is that in the world we live in, the most in-demand skills tend to fall in the EQ & AQ categories, so they shouldn’t be neglected in any skill-building plans. See where your strengths are and where you think you could do with a boost and plan accordingly.

EQ skills you might want to build:

  • Self-management: Fundamental in the 21st Century. You can start with designing and managing your own learning plan.
  • Collaborative problem solving: This is consistently rated as one of the most valued skills by employers. To build it, start by choosing a problem that your company or a different company is facing and do a design sprint to try to come up with solutions. It’s all about practice, and if you can document it, even better.
  • Empathy / behavioural science: Check out Coglode for inspiration and insights. Understanding why others do what they do, and how to influence that, is an increasingly important skill to have in your toolkit.

IQ skills to focus on:

  • Marketing (both yourself & others): Check out these free online marketing classes from HubSpot, and practice by working on getting your own personal brand out there a bit more.
  • Creativity: Check out How to Become an Idea Machine for inspiration, creativity remains a crucial skill in the world of work. Whether you want to be a linchpin in your organisation, or start your own business, kickstarting your creativity and keeping it alight is key.
  • Tech: Learn how to build a basic landing page with NoCode tools, you don’t need to learn how to code unless you want to be a developer. Understanding how to do these things yourself will firstly liberate you from the idea that you need to know how to code to be valuable from a technical perspective, but it also sets you apart. Most people don’t take the time to figure out that this stuff isn’t actually very difficult. But it remains a skill that’s highly important in an increasingly technical world.

Some AQ skills to start with:

  • Get really good at learning: Take this course on learning how to learn, so that you can set yourself up for an uncertain future.
  • Getting financially fit: Read this for inspiration, advice and tips to help you be more adaptable when it comes to your finances.
  • Diversifying your income: Revisit the income portfolio advice in step 3 to make sure you’re actively working to create new opportunities for yourself. Building your financial adaptability really helps with your career adaptability as well. 
  • Resilience: Everyone thinks they’re resilient when things are going well. You find out how resilient you are when things start to go wrong, so taking the time when things are going well to build your resilience is really important. There will be more uncertainty and change, and your ability to deal with whatever comes along is a really valuable tool. This article gives a lot of advice as to how you can build it. Also, check out this online course to further build your resilience.

5. Design your own plan

Spend a few hours thinking about how you can future-proof your career. Use your fear-setting results from Step 1 to work out what needs to be included. Remember that any good plan is about being proactive, don’t make a plan and sit on it. Start taking steps forward to make sure you’re in the best position you can be.

1) Figure out your financial plan:

Figure out how much you need to save/earn to feel comfortable and secure in your position. It doesn’t need to be complicated and don’t be unrealistic. Take small steps and make manageable changes so that you are in the best position you can be.

2) Figure out your T-graph

One of the best things I’ve seen with regards to skill development and growth is the T-graph in growth marketing, where you identify the breadth of skills you need, and the ones you want to become really excellent at.

Draw up your own version of the T-graph so you can see where your gaps are and the things you’d like to go deep on learning. Remember that you should be trying to build skills that you inherently value, not the ones you think you ‘need’ to learn. People who like and enjoy what they do, tend to be more successful as they’re willing to put the time in to become excellent as whatever it is they do.

Spend time building skills that you enjoy and that you think are worthwhile.

3) Design your own learning plan:

Look at your T-Graph and set goals, deadlines and plans! Take ownership of your own learning and development, and use the abundance of free and inexpensive resources out there to build the skills you value.

Find the courses and advice you need to build your knowledge – I personally subscribe to Skillshare, use Creative Live.

You can learn anything, you just have to start where you are and be proactive. And, it should be fun! If you’re not having fun, you need to reassess the skills you’re trying to learn. If you don’t enjoy learning them, you’re probably not going to enjoy putting them to use!

At the end of the day, when you’re thinking about what is going on right now… My biggest piece of advice is, don’t panic.

Don’t focus too much on the things you have no control over, there will always be plenty of those, instead, focus on what you can control.

Use this time to develop your skills and plant the seeds so that you are able to adapt as the world changes. It’s a lot more fun, and a lot less stressful than watching the news!


Navigating your life and career is hard… but you don’t have to do it alone. If you need help with your career or entrepreneurial pursuits, consider:

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