Things can happen in a blink of an eye and what was once a normal day can turn into a very bad day. You could be sitting there one day working hard as you always do, then 30 minutes later carrying your belongings to the car with no job or no clue what to do next.
In my short career, this has happened to me twice, and it never gets any easier, especially with a wife and three kids at the house. Luckily with a background as mine (I teach, freelance, write, and CAD full time), finding a job was quick and "almost painless." But for many, they are not not so lucky! To this, I say: "Stay Sharp my Friends".
What do I mean by that....? Well for one, no matter how valuable you think you are to a company or that you cannot be replaced....guess what....you can. Make one wrong move, and you are as good as gone. You need to not only work hard no matter what you do, but you also need to stay sharp and keep gaining new skills and knowledge.
Invest in yourself, simply put. Take any and all training that becomes available that applies to your career. I am not saying if you are a mechanical designer that you need to go take an art class because its there to take. What I mean is if you have the opportunity to advance yourself with training, seminars, certificates, learning a new software...DO IT. Every penny that you invest in YOURSELF is a penny well spent.
Pick up some freelance work. I have had the opportunity to work in so many areas of industry from furniture and home furnishings, cell phone towers, electrical PCB components, water/ice vending, gaskets, cell phone accessories, ghostwriting, and the list goes on and on. All of that was made possible because of my freelancing work. The first question I was asked in my latest interview was "Scott, do you know sheet metal design?" I followed that up by flipping my portfolio to a 7 page manufacturing drawing of a complex sheet metal assembly that I had created for the water/ice vending industry last year! Freelancing will keep your skills sharp, force you to learn new ones, get out of your comfort zone, and lastly; gain you some awesome connections.
Keep that resume beefed up. You may not see the fruits of your labor immediately, but trust me, it will pay off. All of it will come into play when you are faced with life's storms and have to find a new job or you just need a change of pace and go looking for a new job. Look back above, it took a year for the fruits of my sheet metal project to ripen. Every new skill you learn, every new class you take, every new certificate you earn, you get to put that on your resume and watch your worth go up!
Self Motivate and Self Teach. This holds especially true in the engineering and design world. You cannot learn everything from a book or a class. You will have to take the initiative to learn new things and tread new ground. Take for instance frame design. Out of college, I knew nothing of frame design or how to even properly utilize it in CAD. With a new client for Scott Lester Drafting & Design, I was forced to learn it and learn it quickly if I wanted to be paid! I set out and looked on the forums, asked questions, watched Youtube videos (the best teacher ever), done tutorials, and quickly became fairly familiar with frame design using CAD. Within a few hours time, I was able to take that project and complete it and be paid for a job well done. Now I may have taken a loss on that first job since I had to learn it all, BUT every frame design project thereafter is nothing but pure profit my friends. So again, I say you need to self motivate and self teach because no one is going to hold your hand and make you do it.
Don't settle for the Status Quo. If you are happy working your 8 hours, earning that guaranteed paycheck and benefits and going home at the end of the day, more power to you. But in order to invest in yourself, you cannot settle for the status quo. You must be willing to learn more and do more! Hey I am all for making a living, but what you to do make your living should be fun, challenging and exhilarating. You can make it that way by not settling and doing more for yourself.
I teach drafting & design at a local community college. Nothing makes me happier than getting off of working 8 hours, driving an hour and teaching for 3 more hours.....I am being serious. I absolutely love passing on the information and knowledge that I have learned on to fresh minds. By the end of a long 12 hour day; at the end of that class, I should be exhausted..but I am not---teaching CAD wires me up!
Stay Sharp. This entire blog article can be summed up with those two words really; it's that simple. Just stay sharp and see where it takes you in life and your career. Invest in yourself and reap the dividends.