I wish that was a rhetorical question and I was about to propose an answer. Sadly I’m not. At best we have an illusion of permanence, but our business lives can change in an instant. Usually without us being involved in the decision!
There are the obvious examples. The other cast and crew on Rosanne had their livelihood jerked out from below, through no fault of their own.
The production crew on Parts Unknown who face a very uncertain future, as do many at Zero Point Zero Productions.
One acquaintance lost business and home in quick succession and has left LA. Another had a decent, well paying job at a major studio until downsizing eliminated the position. An unfortunate bout of ill health without the cover of employer insurance, and within 2 years he was effectively homeless. Another laid off from another studio job is finding a home for their many talents and abilities.
How do we prepare?
Don’t expect permanence
That regular client that provides much of your freelance work, could move on to another company and no longer be in a position to pass work your way. A production company could lose a show or it comes to the end of its run, and they downsize the crew on that show.
There is no job that’s permanent. There’s no business relationship that will be permanent. Accepting the impermanence is the first step to surviving it.
Classically we’d be told to have 2-4 months living expenses “in the bank,” but that’s not easy in LA. Certainly when Apple previewed FCP X in Feb 2011, it immediately killed half our income and we were living month to month. Obviously be as prepared financially as you can be, but the chances are very, very good in our changing environments, that the career you had may simply not exist any more.
In the same way that 12 years of hard earned Final Cut Pro 1-7 knowledge, on which we had built our entire income at that time, became useless after NAB 2011 and the preview of Final Cut Pro X. There wasn’t time to build more software for FCP X and there was no XML to use any way. Meanwhile rent was still falling due every month.
We rolled with the punches. Thanks to a one week advance preview of FCP X I was able to write Understanding the Metadata Foundations of FCP X in time to have it ready for the release of FCP X and we made rent. Within three weeks of FCP X’s release we had Event Manager X to fill a lacking in the first release of FCP X. (That app became unnecessary with the release of 10.2 and we rolled on to other opportunities.)
In every unexpected twist, there is opportunity. That’s the core idea I hold true to. Through a lot of failure and lack of success, as I wrote in 2009’s What is the role of “failure” in innovation? At each pivot we took what we’d learnt and worked out what we could do to keep earning a living.
We survive the unpredictable by assuming we will have to change, and when we do, making creative choices that will give us a new freshness to our work lives. One of the technologist I respect highly in my early days as a member of the Media 100 online community was Craig Birkmaier. After the economic decline of 2000-2002 his consulting business declined to non viability.
Today, he is an incredibly talented brewer in Gainesville. Roll with the punches, and jump up into new opportunities.