I recently had the privilege of interviewing the incredibly impressive Margaret Heffernan for my podcast. Over the course of her career, Heffernan has run five companies in the US and the UK, taught at the college level, written five books, and given multiple TED Talks.
In fact, Heffernan’s career is so impressive that it was hard to narrow my questions for her into a list that would fit in one podcast episode. As you can imagine, the interview was wonderful. The insights Heffernan shared haven’t left my mind since we spoke.
Heffernan describes herself as someone who has always done work that she’s loved. At times, she was paid well; at others, she made very little. No matter what, she was always happy in her work.
I asked her how she had been able to organize her career this way. She made two important points.
First, when a job wasn’t the right fit, Heffernan didn’t hesitate to walk away — even if she had only been there for a short period of time. As employees, we tend to stick around for a while out of some sense of artificial loyalty — but employers won’t hesitate to fire an employee who isn’t working out. Why stay in a job that isn’t working out for you?
When Heffernan found herself in a dissatisfying role or company, she looked for another job that would be a better fit. This must have been a tough decision at times, but I think we can all agree it is easier to succeed in an environment that truly supports us.
Heffernan’s second tip was gold — almost literally. She said she always kept enough “running away money” on hand.
I can’t tell you how happy this phrase makes me! Perhaps you know it by its more common name: an emergency fund. Such funds are typically enough to get you through 6-12 months of living expenses.
Having a financial safety net like Heffernan’s running away money gives you choices. It allows you to walk away if you really need to. You won’t be stuck with an employer that doesn’t support you simply because you need the money.
Just having the running away money doesn’t mean you actually need to run away. In fact, it can give you the very confidence boost you need to really thrive at work. You know you’ll be okay, even if everything else falls apart. That added confidence alone may be enough to make work bearable after all.
A version of this article originally appeared on Copeland Coaching.
Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at her firm, Copeland Coaching.