There is a wonderful story about a middle-aged man who was suffering through more than his share of career upsets and financial woes. One night he experienced the most vivid dream of his life, he dreamed that God told him that he was going to win the lottery. He awoke refreshed, optimistic and ready to tackle all of his problems.

But when Wednesday came and the lottery numbers were drawn, our protagonist did not win. The Saturday drawing came and went, and again, he did not win. The same for the following Wednesday and again on Saturday, despite his recurring dream, our down-on-his luck executive did not win.

In the depth of despair, he prayed to God, asking why his divine dream that he was going to win the lottery was not fulfilled. “You promised me.”

Then the voice of God responded, “You have to help me out. You have to buy a ticket.” 

So ends the most important lesson for career management and, most especially, career transition.

The transformation of healthcare means that our old image of being a “layoff-proof” industry that was not subject to the vagaries of the economic twists and turns that affect other industries is not even remotely accurate and, truth be told, hasn’t been since the mid-1990s. Today these realities are just that more stark.

You cannot sit back and think that focusing on career management and strategic network development is for some chump that can’t hold a job for more than two years. You hold on to that fantasy at your own peril. The pressures will become more intense, the challenges more daunting. If you hope to successfully navigate these turbulent times, you will have to get serious about investing time in career management, you will have to “buy the ticket.”

So as you decide whether to get off your duff and begin doing what it takes to thrive in this challenging environment, let me offer these ideas. They are predicated on this: having a great job, a good income and strong performance evaluations are not necessarily a guarantee that you will escape the turmoil.

  1. Be lay-off ready. As I climbed the ranks of healthcare, I frequently heard the phrase, “Be JCHO-ready (Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals) every day.” Transfer that good idea to your career.
  2. Your performance counts. You can be a great networker and know how to expertly play the finding the next job game with great finesse but today performance counts more than ever. Mediocre performers will find it tough to compete for the best jobs. Because of increased competition, employers can now afford to be more discerning about who they hire.
  3. Your career brand matters. Even if you are a top performer financially speaking, being a jerk when it comes to dealing with people WILL limit the number and quality of job opportunities for which you will receive serious consideration. If you feel these are issues that are already affecting your career, I encourage you to read: “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” by Marshall Goldsmith,PhD, one of the nation’s leading executive coaches, and “The No Asshole Rule” by Stanford business school professor Robert I. Sutton, PhD.
  4. Be a good steward for your industry. One of the most common responses healthcare executives give when asked why they chose the field is this: I wanted to help people. Put your time and effort where your mouth is, extend a helping hand to young executives who are advancing in their career. Don’t pull the ladder up behind you when you achieve success. Give of your time to coaching and counseling the next generation of leaders. News of good deeds travels fast, and that kind of reputation — one that is real, not manufactured for the benefit of LinkedIn — will earn admiration and respect.

If you do not buy a lottery ticket, there is no way you can win.