What does success look like? At the high end, it might be vacation homes and luxury cars. But when it comes to a comfortable, middle-class life, 86% of Americans say it’s about having a secure job. Unfortunately, since nearly 40% of Americans will be freelancers by the end of this decade, according to an Intuit study, “job security” is no longer the right metric.

In fact, it might even be deleterious. In 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that US workers had an average job tenure of 4.6 years – up from 3.5 years in 1983. According to economists, that’s because in times of less opportunity recession-scarred workers held tightly to the jobs they had, whether they were a good fit or not.

Meanwhile, the “safe bets” of the past are slipping away. Starting salaries for lawyers have declined by 13% since 2008, and it’s no wonder. Many basic tasks handled by lawyers, such as incorporating a business or creating a will (each of which can earn an attorney around $1,000), are now available for a fraction of the cost from DIY legal site LegalZoom. Even monopoly businesses long protected by government regulation, such as taxis, are falling prey to start-ups like Uber and Lyft. Taxi medallion prices are plummeting around the country, as the New York Times reports, declining 17% in New York City and Chicago, and at least 20% in Boston.

We can’t predict with certainty which businesses will fail or which industries will be disrupted next (after all, Blockbuster, Borders and Circuit City all had long and impressive reigns). But as author Jacob Morgan told me when I interviewed him for my Forbes blog, there’s a critical difference between job security, which is now obsolete, and job stability, which is the ability to make a living in your field through various means. Monopolies are disintegrating and middlemen are being cut out. But with a few key shifts, it’s possible to create job stability for yourself.

  1. Don’t look to past markers of professional achievement. As I’ve blogged about previously, success will look very different by 2020. Instead of seeking validation from the metrics we were raised to value, such as a college education and steady job, we need to recognize that the world is changing. The most successful people will be those who embrace the transition rather than cling to less desirable “safe” jobs that dangle a 401K wage packet and health insurance.
  1. Embrace professional development. Some researchers estimate that 65% of today’s primary schoolers will work in jobs that haven’t been invented yet. It’s a serious mistake to leave our professional development up to our companies. From 2011-14, corporate training budgets increased substantially – a positive economic bellwether. But they were sliced in 2008 and 2009, and are usually the first to go when the economy becomes weak. We need to keep learning and improving all the time, not just when our companies feel secure enough to invest. Taking free MOOC courses or purchasing low-cost online training from providers such as Udemy or CreativeLive can supplement the in-depth executive education courses a company might pay for.
  1. Embrace the future. Without job security, there’s definitely risk – but also opportunity. What if you didn’t own a home (once viewed as an essential marker of middle-class living, but rapidly declining in importance)? The possibility of living anywhere or moving between short-term rentals opens up entirely new possibilities. What if you worked for yourself and could stagger your engagements to maximize vacation travel or time with your family? Instead of relying on someone else’s nine-to-five schedule, you could binge on work and then take time off when you wanted it. Or you could simply choose to work when you’re most productive, be it three in the morning or three in the afternoon. Without the old rules, new ways of doing business are possible – if we’re open to them.

More on jobs and careers
Do you need a new job for a new career?
The best thing you can do for your prospects
How successful people stay calm
Can you lead the life you want?

Author: Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist who teaches for Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and IE Business School in Madrid. She is the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future and the forthcoming Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It.

Image: A businessman walks through the Tokyo International Forum in a banking district in central Tokyo November 27, 2014. REUTERS/Thomas Peter