Do you ever find yourself thinking, “If I can’t get this, then I guess I’ll have to do this.”
Where does that, “I guess,” lead you to?
Something that feels like settling?
The compromise that you don’t want to make?
Is it the one thing that you are trying to avoid?
When we think about what we want – a relationship, a career, the chance to volunteer in another country – it can be as scary as it is exciting. Because you might not be sure if you can ever get what you want. Maybe you don’t know how, or when it will happen. Maybe you just don’t want to be disappointed.
And so even if you’re all in on what you’re wishing for, you also plot out a Plan B. “Well, if I can’t get a job in the field I really want to be in, I can always work a different kind of job. At least that way I will still have money. I will still be able to pay the bills.”
“If I can’t have a relationship with someone who makes me happy, I can at least have a relationship with someone who likes me. Then at least I won’t be alone.”
“If I can’t volunteer overseas, I can always just volunteer somewhere closer to home, even though I’ve always seen myself helping others in another country.”
And for all intents and purposes, Plan Bs are good to have. It’s smart to think about what you might do if things don’t go exactly as planned, or if maybe once you get what you want you realize it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
But Plan Bs have a strange way of becoming the thing that we really don’t feel that excited about. They also have a funny way of becoming the lives that we end up living if we let panic set in, or if we set unrealistic deadlines around our plans.
Like starting to think that something has to happen by the time we reach a certain age. Or by making arbitrary timelines: “If I’m not working in my field within six months, I’m giving up.”
And yes, there are times when it makes sense to change course, or to reassess the reality of a goal.
But it doesn’t mean that you need to fall back on a Plan B that ends up being a major compromise to what you want, or how you want your life to be.
I’ve been majorly guilty of falling into this trap, and I’ve spent years trying to figure out where it comes from. Sometimes I wonder if it was because I watched my parents work so hard to save, always fearful of a worst-case scenario, afraid even to call in sick for work because they thought it would be held against them.
They were born during the Depression and grew up with constant reminders that there was never enough of anything to go around.
When I was younger, my dad used to try to temper my expectations about life. If I entered a contest, or applied for a job and he saw me getting excited, he would say, “Now don’t be disappointed if you don’t get it.”
It was well-intentioned. I knew he was trying to get to me to remember that things could turn out differently than expected, which isn’t a bad lesson to teach a young person.
But it also dampened my spirits sometimes. We never talked about what else could happen if things didn’t work out – what if there was a better job just around the corner? What if there was another contest to try for later?
Instead, we just left it at the possibility of a dead end, and that feeling of impending failure would hang in the air.
Sometimes I just wanted to experience a bit of optimism, a bit of hope. It took away my chance to simply have blind faith that something would work out.
Of course, I have my own fears and doubts and insecurities in myself that also kept me thinking, “What if things don’t go the way I want them to?”
And I made some really shitty Plan Bs along the way because I didn’t let myself explore other outcomes or options. And because I didn’t take the time to think of where else I might want to put my energy.
I’d let myself fall into that “all or nothing” mindset where I had started to believe that if I couldn’t have one thing I wanted, then I would have to have something far, far less.
And so what happened was I found myself living through several Plan Bs, with jobs, with relationships, even with little things, like shopping for new clothes: “If I can’t find this, then I’ll at least find something.”
But my Plan Bs were always the things I was trying to avoid. I wanted to avoid working in an office, so I became a writer and ended up working in an office anyway. Why?
Because I kept telling myself, “I don’t want to have just any other office job, but I know I can always get one if writing doesn’t work out.”
I built a Plan B out of what I didn’t really want at all.
Why didn’t I opt for bartending, or opening my own store, or saving up a year’s salary and traveling the world and then figuring things out whenever I came back, if I came back?
All of those things would have been anything but what I was trying to avoid. Really, the options were only as limited as I wanted to let myself believe, but I only let myself see two possible paths.
And because I set them as intentions, telling myself to either become a writer or an office worker, I inadvertently set both into motion. What we focus on is what we often become.
What if, as blogger Andréa Balt suggests, we didn’t make any Plan Bs, but only Plan As?
What if our list of dreams never includes compromise? What if we tell ourselves it’s okay if one dream doesn’t work out because we have an arsenal of other amazing possibilities lined up?
How would it feel to know that even if it crushed us to have to let go of a dream, that it didn’t mean falling back on something that we wanted to avoid altogether, but being open to something just as great as what we were saying goodbye to?
This is what it means to assume control over your life. This is what it means to recognize that your power is in the choices that you make, not in any opportunities that may or may not be provided to you.
This is saying that even if you hear the word “no” a hundred times from the world around you that you will always find a way to tell yourself “yes” to your own heartfelt directions. Besides, Plan Bs often take work to get to on their own.
You still have to apply for those jobs, go on those interviews. If you decide to volunteer locally instead of overseas, you’ll still be putting in time and energy into a cause, which of course can still be worthwhile, but if it’s not the work you want to be doing, then it can still feel misplaced, insincere.
So if you’ve got a Plan B in your back pocket and you know it’s not where you want to end up, take some time over the next week or two to figure out what would make for a better Plan A.
And then keep thinking of more and more, until you see that whatever happens, you’ll find a way to keep working towards the things you know you really want, and you’ll start to see that your safety net can be a lot more exciting than it might sound.
Want to figure out some new Plan As? Let’s work together.