F**k The Backup Plan

“There is no passion to be found in playing small—in settling for a life that is less than you are capable of living.” - Nelson Mandela

Want to be an artist, actor, writer, personal trainer, yoga instructor or entrepreneur? You will undoubtedly hear . . . “Don’t quit your day job.”

Ever notice the ones dishing out this advice are almost always the people who do not do any of these things for a living? They have typically chosen to be financially comfortable and stable instead of pursuing a dream that involved risk.

Arts Professor, Clara Lieu, at the Rhode Island School of Design says she sees people make these choices over and over again.  And she gets asked by students, all the time, if they should hedge their bets and choose more practical careers and degrees over the “less stable” arts.

Her advice: “No matter what happens, don’t live your life with a sense of regret… I would rather take the plunge and fall flat on my face, than live with that itch.”

Or die with it.  Regrets of actions not taken, dreams not pursued, are the #1 regret of the dying. You don’t want to die wondering, “What if?”

For those who don’t just all out reject their dreams for middle management and accounting, there is The Back up Plan -- a near infamous recommendation by those who don’t want to step on your dreams, but clearly don’t think you’re choosing the right path.

It’s likely that you heard it growing up. You said you wanted to do something creative for a living and someone told you to “have a backup plan.” Want to play violin?  Then get the education degree too.  Want to be an actor?  Then also go to trade school.

Here’s an interesting twist. As it turns out, prepping for Plan B is great advice if you never want to accomplish Plan A. According to the study, How backup plans can harm goal pursuit: The unexpected downside of being prepared for failure, thinking about or shifting focus to Plan B, cuts down on the effort you put toward Plan A.  

Scientific American did a survey of their own and found that, “ ...thinking through a backup plan actually makes you want to achieve your primary goal less, which then hurts your effort, performance, and ultimately, your chances of successfully achieving your goal.”

Well, shit. The fact of life, like it or not, is that if you don’t risk anything, you ultimately risk more.  Unfortunately, we can’t know if a risk will pay off, but we do know that avoiding risk and making fear-based decisions can ultimately limit our fulfillment.

The trick behind taking a risk with your life is realizing what is really at stake -- not much. Our fear of loss is often much more catastrophic than the reality. The notion of a “starving artist” is more likely an artist with a part-time bar-tending job. Once you identify what will actually be lost versus what will be gained in risk taking, the unmitigated fear can start to seem silly.

Yes, choosing a less stable dream or goal is risky, but when analyzing the true risk, simply keep the long term, high-up perspective in mind. You may fail, but you need to fail in order to learn, grow and have a fulfilling life because life is not a pass/ fail endeavor.

There will be failures and successes regardless. So why not experience them on the path you really want to walk instead of some arbitrary Plan B trail?

Rocky Lewis
Rocky Lewis