Making a plan

When it comes to planning and setting goals, is it wrong to have a “Plan B?”

I recently came across a post on LinkedIn featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger speaking about how much he hates the idea of a “Plan B.” Judging by the over 2,000 comments on the post made over a week’s time, people feel strongly about what he said. Thinking it over myself, I determined that the real answer to the question of whether it is right or wrong to have a “Plan B” is—

It depends.

Now hear me out. There is a big difference between making goals and making the plans that help you achieve those goals.

Goals represent the things you desire to accomplish and feel are worth doing. They are the things that, even if you fail at them, are the right thing to do. Thus, having a “Plan B” for a goal is clear a sign that you believe your goal is infeasible or not worth doing. Perhaps your goal is too ambiguous, too ambitious, or otherwise inappropriate. Whatever the case, it is not something you can believe in and commit to fully. If that’s true, then why should you bother trying to do it?

The existence of a “Plan B” goal means that your “Plan A” goal isn’t the right one to begin with. Scrap it, and start over.

Now when it comes to making plans to achieve your goals, you will definitely need to think about and have a “Plan B.” Why? It’s simple. You will not have control of everything that can affect your plan. Whether due to your poor planning or an act of God that has nothing to do with you, failures happen.

A wise person will understand this and make plans as appropriate. They will consult others for their wisdom and expertise. They know this will help to ensure the best chance of achieving their goals in the long run.

Failing to understand how to make good goals and plans will kill your career ambitions. And I’m concerned that many of the people I run into online lack these foundational skills.

For instance, many people make getting to Google their goal, but fail to plan well. I notice this with many of the people who reach out to me via social networks like LinkedIn. Their expectation is that I will either give them a job, provide a blind referral, or personally tell them everything they need to do. At a time when Google’s hiring approach is way more easy to find than it used to be (first Google search result), people fail to do even basic research.

In the interview room, these are the people who can only think of one way of solving a problem. They don’t consider alternative approaches that can lead to more optimal results. They do not handle ambiguity well and even simple changes in requirements set them on edge.

These are the people who don’t understand how to make a “Plan B” when things get rough.

And even if you are good making plans, you might not be good at making goals. Perhaps your goal is to get to Google, but you haven’t considered why that might not be the best goal for you. You haven’t thought about how working for a startup might be a better goal for the moment, given your experience. You might even be better off starting your own company.

Whether you struggle with making goals or making good plans, you can get better at it. Look around for people that you know that do this well and ask them how they reach their goals. Use online resources and books that teach best practices.

Whatever you do, don’t approach this in the blind. Having a dream alone will not cut it. And as the old addage goes: “failing to plan is planning to fail.”

Plan well, my friends.