We grow up – inevitably – with a strong attachment
to a plan A, that is, an idea of how our lives
will go and what we need to do to achieve
our particular set of well-defined goals.
For example, we’ll do four years of law
school, then move out west, buy a house and
start a family. Or, we’ll go to medical
school for 7 years, then go to another country
and train in our speciality of interest and
hope to retire by fifty. Or we’ll get married
and raise two children with an emphasis on
the outdoors and doing good in the world.
But then, for some of us and at one level
all of us, life turns out to have made a few
other plans. A sudden injury puts a certain
career forever out of reach. A horrible and
unexpected bit of office politics blackens
our name and forces us out of our professional
path. We discover an infidelity or make a
small but significant error which changes
everything about how crucial others view us.
And so, promptly, we find we have to give
up on plan A altogether. The realisation can
feel devastating. Sobbing or terrified, we
wonder how things could have turned out this
way. By what piece of damnation has everything
come to this? Who could have predicted that
the lively and hopeful little boy or girl
we once were would have to end up in such
a forlorn and pitiful situation? We alternately
weep and rage at the turn of events.
It is for such moments that we should, even
when things appear calm and hopeful, consider
one of life’s most vital skills: that of
developing a plan B.
The first element involves fully acknowledging
that we are never cursed for having to make
a plan B. Plan As simply do not work out all
the time. No one gets through life with all
their careful plan As intact. Something unexpected,
shocking and abhorrent regularly comes along,
not only to us, but to all human beings. We
are simply too exposed to accident, too lacking
in information, too frail in our capacities,
to avoid some serious avalanches and traps.
The second point is to realise that we are,
despite moments of confusion, eminently capable
of developing very decent plan Bs. The reason
why we often don’t trust that we can is
that children can’t so easily – and childhood
is where we have all came from and continue
to be influenced by in ways it’s hard to
recognise. When children’s plans go wrong,
they can’t do much in response: they have
to stay at the same school, they can’t divorce
their parents, they can’t move to another
country or shift job. They’re locked in
But adults are not at all this way, a glorious
fact which we keep needing to refresh in our
minds and draw comfort from in anxious moments.
We have enormous capacities to act and to
adapt. The path ahead may be blocked, but
we have notable scope to find other routes
through. One door may close, but there truly
are many other entrances to try. We do not
have only one way through this life, even
if – at times – we cling very fervently to
a picture of how everything should and must
We’re a profoundly adaptable species. Perhaps
we’ll have to leave town forever, maybe
we’ll have to renounce an occupation we
spent a decade nurturing, perhaps it will
be impossible to remain with someone in who
It can feel desperate – until we rediscover
our latent plan B muscle. In reality, there
would be a possibility to relocate, to start
afresh in another domain, to find someone
else, to navigate around the disastrous event.
There was no one script for us written at
our birth, and nor does there need to be only
one going forward.
It helps, in flexing our plan B muscles, to
acquaint ourselves with the lives of many
others who had to throw away plan As and begin
anew: the person who thought they’d be married
forever, then suddenly weren’t – and coped;
the person who was renowned for doing what
they did, then had to start over in a dramatically
different field – and found a way.
Amidst these stories, we’re liable to find
a few people who will tell us, very sincerely,
that their plan B ended up, eventually, superior
to their plan A. They worked harder for it,
they had to dig deeper to find it and it carried
less vanity and fear within it.
Crucially, we don’t need to know right now
what our plan Bs might be. We should simply
feel confident that we will, if and when we
need to, be able to work them out. We don’t
need to ruminate on them all now or anticipate
every frustration that might come our way;
we should simply feel confident that, were
the universe to command it, we would know
how to find a very different path.
Our Decision Dice are a tool to help you make wiser decisions in work, love and the rest of your life.