Is having a Plan B a compromise?

It’s quite common to think of Plan B as a compromise. But nothing could be further from the truth. In reality it’s about keeping our options open and not confining ourselves to a narrow set of specific goals.

Times change

I tell anyone who I coach and both my daughter and son, to always have a Plan B, plus Plans C and D if necessary. It is obviously great to have passions and everyone should strive towards achieving those dreams, but I would still advise them to review those passions regularly. Why? Because times, circumstances and people change. Their skills might change.

I know of many instances where individuals have focused on one goal exclusively. When something happened along the way, they were not prepared with a thorough understanding of their transferrable skills and what options could be available with their talents. The blows to their self-esteem and life plan were significant.

These might be the actress who failed to get a break, who eventually trained to become a drama therapist. Or the injured athlete who became a sales executive. The doctor who found dealing with death was too much for her and became a teacher. The Sales Director who was laid off and eventually became a landscape designer. The lawyer who had a heart attack and became a Consultant.

I am frequently approached by the parents of young adults who have not obtained the “right ” grades in school or university or even older experienced individuals who are totally unprepared for changes that come their way. Never was this more obvious when so many people were let go during the recession of 2008 and more recently the pandemic.

Why do I advocate for Plan B?

✅ Technology is changing at a rapid pace. We have no idea what careers and jobs will be available in the next ten or twenty years. Those opportunities don’t exist yet and we don’t know what they are. If someone had told me 10 years ago I would be running workshops on social media and job search, I would have looked at them blankly. Or perhaps something we always dreamed of doing, will no longer be found in the workplace as a career or even a function over time. We know that many functions are bring downgraded, outsourced and offshored.  Other jobs will be made totally redundant by automation and AI.

The structure of workplace is changing at a more rapid pace than ever before. We all need to be multi-skilled

✅ We all have transferrable skills. Plan B doesn’t have to be a fall back position, it can be simply be about being open to other opportunities, understanding what we’re good at and how those talents can ben adapted. A great example of this is British particle scientist Professor Dr. Brian Cox, who grew up wanting to be an astronomer.

At 15 he became diverted into rock music, going on to underperform in his A levels ( AP or IB equivalent) in his final year in high school. I have no idea how Mr. Cox Senior reacted to this development, but for many parents I have come across, this would be a nightmare scenario and send them into a tail spin. Dr. Cox pursued a varied career in rock music (with a number 1 chart topper,) and didn’t go to university to study physics until the age of 23. He is now a leading BBC science presenter, successfully combining that role with an outstanding academic career. Pretty good Plan B!

Need help formulating a Plan B or any Plan at all -check out the individual career transition programmes. 

✅ Occupational roles are no longer as rigidly defined as they used to be and once again we all need to be multi-skilled.

✅ Organisational loyalty is very tenuous. As we see constantly many high calibre, excellent employees lost their jobs overnight for reasons beyond their control. We have learned that there are no guarantees in life and we have to take responsibility for managing our own careers and personal development. With first hand exposure I saw that those who struggled most to cope were the ones who in pure Darwinist terms, had difficulties adapting to change. They had no Plan B and struggled to come up with one.

✅ Passion doesn’t always pay the bills. Plan Bs can.

✅ Passion isn’t always aligned with skill set. I am passionate about tennis but my ability to earn a living out of it was always zero!

Career changers

The challenge is for career changers who would like to explore a number of options to manage a consistent message.  MBA students often ask me about this. This is about being clear about your core skills, raising your visibility to drive traffic to you and limiting your range of options to possibly three to avoid appearing confused and diluted.

So is having a Plan B a compromise , or simply keeping an open mind to an ever-changing world? Does it necessarily mean compromising on your dream or about embracing multiple goals and multiple facets of our skill sets and personalities?  There maybe  times when pragmatism rather than passion is required. It’s obviously perfect when both are aligned.

What do you think?

Updated 2021

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18 thoughts on “Is having a Plan B a compromise?

  1. Wendy Mason

    Thanks Dorothy, another inspirational post. My life has had so many twists and turns – mainly positive – that without plans B, C, and D I would be adrift. Life is very rich and among those riches is a wealth of interesting new things it will bring. You need to be able to respond. It will bring some changes which are unpleasant in their immediate effect but even out of those comes opportunity and learning. For those which are negative – death of a close relative for example – Plans C or D might be the key to surviving intact.

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  3. Julia Simens

    Thanks. This is especially true with Cross Cultural kids. They have so many options (example: college in Mom’s home country, Dad’s home country or the country they love). I always encourage CCK’s to have plan B! Nice article.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Hi Julia – i agree international and cross cultural kids with so many different influences profit from having a number of options. It can be very challenging as well as limiting for them to have only one focus.

  4. Anne Perschel

    There are many roads to _____________, and many ways to express your passion and talents. Whether it’s plan B,C,D or simply being open to opportunities that, on the surface, look different from what you had in mind, I say “go for it.” What you suggest sounds like “agility” in current day business lingo.

    My own B was hardly a plan but a need to seize the available opportunities. . I originally wanted to be a psychologist but the direct route (undergrad, graduate school, internship) was too long and costly. I veered off to the business world and ended up years later as a psychologist for businesses. I love what plan B has made available in my life.

    Dorothy and others:
    Did you have a plan B or opportunity B that lead somewhere surprising and good?

  5. Pam Burznski

    I’m a firm believer in a plan “B”. You just never know when things like the economy or your life in general will change causing you to want to shift your focus. I don’t see plan B, C, or D being inferior to your current “focus” just different, probably better and more rewarding for you at the time. My current plan “Be” is my passion and definitely not a compromise.

  6. Jacqui Poindexter, Executive Resume Writer

    Great post! Having a Plan B is essential, and your words are a great reminder why this is so.

    Even for those caught unaware because they are in the thick of a highly focused, demanding career and life that seems to leave little room for introspection and planning for the ‘what-ifs,’ resiliency can be key.

    Though we we many not thoroughly have thought through our Plan B when change or crisis ‘hits,’ the adaptability to a new path and openness to a new plan can be the difference between sinking or swimming!


    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Jacqui – appreciate your comment. You are absolutely right, those periods of introspection are vital and to be aware of one’s transferrable skills such a vital aprt of the process. When that is ongoing , creating a Plan B is always easier !

  7. Silvana Delatte

    Dorothy, as usual you stimulate us into thinking about the past and the future.
    My personal experience has shown that a plan B is mainly necessary not for defence but for an ‘attack forward’ position. In a career path it is always necessary to analyse ones position every 12 months to see if you are going forward, standing still or going backward. Most of the time, people in a corporate environment are going backward just by doing nothing. Most of the time it is because they like their job/project or whatever you like to call it.

    Than there are those who are more aggressive and actively look for a promotion forward or diagonal knowing that from the time you ask to the time you get is an other six to 12 months. A plan B is necessary to be in a strong position tactically and enable you to be forceful. Many time the plan B could also be in the same company but for an other department or division.

    It is interesting to see that strong careers are made by individuals who are not afraid to take risks and that is mostly due to the fact that they have choices which give them confidence and strength in negotiation situations.

  8. Susan Mazza

    I share your perspective Dorothy and like Anne suggested what we are really talking about here is agility. The time of planning your career path from beginning to end is gone. We have to constantly view the landscape of opportunity as well as continue to evolve our skills even if we stay in the same job for a long time.

    Some of the best advice I got 20 years ago was to stop worrying about finding the ultimate job and instead focus on choosing my next step and then see what is next from there.

  9. Annabel Kaye

    I think a lot about agility and being prepared to go in any direction. When I am not wrestling with employment law I dance argentine tango.

    In the tango world we work on fundamental skills (without which we have few options and those we have make us look bad). We do not have a set choreography – so we don’t work on a Plan A or a Plan B so much as keeping ourselves on balance, on axis and keeping our technique up to date so that we can move wherever we need to when the music and our partner and the dancefloor make that move appropriate and desired.

    When we do move (for we often have periods of stillness) we move with confidence and commitment without hesitation.

    Our goal is always the same – connection and musicality using our own strength, power and control.

    For me that is enough of a goal on and off the dance floor – though I don’t work as a corporate executive so I don’t have the conventional ‘career plan’. Being a business owner, I am more concerned that I have the fundamental skills and connections I need to move.

    You might like to know that in the tango world a Planeo (pronounced Plan A O) is a movement we make when we stand on one leg and we circle the other foot on the ground (gracefully of course).

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Thanks Annabel – I agree I think it’s all about breadth of focus and agility.Love your tango metaphors. I will introduce you to Vera Futorjanski a professional tango dancer on Twitter also a member of 3Plusand has an article on her tango dancing career in the forthcoming edition of our online magazine.

    2. Dorothy Dalton

      Thanks Annabel – I agree I think it’s all about breadth of focus and agility.Love your tango metaphors. I will introduce you to Vera Futorjanski a professional tango dancer on Twitter also a member of 3Plusand has an article on her tango dancing career in the forthcoming edition of our online magazine.


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