The importance of having (being able to create) a plan B

This year I am learning the importance of having a plan B or maybe the ability to pivot to a plan B.

Of course, I am learning this valuable lesson because I didn’t have a plan B and my plan A turned to shit.

Now that I am emerging out the other side, I thought I’d share some reflections on the process.

Putting this in context though requires a bit of backstory (no car chases unfortunately).

When COVID hit in 2020, my workplace (like many) looked at having some of the workforce working from home. Because my job is digital heavy, I was an obvious candidate and shifted quickly to full-time work at home. My home office became my home base until the end of 2022.

Over those couple of years, I developed new routines and workflows and got quite proficient at working from home. I found ways to tie together my professional and personal self-care. I got a lot of learning, reflection and writing done. I got comfortable (arguably decent) delivering online training and learning. I found out I was quite capable at working remotely and it suited aspects of my personality.

During those couple of years, I didn’t get a lot of supervision. My managers checked in on me regularly, but comfortable with what I was working on, didn’t shake things up. I was basically left alone. And for the most part, I loved it. When I did have contact with people it was in relation to specific projects. I became a bit of a hermit. A productive one.

So going into 2023, I didn’t see any reason that would change. I was happy and productive. So, I planned 2023 as though that would continue. I mapped out an ambitious year in which I tried to squeeze as much personal achievement as I could out of those professional and personal routines I had developed. I was going to see just how much I could get done.

Of course, the universe had other ideas. Early in the year, I was called back into the office. My work from home days were ending. My supervision changed, from one of check-ins to one of requests. I was being asked to be a team player again, not the lone wolf version I had been cultivating for a while.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t happy with those changes. I had to leave my much-loved office space at home and move into a less inspirational cupboard office at work. I had to rejig personal and professional self-care routines. And I had to upend my plans for 2023.

You see, I worked out quicky that the schedule I had set myself for the year, was not going to work in the context of being back in the office. I had set ambitious goals, which even under ideal circumstances, were going to be hard to achieve. They required a level of control over my schedule that isn’t possible when you are in the bustle of an office environment. Thus I cut a lot of things from my schedule. I removed a bunch of things from my calendar.

That didn’t sit well with me initially. I spent a while sulking. Actually, it was a mild grieving process. Lots of mixed emotions: shock, anger, sadness: self-doubt, fear. Anger was a dominant one. I had invested a lot of time and effort into a) building effective work from home practices and b) outlining a ambitious work plan for 2023, and I was angry at the idea that I had to let them go.

But in amongst all that negative emotion, there was some relief, which signalled to me that there was an alternative plan for the year – all was not lost. It was though at least a part of me was relieved that I didn’t have to subject myself to the intense schedule I had outlined for myself in 2023. Part of me could see another way.

So, I pondered that for a while.

What emerged was an understanding that having spent the last few years on my own, I had built a plan for 2023 centred on me. My goals. My ambitions. My desired achievements. My projects. There wasn’t any real shame in that realisation, but it was important that I recognised I had made myself the star of my own show.

The part of me that was relieved to see that blocked wanted a reprieve from the never-ending focus on my own self-development, self-improvement. That part of me wanted to see an end (or at least a dialing back) of defining my self-worth on my personal achievements. That part of me had another idea for the year.

It offered a plan B which was a shift in core focus. Removing myself as the star of my own show. If I was going to be at the office, easily accessible, amongst others, then how about I divert some of that self-focused bandwidth to making the year about other people. Getting to know new colleagues. Helping others out with their goals and ambitions. Being available for chats and advice.

I realised that all the work I had done the previous couple of years (developing myself and expanding my wellbeing knowledge base) had equipped me with knowledge and tools to do this. It’s not that I could suddenly solve everyone’s problems, but I could be a better support. I could help others take charge of the things that were important to them.

And that is how I have tried to live the last couple of weeks – devoting more of my time to others. This is as simple as informal chats in the hallway through to re-allocating my time to other people’s projects. I am trying to make other people the stars of my show. And if I am honest, it’s been nice.

Thus, a couple of weeks into plan B, I’m feeling a little more settled. Hence this blog post and the chance to self-reflect on it. My thoughts on having a plan B are thus:

I doubt I could have started the year with plan A AND plan B. They seem fundamentally different ways of viewing the year. I needed the shock of having my plan A blocked in order to activate those parts of me that could see plan B as a possibility. However, it might be the case that I could have further shortened the adaptation period if I had at least acknowledged the possibility of a plan B, at the time I was piecing together plan A.

The ability to generate a plan B, even in the shock of a disappearing plan A tells me something I’ve thought about for a while, which is that there are multiple potential futures in which I might feel happy, productive, connected, rewarded and satisfied. I’m not suggesting people don’t chase specific goals, but rather that they keep an open mind to the possibility that quite different goals might also produce beneficial outcomes. I’ve given this advice before to people who seem increasingly distressed by their devotion to a specific goal. I had to take my own advice this time.

A plan B is an emotional safety net when our Plan A is ambitious and vulnerable, as mine was. When it is highly likely that forces outside your control will make a particular plan untenable, a backup plan can help shorten the emotional fallout. And the difference can mean spending months in a funk versus a few weeks or days.

Having any plan is better than no plan. When plan A fell apart, I didn’t find myself pivoting to nothing. I pivoted to a different compass point.

So in summary, 2023 was going to be a year in which I pushed myself to my limits to work out what I was capable of. It was going to be a year in which I tethered myself primarily to my own goals and routines.

Instead, 2023 looks like it will be a year in which I get to know others, find out what is important to them and where possible, use what I have learned from a couple of years of intense individual focus to help them achieve their goals.

There are other aspects to the shift that I haven’t spoken about in this post as I think I am still processing them. Good fodder for future posts.

And, of course, if plan B turns out to be a dead-end, you’ll find me back here later talking about plan C 😆

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