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Is having a backup plan a good way to approach anything in life?

I don’t think so.

When finding the love of your life, for example, do you keep a backup plan? Doing so would sabotage the very thing you’re aiming to achieve. You don’t achieve goals by spending time considering what you’ll do if you don’t make it.

Can you imagine someone saying, “I want to lose 20 pounds but if I don’t make it I can do so much good with that extra hour a day that I won’t be exercising.”

I don’t think it works with choosing a fulfilling career choice either.

Last week while sitting with my son on one side and my ex-wife on the other, I began discussing with my son his upcoming plans for high school next year.  He’s an excellent student(straight A’s) and yet I still think he sometimes allows himself  to reach for mediocrity rather than his full potential.  He’ll select the standard courses rather than the honor classes in which he is qualified to enroll.  My main point in the discussion was that he should begin to look ahead at college and not fail to qualify for opportunities there by choosing the easy way out in high school.

So, I asked him what his dreams were. I knew the answer, but I wanted him to say it and I thought his Mom would back me up on this “reach your potential” discussion. He loves wildlife and photography and at this point in his life he wants to be a “wildlife photographer.”  So, I said, “We should look up college programs in that field and see what their admission requirements are and plan high school accordingly.”

Whereupon his Mom piped in with something along the lines of, “And you need to think of something more practical as a backup plan.”

WHAT? Pardon me but I think that’s a horrible thing to say to a 13 year old boy or girl with a dream!

I’m horrible at on-the-spot retorts, so I ended up saying nothing, but it has been eating at me ever since.  When the kids are alone with me I’m going to have to schedule my own version of an apostate family home evening based on the following theme”

“It’s better to shoot for the moon and miss than aim for a pile of shit and make it.”

I feel strongly about this because I got the same advice that my ex-wife gave our son.  I followed it and I regret it. My shoddy advice came in the form of my second  patriarchal blessing.  You can read about it here. Some old man who didn’t know me, know my talents or my potential gave me that advice and I took it like God was speaking to me… kind of the same way my son listens to his Mom.

See, it’s not a backup plan that is going to save you when life gets rough and Plan A isn’t panning out.  And that WILL happen. What’s going to save the day is a solid, heartiness of character and a tenacious work ethic; it’s the kind of character traits that are gained by having lofty goals and working hard to achieve them. Because as I’ve learned sometimes even Plan B doesn’t materialize and how many backup plans are you supposed to have up your sleeve? Plans C and D…Z?

In fact, failure along the way to your dream makes for a much more interesting life than one pursuing an empty, passionless and practical existence.

What successful people do when Plan A doesn’t work, is either redefine the goal into a closely related Plan AA or redefine what it means to actually reach success in Plan A. I have some friends who were studying drama with me back when I followed that patriarch’s advice to develop a backup plan.  I got sidetracked.

Some of these acquaintances have successfully reached an altered version of our shared goal to be actors. One of these friends became a high school drama teacher.  She was recently name drama teacher of the year in her state and is recognized as a true professional in her field.  Another classmate of mine went on to become an agent, manager and producer.  His clients have won Emmy and Tony awards.  Neither of these folks had a backup plan that I know of.  They are working in their field of interest.  Their Plan AA.

I know another friend who has merely redefined success.  He’s a working actor but nobody you would recognize in TV or movies.  Still, he makes a living at what he’s good at and what he loves by working in regional theatres and less-than-leading roles in TV and in New York.  He didn’t have a backup plan either but has often taken side jobs and lived on less than his contemporaries to survive.  Today he makes as much as I do. He works hard and hasn’t gotten distracted from his goal.  He’s less frustrated than I am.

If my son never becomes a wildlife photographer, I won’t consider it a failure, but I’ll have failed if I can’t help him seen the rewards and benefits of dreaming big.  He needs to know he’s as capable and worthy of it as the next guy.

Any ideas of how to get that message across in the midst of all the muddy “backup plan” messaging he gets everywhere else?