The Back-Up Plan

The absolute worst, most destructive career advice for young people with a dream is that they should cultivate a back-up plan. The advice usually goes something like:

"There's so much competition and rejection out there that you need something more realistic and practical to fall back on."

I'm not old enough to remember the Great Depression. But I was raised by parents who grew up in it. 

And they inherited from my grandparents what I used to call a "post-Depression mentality". I believe this may be the most tragic legacy of that unfortunate era.

Most people would agree that...

  • putting food on the table

  • making your rent or mortgage payments

  • keeping the lights and heat on

...are all major necessities. Yet, believe it or not, there are life goals that are more important than those things, and should sometimes take precedence!

While this may seem irresponsible, I believe that in the long run, it is even more irresponsible to choose financial security over personal and professional fulfillment.

In other words:

I am firmly opposed to sacrificing your dreams for the sole purpose of paying your bills of the moment.

Consider the following:

When Enron Corporation went out of business, more than 20,000 full-time career employees lost their jobs and their livelihood. It's reasonable to assume that had these people been asked when they were in their teens and early twenties what they would most love to do in the future, most of them would not have said: "I'd like to devote my life to working full time for a big energy and commodities company."

It's more likely they would have expressed interest in a number of other things such as...

  • running their own business
  • marine biologist
  • jet pilot
  • writer
  • musician
  • movie actor

... or a hundred other career paths.

It's also likely that at some point in their lives they expressed that dream to someone- a parent, teacher, friend, whoever, and it's further likely they met with something less than absolute full support and encouragement.

Yet, the people who sacrificed their dreams to work for a corrupt and ultimately bankrupt company may NOT be the most unfortunate individuals, career-wise. They might now be able to adopt a better-late-than-never approach and finally pursue those long-deferred goals.

But what about those who work for companies that are sound and stable?

When one's job is secure, all the bills are paid, there's an abundance of material comfort, and money in the bank, that may be the ideal vantage point from which to realize that one's whole life has been only about those things.

That slow and tortuous realization can spawn what I call "the mother of all mid-life crises". What is that?

Waking up at age fifty or so, realizing you never did what you really wanted to do, and it's too late.

How do I recommend avoiding that? What do I consider a career plan that's "realistic and practical", yet certain to lead to fulfillment?

Just four steps...

  • pick something you love

  • work hard

  • work smart

  • don't let anyone talk you out of it.

Until next time, take good care of yourself.


Peter Sklar