My Plan A Answer for "What's Your Plan B?"

A while back, I was chatting with a former colleague and mentor about a potential career opportunity when she asked me an important question, "What's your Plan A?" As she advised me on ways to strategically think about my next step, it seemed pretty clear that she didn't think I was solid on the direction I wanted to take. She wanted to make sure that I avoided becoming obsessed over the particular opportunity we were discussing simply because it would be a significant promotion for me. She knew I'd been in my then current role for quite some time and rightly assumed that I'd be looking to make a change if I didn't land the promotion. We both knew that there was only a slight chance that I'd get the role, so we began to refer to my options as my "Plan B."

By asking about my "Plan A," my mentor was insisting that I first consider what I truly wanted for my life before I decided on which role I'd pursue next. In other words, my next career move should be consistent with, and not go against, what I deeply wanted for my life. It wasn't my next career move that should be priority A, rather, it was my true desire that should take top priority.

The Importance of Your Plan A

As the saying goes, if you don't know where you're going, you'll wind up anywhere. Think of Plan A as the direction, while Plan B is the destination. Sometimes moving without a Plan A can be a grand adventure that leads to exciting opportunities. Other times, moving forward without a Plan A can cause you to circle, grow stagnant or wind up at a frustrating dead-end.

Allow Your Plan A to Guide Your Plan B Decisions

You must first understand your "Plan A" (the ultimate desire for your life - your priorities, the lifestyle you want to lead, the type of work you want to perform and what you want to contribute) before you can confidently decide on your "Plan B" (your next career move that matches those things). Your Plan A informs your Plan B; you have to define a general destination to figure out the next step that will take you there.

What Do You Want for Your Life?

Every person deserves a set of unique, guiding principles that define what's important in her/his life and what she/he hopes to achieve for the future. These guiding principles are the Plan A. They help steer your decision-making, essentially narrowing down your list from a vast range of possibilities. It's overwhelming to have too many options. These questions will help you begin to jot down your guiding principles.

  1. Who and what motivates you?

  2. Are there any issues that you're passionate about?

  3. Do you like to fix things or situations that are broken?

  4. What type of work tasks do you love/hate to perform?

  5. What do you love and hate about your current job?

  6. Do you enjoy when your days are structured and consistent, or does that bore you?

  7. What are two words to describe your perfect life? (free, calm, peaceful, adventurous, stable etc.)

  8. Where do you want to live?

  9. Do you want to work at a desk, with your hands or in another specific location?

  10. Do you want to go back to school? For what degree? Why?

  11. Do you want to be a leader or manager? Why?

  12. What are you really good at doing?

  13. What do others say you're really good at doing?

  14. What are two things that you'd like to see more of in your life? (love, deeper relationships, education, travel, free time, hobbies, peace of mind, etc.)

  15. At the end of your life, what would you like to say that you've been able to enjoy/that you have accomplished?

By answering these types of questions, you'll create several, unique guiding principles - a life mission statement so to speak - that can help you envision what companies, positions, and activities work best for you.

How to Make Difficult Decisions

These questions help define your Plan A (what's most important to you), and they'll refine your Plan B (your next step). Once you have your mission statement, you'll be able to weigh every decision in light of it. While it may feel like you're passing up certain opportunities along the way, there are plenty of different opportunities. We don't want the wrong opportunities, the shiny ones that are misaligned with our priorities and lead us to dead ends. We want the right opportunities. Your guiding principles will ensure that you'll be moving toward the right opportunities through decisions that support your principles and what you desire most.

My next post will help you organize your thoughts into one comprehensive statement. Don't miss it! Subscribe below.


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© 2021 by Shai Littlejohn