“The most successful people are those who are good at plan B.” -James A. Yorke
You are frustrated because they cancelled the show you bought the tickets for six months ago. You don’t get the promotion you’ve been dreaming of since you came to this company. The proposal you sent to your ideal client which is going to double your income this year, is turned down. Is the universe ganging up on you? Nope. You just need a Plan B.
I a few years ago I traveled to New England on business and pleasure. I ended up with several Plan B moments. I was staying on the 17th floor of the Hartford Hilton. The fire alarm went off at midnight. Sleep was Plan A. Descending 17 flights of stairs on foot was Plan B. I was staying at my friend’s beautiful country home (in the middle of nowhere in the Berkshires) and planned on writing while there. There was a thunderstorm that plowed in overnight. Phone and wifi were dead. Plan A was writing. Plan B was having a lovely day long conversation with my friend. I missed a connecting flight at Washington Reagan airport. Making the connection was Plan A. Walking 10,000 steps in Terminal C was Plan B. The important thing was being open to Plan B.
This is how I remained open to Plan B:
- Keep the goal in mind. I’ve retold the story of taking 17 flights of stairs and more than one person told me, I think I would have just stayed in the hotel room. Truth is I didn’t smell smoke but in a 22-story hotel, how could I possible know what was above me. The goal was avoiding participating in a fire and if trudging 17 flights kept me safe, then that’s the goal. Getting home safely was the goal when I missed the connection in DC. It’s easy to get caught up in the frustration of a change of plans but if you focus on the end goal it calms the anxiety.
- Know where your essentials are. When a fire alarm goes off and there is an annoying strobe light to accompany it, it’s disorienting. I tried to turn the light on next to my bed. It didn’t go on. I thought the electricity was out. Fortunately, when I fumbled over to the desk lamp it worked. But I had no idea where my sneakers and glasses were. Having shoes and glasses were essential. During the thunderstorm two nights later and the lights flickered, I made sure I had my glasses and shoes next to my bed. Socks? Laptop? Nope. Not essential. So in a work situation if you end up not having an LCD projector, use a flip chart. If you don’t have a flip chart, have someone take notes on paper. Figure out what’s essential.
- Label the feeling. I was sitting in the last row of the plane when we finally pulled close to the gate and making my connecting flight was very present in my mind. I had a ton of anxiety and, frankly, I was angry that we were sitting 10 feet from the gate but were not actually “at” the gate with the door open. I consciously sat in my seat and thought, this is what anger feels like. My forehead is hot and my stomach is clenched. OK. And this is what anxiety feels like. My stomach is flipping and my throat is tight. OK. I sat there inventory-ing my feelings as they arose and labeling them. I was able to witness the feelings instead of getting sucked into them. Labeling the feeling keeps you from stuffing it away as well. Let it rise and vanish as you consider each one. If you take anything from this post, work on labeling your feelings; it will keep you from getting sucked into them.
- A plausible alternative. When someone cuts me off in traffic, I try and imagine that they are headed to the hospital on an emergency. When I was sitting in the back row of the plane, I decided it must be some safety issue and the plane couldn’t pull up to the door. When the client I sent a proposal to doesn’t respond, I imagine my offer ended up in their spam folder. Better reach out by phone. A coach friend of mine, Michele Woodward, recommends that you reach out to a potential client three times. That’s a great rule of thumb. With smart phones and bulging email inboxes, the world is a giant distraction. It takes patience and persistence to get through the clutter. Assume that they want to get back to you, they are just overwhelmed. There is always a plausible alternative or explanation.
- What opportunity is available. When I realized I missed my connection and had four hours to kill, I decided that I could listen to my book on Audible and walk 10,000 steps. I’m not sure there weren’t a few folks who saw me walking by them 15 times who didn’t think I might be lost or a lunatic but here was an opportunity to get a few hours of my book done and get in 10,000 steps. The opportunity in Hartford was seeing some thirty Hartford firefighters. These guys were there to potentially save my life. What bravery. They do this every day. Run in while we run out. I don’t have the opportunity to see that every day. The opportunity in the Berkshires without wifi? Isn’t it obvious. 20 hours without social media and email and phone. Priceless. All I need is a good friend and a dog and the opportunities are endless.
I’ve always had my father as an example of patience. I have always admired his unflappability. Whether it was a flat tire or a teenager changing their mind with Friday night plans, “Daddy, can you drive me and my friends to bowling instead of playing Monopoly at home?” I try and tap into his patience when I face my Plan B. Tools help.