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Why Highly Successful People Have a Plan B

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For me, becoming an FBI agent was Plan B.

Growing up on a cattle ranch in the middle of Wyoming, I yearned for a life of excitement. I graduated with a Business Degree because I thought it would open doors in the world of fast-moving finance. It didn’t take long for me to find the routine of an office job terribly boring—there was no adventure, no excitement, no real challenges to keep my mind alert and creative. 

After a bit of research, I decided that the U.S. Foreign Service was the answer to my dilemma. Lots of travel to exotic lands and immersion in foreign cultures—it sounded like my dream job. I carefully ticked off all the requirements needed to apply, filled out a background form and sent off my application.

I did very well on the personality test, but I failed miserably on the language aptitude test so my application was thrown out. 

The word “failure” hung over my head: I did not get into the Foreign Service. I didn’t know where to go or what to do next.

Yet, growing up on a cattle ranch had instilled in me a strong sense of persistence and determination. If something didn’t work out right the first time, Plan B was quickly called into action. If cattle needed to be fed or watered (which usually meant life or death for them) I would keep at it until I found a way to move forward and get the job done, no matter how long it took.

After failing the Foreign Service, I realized that I needed to put Plan B into action in my own life and refocus on what other options were out there for me. I wasn’t going to wallow in self-pity. Since I had already researched U.S. Government jobs, I knew I also qualified for the FBI. I submitted the application. Six months later, I was in the FBI New Agents Training Academy at Quantico, VA. 

I have never looked back.   

Successful people are those who are good at Plan B. Why? Because by trying and failing, we learn what doesn’t work—and with that comes the knowledge we need to understand what will work. 

1. Find Gratitude And Redefine “Failure”

Succesful people, from whatever organization or walk of life, tend to repeatedly cite one specific personal failure when explaining their success. Usually, the failure was one that was traumatic and difficult to transcend. Filled with desperation, they felt as though they’d hit rock bottom. 

As Warren Bennis said, “It’s as if that moment the iron entered their soul; that moment created the resilience that leaders need.”

Too often, “success” is simply mediocrity. It’s where we stop on our way to being the person we really wanted to be. We are smart, talented, and full of untapped potential—and too afraid to move into the discomfort of the unknown and push our boundaries. 

Why? 

  • We’re afraid of failure. 
  • We’ve not learned what will work, and what won’t.
  • We have no Plan B to implement what we’ve learned.
     

2. Become Your Own Hero

The key is to not linger too long on anything that clearly isn’t working. This means failing frequently. 

Only by trying many different things will you find the one way that points to the best future. But when you do, you become your own hero!

Repeated failure will build mental toughness and show you with absolute clarity how you must move forward if you are to succeed. It’s actually a curse to have everything go right when you first start out because you will start to believe you have the golden touch . . . and when you do inevitably fail, you’ll be demoralized.

3. Lose The Shame

We are afraid of failure because, essentially, we have a fear of shame. 

Most of us are motivated to avoid failing because we cannot manage the basic emotions of disappointment or frustration that may emerge; instead, we feel deep shame that we are imperfect—and vulnerable. 

Failure offers the gift of bringing priorities into focus. If something doesn’t hold value for you, then giving up and moving on to something different does no more than prick your pride. 

If, however, you risk losing something important, you will work hard and do what it takes to tackle the obstacle that stands between you and success.

When has Plan B inspired your success?

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