Why You Should Have a Backup Plan

“If you can imagine yourself happy doing anything else, do that instead.”

That’s arguably the most common advice given to those pursuing a professional life in the arts. Knowing how difficult building a sustainable career in theater is first hand, I can honestly say it’s not a bad recommendation. In fact, I’m likely to give it out myself should a young high school hopeful approach me for advice.

Actually, scratch that. There are too many false assumptions in that sentence.

False Assumption #1: You can only choose one happiness

False Assumption #2: You can only pursue one career.

Somewhere along the line, both artists and professionals settled upon this idea of a singular income stream serving as their financial lifeline. Because of that restricted view, the approach to choosing a career has been falsely defined as an either/ or…

Either make a lot of money or do something that makes you happy.

Either choose the passion path or pursue an alternate happiness.

The result is a narrow view of pursuit.

That narrow view when surrounding the pursuit of passion, as it does for artists, often detracts from the passion itself.

For instance, in theater, the narrow view dictates that you dedicate your life to your art, and financially, you do only what you have to to get by in between. Giving yourself permission to explore a parallel career that would fulfill you financially and otherwise is seen by some artists as blasphemous- detracting from what should be the singular focus- the art.

And so, day after day many artists continue living the single-minded path, resigning themselves to the “starving” status quo and counting on a future breakthrough to make them happy and financially free. In that narrow approach however, the reality of the day-to-day wears on between artistic milestones, often turning passion into misery.

So while some may argue that the pursuit of something beyond the primary goal takes away from achieving it, I argue the opposite. How can I cultivate my passion and reach the next artistic milestone if the in-between is sucking away at my soul?

Diversity of Income, Diversity of Happiness


In giving myself permission to pursue my outside interests, I enrich my passion because I’m enriched as a person. Moreover, when those outside interests produce income, they provide an additional freedom from work that drains the spirit- artistic and otherwise.

“Do your passion work, then work to survive” is a false recipe and unsustainable in the long term. How can you be a thriving artist when you’re just working to scrape by?


[tweetthis]“Do your passion work, then work to survive” is a false recipe and unsustainable in the long term [/tweetthis]


Unless you make more than enough income to live off of your passion 100 percent of the time – you must spend time doing other things to pay the bills. Why not make those other income producing activities ones that interest you and provide fulfillment on your own terms rather than resigning yourself to soul crushing survival jobs that drain you?

Diversity of income can provide diversity of happiness. Cultivating parallel skill sets and income producing paths is not to take away from, but to add to opportunity. And while focus is undoubtedly an essential component in achieving any goal, too strong a focus can create so narrow an approach that it limits, constrains, and ultimately proves detrimental to the pursuit of passion, and more importantly – the pursuit of happiness.


[tweetthis]Diversity of income can provide diversity of happiness. #personalfinance [/tweetthis]


After all, any passion pursuit, artistic or not, is born from the pursuit of happiness. In adopting the narrow view however, happiness too often becomes an afterthought if not crowded out altogether. The narrow view doesn’t leave enough room for the natural evolution and self-discovery that happens along the way. Blindly following the narrow path can mean losing track of happiness, losing track of passion, and missing the opportunities to re-cultivate both by staying closed to the alternatives – be they parallel or the beginning of a new journey altogether.


The Evolution of Passion and Alternate Options


People evolve and so there must be permission in place to allow dreams and paths to also evolve. I’m often asked if my journey as a writer and entrepreneur has detracted from or made the pursuit of my passion, theater, secondary. In interviews and conversations, people ask if having a backup plan B means taking away from or to subconsciously giving up on plan A. Again, this idea of either/or, this narrow view comes into play.

I say no, I don’t have to make that choice. Plan B is not an end. Plan B isn’t resigning yourself to failure. Plan B is only possibility. And the more possibilities I’m open to, the more opportunity I have to cultivate happiness through each and every one.


[tweetthis]People evolve – there must be permission to allow dreams and paths to also evolve. [/tweetthis]


Getting so transfixed on one singular idea of what will make you happy that you fail to allow joy, fulfillment, and opportunity to come into your life leaves you far more prone to failure than having options.

I don’t have a plan B. I have a path with a lot of options on it- A, B, C, D – I could probably go through the entire alphabet. Each of those options accompany me in my life, running parallel and working in tandem, not only to pay the bills, but to foster the passion of one another and ultimately advance the happiness of the pursuit.


Related Reading: 4 Important Truths Behind “Pursuing Your Passion

45 responses to “Why You Should Have a Backup Plan

  1. Great post Stefanie! There are so many people that just have a single plan, a job, but once you open your mind to pursuing other plans it don’t have to be a plan A or plan B game. The more you can diversify the better off you’ll be. The more opportunities of happiness and income will be potentially opened up to you.

  2. Can I get an amen? Loved this post! I have followed this philosophy a few times and once you get over yourself you realize it’s not that you aren’t giving 100% to a dream or goal, you know that this is better in the long term to ensure success!

  3. Could not agree more Stefanie! There is the danger of getting pulled TOO many directions and not putting much effort into any, but I’d say that’s like someone drinking too much water is just as much as risk as someone who is dehydrated. You can have many things you’re passionate about and can define your work life any way you see fit, as long as it makes you happy and you can take care of yourself.

    1. I’m a TED fanatic and I’ve totally seen that one 🙂 I think happiness lies in the combination of the two. I love Mike’s point about the return to skills. My bf is a carpenter and has found so much happiness (and money) from a a profession that is too often dismissed.

  4. I am someone who only had one stream of income for the first 13 years of my professional life. For the past two years, I have discovered so many other income opportunities and with each one that I develop, the happier I get because it feels better to have multiple “bosses” rather than rely on just one.

  5. This is such a great article and something I’ve tried to tell all my students/friends about. I never majored in theatre and it’s something a lot of people have looked at me twice for. I majored in English Ed. and minored in theatre and I feel it’s given me an even better perspective of my craft and how I approach it. Who knows if I will end up teaching for the rest of my life or continuing in this career, but even though I have a so-called “back-up” plan, it doesn’t mean I HAVE to use it. That’s all it is, a back-up. Regardless though, it’s something I still ENJOY doing and I don’t think that makes me less of an artist. In fact, I think it makes me a better one 🙂 I actually just wrote a post similar to this about staying motivated in this business. I think we share a lot of the same thoughts! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Diversifying your income is a great way to avoid putting all your eggs in one basket. Careers are not very secure these days and that’s okay with me because I always been passionate about multiple different fields anyway. I love how you mention how having an alternate plan doesn’t mean you are setting yourself up for failure. I’d rather prepared 🙂

  7. I love this post! So many people I’ve spoken with in the arts don’t have any back-up plans. Maybe there’s just something about that phrase that alienates people, but I’ve always felt that knowing where I could find alternative streams of income was part of what gave me so much confidence to chase my dreams.

  8. Preach! You’re so dead on in this post. And everyone who things you need to focus exclusively on one craft (be it artistic or otherwise) are fooling themselves. You become more powerful as an artist, entrepreneur, or businessperson by expanding your horizons and opening up to new possibilities and experiences. I NEVER would’ve guessed I’d be doing the work I am when I graduated college nearly four years ago. It was also in college I determined I didn’t have enough singular passion for theatre to go through the starving artist phase of life. Frankly, the “you have to be all in” mentality is what kept me from pursuing acting directly after college because I believed that surely people who were completely burning with a passion for acting would always beat me out in the end. Funny how this mentality kind of works both ways, as a deterrent for getting in and for getting out.

  9. Wow, does this post sure hit close to home for me. I single-mindedly pursued my professional goal/career at the expense of my creative side. I eventually figured that out and have a pretty good balance now. I’m much happier and have so many more ideas to expand on ways to diversify my income.

  10. Good stuff. So often people get single focused. It’s good to have diversity. Like any good corporation, they don’t depend on one revenue source for their cashflow. They diversify their offerings and it helps to spread the risk.

  11. I think having an ultra narrow focus can squash all of your creativity. By pursuing multiple activities, you open yourself up for greater creativity in ALL pursuits. You exercise your mind such that it works better for everything!

  12. Great post, having an open mind and have diversified plans allow you to have so many different options. It makes you to be more flexible and adaptable as well.

  13. Love this perspective, Stefanie! I’m dabbling between a few different streams of income right now too and you’re totally right! It totally works as long as you’re willing to put the time in. You’re obviously a super hard worker, and will continue seeing success in both of your careers as a result.

  14. I very much enjoyed this post as this week I have been reading, “All The Placed To Go” by John Ortberg. He shares about the fact that each day we face many opportunities but it is we who often miss them. May we have eyes to see all that is open before us each day. Glad to have stopped here from the SITS. Have a great weekend!

  15. I have to congratulate Stefani for the great job you do by blogging! I believe in the power of having a back up and open your choices. Also, I do consider that plan A and plan B might unified if people actually do what they are passionate about and getting paid or traveling the world and doing an internship. I’ve been able to volunteer in Nepal and Peru and I would like to share my experience with Heysuccess (http://www.heysuccess.com/) a website full of opportunities (conferences, internships, jobs, scholarships,etc) that will allow you to open your plans even more. VISIT AND APPLY. DO NOT MISS THE AMAZING OPPORTUNITIES AWAITING FOR YOU GUYS!

  16. It is mind blowing when you think of people who are singularly focused, say for example professional athletes or musicians. Obviously they had other jobs to make ends meet, but the rest of the time was spent training/practicing. All that time and effort, all those countless hours spent, not even knowing whether or not they would become successful. I wonder if all of them ever had a back up plan. Then there are those who are still on that path, at what point do you take a look and assess your progress, and say to yourself, should I keep going because I’m still not there yet or quit and try to pursue a different path.

    I feel like I’m focusing on several different areas. It wasn’t until I became a fitness instructor part-time that I realized that your passion can bring income and to be honest, what passion really was. I consider travelling to be one of my long-time passions, but I have no desire to turn it into an income stream. However, blogging has turned into a passion, provided me with a bit of income and now seems to be opening up even more interests.

  17. The universe had to chuck a bucket of cold water over me before I seriously considered having a back up plan for my current business. A business that allows me to live the lifestyle that makes me happy. The thing is, the business itself doesn’t make me happy, just the work at home lifestyle it enables so… Now I’m actively working on Plan B, and Plan C… and I’m open to other opportunities, too. Opportunities where the ‘do-ing’ will make me happy as well as the ‘be-ing’.

    No more nasty surprises from the universe for me!

  18. I’m still trying to help my husband understand this idea: you can make money from sources beyond your primary occupation. Whenever I encourage him to try new ways to make a couple of extra bucks, he often responds that he doesn’t have time to work a second job.
    This traditional mindset is so limiting, believing that you have one job and when you’re not working it’s time to relax. I’m thankful to have finally woke up to realize that there are other options besides the standard career track.

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