“I’m going to be an actress.”
“Yeah. OK. I get that. But, you know, just in case that doesn’t work out, all I’m saying is, um, you might want to think about a Plan B.”
“I don’t need a Plan B.”
“But what if you fail?”
“Honey, I know you’re talented. I know you’re a hard worker. But so are a lot of kids. All I’m saying is, what if it doesn’t work out? All I'm saying is...”
“All you’re saying is, it doesn’t hurt to have a Plan B.”
“Funny thing about Plan B, dad. It’s amazing how fast it can turn into Plan A.”
Last summer, we spent a lot of time looking at colleges. Traipsing around campuses. Asking questions. Grilling student tour guides. “Can we see what the dorms look like?” “How many black box theaters do you have?” “BFA or BA?” “How’s the food?” “Is it true Laura Linney went here?”
It wasn’t easy. Not for me anyway. I mean, come on. Acting? Why did it have to be acting? What my daughter said: “Dad, I really want to be an actress.” What I swear I heard: “Dad, I really want to be a waitress.”
At that moment, I became the pusher of Plan B. The guru of the fallback position. Sure, go ahead. Major in theater, but would it hurt you to double major in theater and, say, oh I don’t know, industrial engineering.
But you know something? My daughter’s right. There is no Plan B.
I know an account planner. Smart guy. We were flying back from a pitch, talking about how we got started in advertising. He pops down his last honey-roasted peanut and says to me, “I went to USC. Did you know that?” I didn’t. “I was going to be a screenwriter. I sold one of my scripts when I was still a junior.”
But then he graduated and things got tough. Nothing was clicking. I mean, this guy went to USC. His roommate went on to become a big shot agent at CAA. He once dated Martin Scorsese’s niece. Talk about connections. For two years, he tended bar out at LAX. Scraping by. One night he meets a young attorney, they date, they get married, they have a kid and pretty soon, he’s a junior account guy in some agency I still can’t remember in Kentucky. And just like that, there it was. Plan B.
There are a lot of Plan Bs in advertising. The sad thing is how many of them have become Plan A. The talented writer out of Miami Ad School who would have had an easier time getting through the White House’s front door than Crispin’s. The producer who was dead certain she’d have her own production company by the age of 30, yet still toils in some backwater shop doing spots for the local savings and loan.
If you ever want to take trapeze lessons, there’s a school in New York where you can do that. I know a woman who did this. I once asked her why any trapeze artist in their right mind would work without a net. She said the net made you less focused. Less determined. So what if you fall. You bounce up. You live to see another day. But take that net away and suddenly every move, every decision is as tight as a drum. Plan A, you succeed. Plan B, well, it’s nothing good.
What about you? What’s your Plan A? Where do you want to be ten years from now? Five years from now? How many times do you want to see your name in the index at the back of some future Communication Arts
Advertising Annual? Ten? Fifteen? Twenty-five? Do you harbor visions of someday becoming the next Alex Bogusky?
How hard are you willing to work to get there? Will you go anywhere? Are you willing to blow your comfort zone to hell and back? Can you put your ego in a jar? If you don’t win a Lion next year, or the year after that, or the year after that, are you willing to dig deeper? Find something in you that you never knew you had?
Pilots have something called a point of no return. An imaginary line on the runway where they either take off or run out of asphalt with no chance of getting airborne. Careers have a point of no return, too. Don’t be afraid of it. Push the throttle forward and don’t look back. Don’t fall back on Plan B, whatever that is. Funny thing about Plan B, it has a way of turning into Plan A. Go big or go home. CA