The Value of Plan B

Posted by Anthony E. Steele II on 11/13/2019

The Value of Plan B 1

Life often meanders between the predictable and the unlikely. It is precisely the unpredictability of life that makes it challenging to navigate, but also makes it exciting to be alive. John Steinbeck captured one aspect of the human condition in the classic novel, Of Mice and Men, with the famous quote, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” We are free to dream and pursue accordingly, but we are constantly reminded that dreams don’t always come true. The fatalist may accept downturns as bad luck, Murphy’s Law, or perhaps it’s just the way the cookie crumbles; however, the resilient and determined confront misfortune with an alternate plan and come to learn THE VALUE OF PLAN B.

Our students are taught the importance of strategic planning throughout their experience at BVT. Planning is one of the most important habits we instill in our students, and it ranges from planning one’s work for an upcoming class to a full post-graduate career plan in a student’s portfolio.

At the micro-level, some form of planning is taking place prior to the sawing of a board in Construction Technology shop or the recording of one’s due dates for upcoming assignments and projects in academics. Of course we also train our students how to plan for the long haul and caution them that it is harder to reach your destination if you have no idea where you were headed in the first place. Before delving into the value of contingency planning, I’m going to make the assumption that one has already embraced the value of Plan A.

I’ve come to view Plan A as an ideal — it is the perfect scenario. Therefore, the true value of Plan B is that it affords us the ability to have an ideal in the first place. More so, it allows us to reach, maybe even dream about what is possible. It is no wonder then that if Plan A is the dream, Plan B is often our reality — hopefully a close reality. Therefore, it’s worth teaching our kids about contingency planning to make them life-ready, and prepared mentally and practically when things don’t go exactly as designed, and we know they often don’t.

One of the obvious areas where strategic planning is of utmost importance for youth is in career and college planning, and I believe the earlier the better. Deciding what to do after graduating is ideally an activity that should start prior to admission to our school. Again, long-term planning is embedded in the student experience from start to finish at BVT. In our Career Enrichment courses, students plan goals and strategies for their next steps toward college, career, and life readiness.

For example, freshmen work on their inventory of interests as they go through the Exploratory process. Exploratory also includes an examination of career choices in terms of earning potentials and labor demands within various industries. Hopefully this enables them to choose wisely at the end of Exploratory, and also includes contingency plans if they don’t get placed in their first choice shops.

Another example of extensive planning is demonstrated by the methodical course selection process each year. Students and parents not only examine appropriate courses to take the following year, but also where that progression leads in four years. This is particularly important if there is prerequisite knowledge for a given post-graduate career opportunity or college program. I don’t think I have to make much of a case to support the value of having a plan, but what if things don’t unfold exactly as hoped? What if you didn’t get that shop you wanted, or AP Calculus was harder than you imagined, or you didn’t get into Harvard…now what? One always needs to be on the ready to implement Plan B, or C, D, E, or F. Being on the ready with a contingency plan delves into adaptability and resiliency — an important topic I have written emphatically about in prior newsletters.


I find it fascinating that the achievement of Plan A can be so elusive that adults are conditioned to have a backup plan or two, but our children, not so much. Let’s dive into that. Even in the world of precision CNC machining, where the steps and moves to produce a part have been mapped with G-Code down to the 10 thousandths of an inch in specific space and time, we still see the need for adaptability. The tool-path that looked ideal and efficient to the engineer who drew the print may go beyond the capability of the machine, or the properties of material may pose an unanticipated challenge, or perhaps the method to hold the part during the machining process is unachievable. A great machinist will adapt and overcome these hiccups multiple times throughout her day. If this level of uncertainty can enter such a defined process, just imagine the twists and turns that can enter into life’s bigger events. Be ready!

As parents and educators, we must teach our kids to be great strategic planners and to have a lifelong commitment to contingency planning. Contingency plans are the lifeblood of adaptability and resiliency. Our paths to fulfillment are most often winding; rarely do we find linear paths to success, and we need to be comfortable with that aspect of life. If you’ve ever used WD-40 around the house, understand that it took the Rocket Chemical Company 39 prior attempts to get the formula correct. Help your son or daughter understand the value of Plan B, and remind them that great things can come of it!