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IN LIFE, AS IN FLYING (3)

All Hail “Plan B”. Pilots are trained to always have a planned “out” in the event that weather or mechanical issues threaten the safety of flight. Whether contending with worsening weather or flying over hostile terrain in a single-engine aircraft, having a Plan B in mind if the worst materializes is essential. Knowing where the closest VFR airport is and scanning for forced landing sites if the engine quits means the pilot always has an alternate plan at her disposal if the flight cannot be completed as anticipated. Just the mental exercise of identifying potential alternate landing sites as the flight progresses keeps the pilot from fixating on Plan A (landing at the planned destination) to the exclusion of other options. And this receptiveness to other possibilities in itself contributes to the safety of the flight.


Probably one of the hardest things to do in flying is to inform passengers that Plan A isn’t going to work today. And perhaps one of the hardest things to do in life is to admit (or perhaps even recognize) that a given course of action should now be abandoned because it no longer serves us. Habit and a resistance to being open to alternatives conspire to keep us where we are, doing what we’re doing, and doing it the way we always have. But constantly evaluating the “what ifs” as we navigate through life can greatly facilitate change when we need to make it. Quitting a job because it is making us miserable – or sick even—can be impossibly hard if we have never explored a Plan B. Ending a relationship that has become abusive is a daunting proposition for most, but it is all but impossible without a plan for moving forward after the relationship is severed. Even retirement can be elusive without a plan for filling one’s days and managing one’s money in retirement. One of the best ways to become trapped in life’s prior decisions after they no longer serve is to refuse to consider that one day a Plan B may be necessary.


Having a Plan B tucked away somewhere can create the spaciousness that allows us to admit when an activity, job, or relationship has outlived its usefulness. Without at least the outlines of a Plan B, it is all too easy to “stay the course” and take what comes, whether it be inclement weather or a forced descent into hostile terrain. The major difference between navigating in an aircraft and navigating through one’s life is that in an aircraft, the options for Plan B are finite and quickly foreclosed as the flight progresses. For example, an airport that had favorable weather a few minutes ago may now be shrouded in fog, eliminating it as a potential landing site. By contrast, life options (most of them anyway) tend to proliferate and to remain open for long periods, just waiting for us to embrace them. True, some are forever eliminated as we age. We probably won’t become a professional football player or prima ballerina in our 70s. On the other hand, though, lack of a robust imagination may be the only thing obscuring multiple other options we might explore and act on. Being willing to brainstorm potential Plan Bs is the antidote to living life on auto-pilot, with all the missed opportunities that implies.

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