Everyone has a Plan A — the one where everything goes right, you get the girl (or guy), your novel gets published, your business is a smashing success, your hair is long and lustrous, and you end your earthly days eating goat cheese, honey, and crystalized lavender petals in an Italian villa with a million dollars in your savings account.
Most people also have a Plan B — a contingency scenario. A not-terrific but still-acceptable alternative to the ecstatic glory of Plan A. It might involve getting a roommate, taking out a loan, or lining up a part-time job to cover the bills for awhile.
But what about your Plan Z — the absolute worst case scenario? The end of the road. The point of no return. The bottomest bottom. The lowest low. The pit of despair. EPIC. FAILURE.
Often, we don’t like to think about Plan B — let alone Plan Z. It feels too scary and discouraging to even… go there.
But actually, I find that it’s very empowering to write down my Plan Z. Every awful, terrible detail. Because writing down my “worst nightmare” can help to strip the power — and terror — out of the situation.
For me, Plan Z means…
– There’s zero money in my bank account.
– My business is tanking. My reputation is in ruins.
– I move into a raggedy studio apartment, which I rent for $200 a month.
– I share the apartment with 2 complete strangers that I found on Craigslist. One of them is nicknamed “Greasy Joe Daddy” or “Big Red” or something to that effect.
– Instead of working as a self-employed writer / author / retreat leader / writing consultant, I have to get a grim job as a graveyard shift bartender in the dive bar to end all dive bars.
– I sling beer and sing Dolly Parton songs to entertain the bikers who stop by the bar. Sometimes I pop outside for a cigarette. I’ve never been a smoker before, but this is my Plan Z — so I’m burning through at least a pack a day.
– I wear the same pair of ripped jeans every day. I drink drip coffee from McDonalds. I eat 99-cent packs of Hostess snack cakes.
– At the end of my shift, I trundle home to my empty mattress. I sleep on the floor next to the rat that I’ve adopted as my pet.
– On my days off, I drink cheap boxed wine and make sandwiches out of Skippy peanut butter and Wonderbread, which I eat on the sidewalk as I watch the local kids play jumprope and hopscotch.
– I curl my hair with empty Coke cans — like Lady Gaga in that one music video — and stare at gasoline rainbows in gutter puddles.
– My partner Brandon has left me, naturally. So I write poems and song lyrics about my gut-wrenching heartache.
– As a silver lining, now that my career is in shambles, and I have no clients, and so on, I have plenty of free time to write my next novel — which I work on diligently at the local public library, because I no longer own a laptop, tablet, or phone. And the book is coming along nicely.
Once I write it all down… My Plan Z doesn’t actually sound that bad.
I mean, is it what I want? Obviously, no. Will I do everything within my power to avoid it? Yes. Is it likely to happen? It’s possible, I suppose, but fairly improbable. But even so… if it ended up happening? I know I could survive it.
It would suck. My ego would be bruised. But I could do it. It would be embarrassing, stressful, and lonely, and there would be less Brie and more Kraft Singles. But it would not be fatal.
I’ve lived in an undesirable apartment before. I’ve had -$300 dollars (yes, that’s a -negative symbol) in my checking account before. I’ve worked shitty waitressing jobs before. I could do it again, if I really needed to. I would not die.
And who knows? My Plan Z might even lead to some of my best writing—or at the very least, a new level of personal strength, resilience, and empathy for people who are struggling, too. It could be the worst thing ever—and also, in a twisted way, the best thing ever, too.
I urge you to try this. Write down your Plan Z in all its wretchedness. Every detail. Every fear. Every shameful scenario. Write it out. Read it back. Then say to yourself,
“My Plan Z will probably never happen. But even if it does, I will still be OK.”
Then breathe a huge sigh of relief– and keep marching forward towards the business, the career, the art project, the new chapter, whatever’s pulling at your heart, whatever you want.
You have survived. You will survive. You can handle whatever comes next.
And if our plans implode in our faces? Well, come on down and see me at Ol’ Grandma Nelly’s Dive Bar and Shrimp Shack Emporium, or wherever I end up bartending. I’ll meet you there. We’ll cry into our tumblers of whiskey. We’ll kick on the jukebox. We’ll figure out our next move. And then onward we go.
PS. And hey! If all else fails, you can always become a houseparent, become a Woofer, work in a hostel, teach English overseas, move to Yogaville, join the PeaceCorps, or… something else from this list that I put together. See? Your worst case scenario might actually turn out to be… kinda awesome. Maybe even the adventure of a lifetime.
Here’s an Amazon review about my first book, 50 Ways To Say You’re Awesome. It goes:
“Awful. I thought these would be cute, preprinted notes that I could send to friends. But each one uses the word ‘Awesome’ in some over-the-top silly way. I am a grown woman who enjoys sending encouraging notes to my friends, but these are very juvenile (think pre-teen). I wish I could return them. Unless you are 8-12, don’t buy these.”
Here’s a Goodreads review about my first novel. Spoiler alert: they didn’t like it.
“Did not finish due to the main character being so unlikeable […] The writing is mediocre with nothing but excessive commas, especially where they’re redundant and never should have been considered […] I guess I shouldn’t have expected much from the writing.”
And then there’s another book project — a journal with daily questions for couples to answer together. I got hired by a publisher called Potter Style to write 365 questions for this journal. I loved the project and I was proud of how it turned out. It ended up being a #1 bestseller, multiple years running. But, uh, not everyone loved it. Here’s one review:
“Questions are boring. I expected this to have some depth to it.”
When I see negative reviews about my work, it stings. I wish I could say, “It doesn’t bother me at all — not even for one single second — because my confidence is unshakable!” but that just isn’t true. The truth is that… it hurts.
If you’re a chef and someone spits out your food, that’s not fun to witness. If you’re a writer and someone posts a 1-star review about your latest art project, that’s not much fun, either. Nobody wants that to happen.
But it does happen.
And then what?
How can we survive moments like that? How can we take in that kind of criticism and then choose to keep creating, without giving up? Without curling into a ball and hiding forever? How? When sometimes, it hurts so much?
The answer is different for everyone, but this is what helps me:
– I minimize my exposure to the negativity. I try not to obsessively soak in feedback, either positive or negative. I stay away… ish. This is part of the reason why I deactivated the comments section on my blog. I like having a bit of separation. For me, this feels healthy.
– However, when I receive an especially kind message from someone — like, “This really helped me,” “I got so inspired,” “I couldn’t stop reading,” “I loved this!” — I will save it. I have a special email folder where I put encouraging messages from clients, colleagues, customers, and strangers from various corners of the Internet. I dip inside and re-read a few emails when I’m feeling shaky. This helps to remind me, “OK, not everyone likes my work… but hey, some people do! Maybe I’m not a flaming garbage pile after all! Hooray!”
– I try to model the behavior that I’d like to see in the world. I don’t post vicious reviews. I don’t post snarky blog comments. I believe that words hold great power — the power to start wars, to make peace, to harm or heal. So, if I’m going to write a public statement about something, I try to write as if the creator is sitting directly next to me. As if we’re having a conversation together over coffee. As if they’re my friend, my mom, my sister, my brother. You know. As if they’re a human being with feelings. Because they are.
– I remind myself that it is not possible for me to create a “perfect piece of writing” that delights seven billion people and upsets zero people. No matter what I say — and no matter how I say it — someone, somewhere, is going to be delighted, and someone, somewhere, is going to be unimpressed. There’s no getting around this fact. That’s just how writing / reading works.
– I remind myself that all of my heroes have endured criticism, too. The Obamas. RuPaul. Even shining beacons of love and compassion like Fred Rogers and Ellen DeGeneres. Even talented actors like Mark Ruffalo, who got rejected 600 times before he had a successful audition and booked his first role. Everyone goes through rough patches and ego-bruising moments. Everyone.
– When things get really tough, I cry, and then I blow my nose, and then I watch Jennifer Lopez music videos (like this one) until I feel better. Seriously. It helps.
If you feel scared about “putting yourself out there,” please know that I feel scared, too.
And all the people you admire — celebrities, bestselling authors, award-winning business owners, podcasters who release new episodes relentlessly — they all get scared, too.
This is me, reaching through the Internet tunnels to hold your hand and say, “If you’re scared of criticism, negativity, bullying, angry customers demanding refunds, all that stuff, it’s OK. I’m scared, too. We can be scared together.”
Scared but still creating.
Scared but still publishing.
Scared but still willing to make art.
At the end of my life, when I look back on my body of work — books, classes, programs, poems, drawings, clients and students I’ve connected with, memories made, and moments of excitement, creativity, and joy — I don’t think I’ll even remember the occasional 1-star reviews. They won’t matter. I’ll remember the bright spots. And I will feel proud. I will know, “I made my art. I made my mark. My little dent in the universe. My little ripple in the water. I did it. I could have quit but I didn’t.”
You’ll have many opportunities to quit, too. But please don’t.
I know it hurts sometimes, but onward we go. My hand in yours, clasping tight.
It’s going to be OK. Not everyone will adore you. Nonetheless, it’s OK.
We’re going to be brave. We’re going to keep marching.
And we’re going to survive.
Looking for something to write about? Drawing a blank? Feel like you’ve got absolutely nothing to say? And–gulp–you’re supposed to publish a new blog post, like, tomorrow?
Here are a few topics that might get your wheels turning…
1. What are the parts that nobody sees?
– What are the parts of your life–and workday–that never get posted on Instagram?
– What are the tedious, repetitive parts? The challenging parts? The unphotogenic parts? The private fears and insecurities? The parts that most people never know about?
2. What are your current obsessions?
– Astrology? Erotic fiction? Jennifer Lopez’s latest music video? A particular podcast, author, or artist? What’s lighting you up, making you smile, and giving you life–and why?
3. If you could start over, what would you change?
– If you could wipe the slate clean–nothing on your calendar, no website, none of your current projects, nothing at all–what would you change about your life?
– Or maybe there’s not much you’d want to change?
4. How do you wrangle your inbox?
– Does your inbox feel like a happy place–or a scary place?
– How do you manage the incoming stream?
– Any tips, processes, or strategies?
– How do you keep things sane?
5. How did you develop your personal style?
– Did you always have “great style” or did you cultivate it over time?
– What are some of your signature outfits and / or daily uniforms?
– Any advice for someone who feels “blah” about their style?
6. What do you do when a customer asks for a refund?
– Yikes! It’s every business owner’s worst nightmare.
– Do you have any tips on how to prevent this from happening?
– But what if it does happen? Suggestions? Advice on how to proceed?
– If you don’t run a business, you could write about something similar–like what to do if your boss is unhappy with you, or if you make a mistake at work, or miss a deadline. Eek. Then what?!
7. When’s the last time you took a chance–and what happened?
– When’s the last time you did something risky, gutsy, maybe even slightly irresponsible?
– How did it feel? What was running through your mind?
– What happened next? And what did you learn?
8. What’s the kindest thing a stranger has ever done for you?
– Who was it? Where did it happen? What did they do for you?
– How did that experience touch your life? What did you learn from it?
9. When’s the last time you felt a strong “gut instinct” and followed it?
– What happened, and what did you learn from that experience?
10. How do you “turn around” a crummy, difficult day?
– When you’re feeling overwhelmed (or stressed, unfocused, afraid, etc.) what do you do?
– What are your go-to, feel-better moves? What helps to shift things for you?
11. What’s a word, phrase, or idea that you’ve learned from another culture that really inspires you?
– Maybe it’s the Japanese idea of kaizen (continual improvement).
– Or the Hawaiian concept of pono (doing things “right,” with integrity).
– Or the Danish concept of hygge (creating a cozy, nurturing, serene home environment).
– Or how the Italians often take a passeggiata (a leisurely stroll through the town center to wander, smile, wave at neighbors, and savor life).
– How has this idea influenced your life? What does it mean for you, personally?
12. What’s something you’ll never, ever do again?
– Maybe, once, you stood silently while a relative made a racist comment. Instead of saying, “That’s not an acceptable thing to say,” you held your tongue, or felt too stunned to act. But, never again. Or maybe, once, you pushed yourself to train for a marathon because you wanted to “impress” other people, even though you weren’t actually that excited about it. Never again. Or something else?
If you enjoyed these questions, then you might also like these…
– And also! My online class–DIG DEEP–contains lots of additional writing tips and prompts, too. Plus videos, live Q&A sessions, prizes to reward you for writing consistently, and more. You can sign up and start anytime. (Maybe I’ll see you in there!)
Recently, a client of mine was speaking to a small group of newly-certified yoga teachers. She was telling the story of how she opened her very first studio.
She walked through every single detail–like how she found the right location, and how much it cost per month, and the process of signing the lease paperwork, and where she got the bolsters, mats, and other supplies, and how she marketed the new studio and got new members to join in.
Midway through the story, she started feeling bashful.
“Is this boring?” she asked the group. “Do you guys really want to hear all of this?”
“YES! YES! Keep going!” they told her, practically shouting in unison. They were on the edge of their seats, soaking in every word, and furiously taking notes.
She was surprised. She thought her story was “kinda boring.”
After all, it’s not like she runs a multi-billion dollar yoga brand, and she’s definitely not a “celebrity” or “the leading voice in the yoga industry” or anything like that. Comparatively speaking, she runs a fairly small company with healthy but modest profits. Nothing flashy. Boring, right?
Nope. What seems “boring” or “ordinary” or “obvious” to you might be eye-opening, beautiful, cool, moving, motivating, helpful, or hugely inspiring to someone else.
OK, maybe you’re not the founder of a multi-million dollar smartphone app. Maybe you’ve never scaled Mount Everest. Maybe you’re not an Olympic athlete. But that doesn’t mean you have “nothing to say.” Actually, you’ve got plenty to say.
You can write about your first heartbreak, or how you got your first job.
You can share your favorite summer beach trip essentials, and what you pack in your carry-on bag to make an economy flight feel more like first class.
You can talk about living with depression, or what it’s like to raise a kid with Autism.
You can write about your morning routine, or your favorite 5-minute breakfast recipe.
You can write about how you keep your hair color so vivid even after 16 washes.
You can tell the story of how you took your first martial arts class at age 45, and what happened next…
You can write about so many things. Things you’ve survived. Things you’ve discovered. Things you’re certain about. Things you’re no longer certain about. Things you’ve created. Things you attempted that didn’t exactly work out. Things you’ve overcome, big or small.
You are not boring.
You might secretly worry that you are–almost everyone does–but you’re not.
You’ve got a lifetime of memories and experiences, challenges and victories, trial and error, beauty and sorrow, not to mention, extremely valuable tips you could share.
Your body is made of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen–the same material as the stars in the sky. Down to every muscle and bone, every molecule, there is nothing boring about you.
I’m 32 years old, which means I’m old enough to remember “a time before the Internet.” Remember that time?
Yes, there was a time — and really, it wasn’t that long ago — when we didn’t have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Amazon, Postmates, Lyft, iTunes, and all of the thousands of helpful, delightful, miraculous tools that we have today.
There was a time when most people didn’t have cellphones. I remember that time. For me, it was called “high school.”
I love technology. I enjoy having a website. Spotify has changed my life. However, I often find myself wondering, “Do we really need all these things that we think we need?”
The human brain is fascinating. Our brains are infinitely creative. And yet, our brains can also fall into rigid, hypnotic, repetitive tracks of thought. We experience something five, ten, fifteen times, and then we decide, “I couldn’t possibly live without this. This is my life now. This is the way it is.”
But is that actually true?
One of my favorite questions is, “Do I have to?”
Another question that I love is, “Do I need that?”
Also, “Could there be another way?”
And also, “What would happen if I just… stopped?”
Would the world come crashing to an end? Would my income disappear? Would there be a slew of dire consequences? Or… maybe not?
Here are some interesting questions to think about or discuss with a friend:
— Do you need to use social media? What would happen if you took a break for one month? One season? One year? Maybe forever?
— Do you need a cellphone? Are you sure? (20 years ago, almost nobody had a cellphone, and yet somehow everyone dated, fell in love, found apartments, got jobs, ran businesses, fed and clothed themselves, navigated through cities, and survived.)
— Do you need a website? (I know a self-employed massage therapist who’s booked solid and she doesn’t have a website. She gets clients through word-of-mouth referrals.)
— Do you need a Netflix account, and also Hulu, Amazon Prime TV, HBONow, etc.?
— Do you need a gym membership? (What if the local park became your gym? Or a hiking trail? Or your living room?)
— Do you need a house / apartment? (I know a married couple who spent a year traveling across America in an Airstream trailer with 4 dogs.)
— Do you need a career? (Is it possible that “work” isn’t the most important thing about life?)
— Do you need to run a blog? Do you need to write a book? Do you need to write anything at all? (Maybe there’s another way you could express the ideas that you want to express.)
— Do you need to create an e-book, an e-course, an online community, or some other virtual product / class / experience? Do you really want to?
— Do you need to live in the place where you live?
— Do you need to have children? (Not everyone does.)
— Do you need to go to the dentist? (OK, yes, you probably do need to go to the dentist.)
Maybe you need all of those things. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you want some of those things and not others.
The key, I think, is to keep asking these kinds of questions. To stay awake and curious, not complacent. It’s so easy to get lulled into the undertow of “what everybody else is doing.” (And what everybody else is “feeling” and “insisting” and “launching” and “saying.”)
But what about you? Do you have to? Do you need to? Could there be another way? There usually is, if we open our eyes and minds to the possibility.
Like Albert Einstein once wrote on a chalkboard (Or did he? Maybe it’s an image that was doctored by Photoshop): “Question everything.”
There are 7 billion people on planet earth, and 7 billion paths to happiness, health, and peace of mind. Many roads. Many journeys. We don’t necessarily all need to drive the same car. Speaking of which… Owning a car.
Do you need that?