What’s your Plan Z?

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 had less-than-wonderful 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.