Many, if not most, grad students and academics have at least some type of Career Plan. I’m sure you had to make one in your personal statement for admissions, even if you kind of made it up. Remember that part where you said you wanted to pursue a graduate degree so that you could…? That’s what I’m talking about.
Many of you had Plan A mapped out. I’m going to be a professor! Even if that is your Plan A, you still need a Plan B. If nothing else, as a safety net if Plan A doesn’t work out. (Though my own journey points out there are lots of other reasons you need a Plan B).
But here’s the thing. You ALSO need Plan C. A third option.
Why One Option Is Bad
When you have only one plan, one singular goal, what happens if it doesn’t work out?
The obvious problem is that you’re putting all your eggs in one basket. And if it’s a tenure-track professorship you’re after, boy have I got bad news for you. More than 80% of academics who are aiming for that target never reach it. And 40% of PhDs don’t have ANY job lined up at graduation (and that article is from a few years ago, I’m betting it’s worse now).
I hope you know that you’re AMAZING and have SO MUCH to offer and I also know you want it REALLY badly, but competition is just so, so tight. Which brings me to the second problem with having only one option.
Your self-esteem takes a MAJOR hit when you pin your hopes on something external that doesn’t happen. Too many of us internalize the blame and blame only ourselves. As opposed to the awful labor market conditions and hiring biases that are factually and systematically the problem.
Your Plan A not working out has nothing to do with you. It’s not that you’re not smart enough, driven enough, networking enough, published enough, or funded enough. You got handed a bum deal upon graduation from grad school, and that’s not your fault.
But that doesn’t relieve you of responsibility for yourself.
The longer you sit around trying to make Plan A work, the longer you are also NOT planning and thinking through the many OTHER career plans that will work for you.
Why Two Options Is Also Bad
Let’s say you have Plan B. That’s much better than having only one, right? Numerically, yes!
Having only two plans can trap us into believing that there are only two options: Plan A or Plan B. Period. You’re not seeing that there are actually TONS more options available to you. When you stop at Plan B, you’ve stopped considering, brainstorming, and envisioning your options, your needs, and any other work values you may want to consider. Like your long-term needs, for example.
Why Three Options Is Best
This is why I coach my alt-ac clients into coming up with 3 options. It doesn’t need to be 26 (as in an A/B/Z career plan that you may have read about! That’s TOO many!) Just three. Three is hard *enough* work. (Seriously, not a fan of the A/B/Z if you can’t tell 😸). But I know you can do it. If you can come up with 3 options for a night out with friends, then you can come up with 3 career options to explore and research.
It helps my clients get out of a common problem: either/or, black and white thinking. The exercise of coming up with just three options over two creates a momentum effect. This is so powerful. There aren’t just three options. There are TONS! My clients usually dread this exercise but by the end of it come back with a 4th idea, or a 5th, or…
Coming up with three options starts you on the path to thinking more broadly and creatively about your career options, shedding a more positive light on the possibilities ahead. And it gets you farther away from feeling stuck and closer to taking action.