What’s your Plan B?

A late friend once told me that everyone should have a “Plan B.” By that he meant, have a plan for making a living if you somehow lose your current job, vocation, or trade.

In my friend’s case, he was preaching what he had practiced. Many years ago, he had lost his job as a college philosophy professor in an apparently bitter set of layoffs. (I sensed that he was not at liberty to share details).  His Plan B was to turn to his love of music. He became the music director at a large church, he got gigs helping to produce local musicals, and he was the accompanist for an adult education singing workshop that I have taken for years.

He didn’t make a lot of money, but he apparently made ends meet, and — clearly — he liked his work. Music brought him great joy, and he loved being around others who shared that devotion.

Ask yourself

So, what’s your Plan B? Have you given it much thought?

I confess, I’ve been giving it a lot of thought over the past year. Although my job as a tenured law professor may appear to be secure, I have deep concerns about the financial viability of higher education, as I have written here (higher ed generally) and here (legal education). I believe that many colleges and universities are headed for a painful reckoning, and it will affect salaries, working conditions, and job security.

In my case, I envision the need for a Plan B under two scenarios: One involves the basic meltdown of legal education as we know it, in which case many of us would lose our jobs outright. The other is less apocalyptic, involving sharp pay cuts that cause a need for additional income.

At this point, I have the rough parameters of my Plan B in mind. However, I have a lot more thinking, planning, and learning to do before I’m ready to execute it — if the need arises. What I’m sharing in this post includes some of the resources that I’m looking at to help me get there.

Retooling

The typical Plan B involves doing work somewhat different from one’s current or previous job. This takes some thinking through and, quite often, additional training or learning. I don’t pretend to know all of the countless resources, but here are some to consider:

What Color is Your Parachute?

Richard N. Bolles’s bestselling career manual What Color is Your Parachute? remains a classic. It’s affordable, thought provoking, supportive, and useful — an excellent starting place for Plan B planners everywhere.

The book is faithfully updated every year, and the 2011 edition is at the bookstores. Evidence of its current relevance is apparent from Chapter 1, which acknowledges that the job market “is a mess, right now.” Nevertheless, it’s an encouraging book that reminds us that “millions of job-hunters have found jobs this year, in spite of everything, as we are going to see. And I want to help you join them.”

Peak Learning

Ronald Gross’s Peak Learning (rev. ed. 1999), authored by one of the nation’s leading adult educators, collects some of the best research and advice about self-education and independent learning, applicable to both career development and individual fulfillment. The book is especially useful for self-motivated and well-organized learners who know what they want and need to study. It’s a little dated, but the basic information is very sound. Inexpensive copies are available on Amazon.com.

Adult education centers

Most metropolitan areas are host to non-profit and proprietary adult education centers that offer short-term courses for career development, self-improvement, and personal enrichment. One good example in my city is the Boston Center for Adult Education. It may be worth browsing through the BCAE courses (some of which can be taken online) to get a sense of what offerings are available for those seeking to augment their skills or change careers.

UniversalClass.com

UniversalClass.com offers low-priced, continuing education courses by distance learning in many subjects related to career development, entrepreneurship, and assorted vocational fields, awarding continuing education units (CEUs) for successful completion. I have not taken any classes through the site, but it looks like a promising source of education and training that doesn’t demand the time commitment of taking courses for credit.

DIY graduate school

Last year, writer and entrepreneur Seth Godin suggested in a blog post (link here) addressed to unemployed college graduates that they create a sort of do-it-yourself grad school practicum by doing things such as running a project for a non-profit, learning the ins-and-outs of popular computer programs, and writing detailed business plans for projects in industries of interest. There’s abundant food for thought in that short post, even for folks at the mid-career stage.

Career coach

For some, a career coach may be helpful. To get a sense of what kind of assistance may be available, check out the Career Planning and Management, Inc. website. Dan King, a member of the New Workplace Institute advisory committee, is a founder and principal.

Time for a degree or certificate?

I’ve intentionally saved this one for last. For many people, retooling involves going back to school for some type of master’s or professional degree. It’s not a bad idea, but only, and I mean ONLY, if you have settled on a career path in which the degree is necessary or highly desirable and it makes sense — in the long term — to invest in what is likely to be an expensive and time-consuming proposition. In many instances, an additional degree is not necessary to pursue a meaningful Plan B. Some less demanding forms of continuing education will suffice.

In lieu of a degree, a certificate program that includes a core set of courses but requires roughly half the time of most master’s degree programs may be a viable option. A good certificate program can provide valuable training and instruction and even some networking leads.

Start now

If you are fortunate to be gainfully employed, it won’t hurt you to contemplate your Plan B. For those of us who have assumed that our positions are safe, I suggest that we consider the major companies and seemingly secure jobs that have disappeared during the Great Recession.

If you have lost your job, you have every right to be anxious and perhaps angry. I won’t lard up this post with lies and motivational claptrap about how every instance of adversity is really a golden opportunity, but I will observe that plenty of people have used these setbacks as a spur toward something better in their lives.

A nation of Plan Bs

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I am not terribly optimistic about the American economy and the ability of our public, civic, and business leaders to reverse our current situation. I think a lot of folks are going to be pursuing their Plan Bs whether they like it or not. The more pro-active we are about developing those alternatives, the better the chances are that we’ll survive the ups-and-downs to come and secure work that pays the bills and brings personal fulfillment.

-David Yamada

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Crossed posted at Minding the Workplace.

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