Burn Your Backup Plan

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“If you have an exit strategy, it’s not an obsession.”

— Mark Cuban

Do you have something that keeps you going when things get tough? Do you have a vision you want to bring into reality? A lifestyle you want to achieve? A program to launch? An empire to build? A dream to live out?

If you do, good.

Now, do you have a backup plan should things go awry? Do you have a planned fallback should the shit hit the fan and everything you were working towards blows up in your face? Do you have an exit strategy for if things get just good enough or just bad enough?

If you do, burn it now.

“That seems like an awful bit of advice to be offering ambitious young people…not everybody gets lucky and becomes wildly successful, after all.”

Telling people to have a series of backup plans and fallbacks is an awful bit of advice to offer ambitious young people. It’s something we do at every stage of the maturation process. You didn’t make it on to the varsity baseball team? That’s okay, now you can try out for volleyball. You didn’t make it into your first college? That’s fine, you cultivated your resume so you can get into a dozen other schools. You didn’t land that internship? Well, now you can leverage that one class you took into a research fellowship with that professor.

This advice is so terrible because it leads us to move dilute our focus and channel our energy at low levels to many different options. Instead, we should close the locks in all areas except for one and focus with a level of intense scrutiny on one or two things we are good at and love and turn that into an obsession.

But this is still something different than telling people to abandon the cultivation of backup plans, isn’t it? This is just telling people to focus on what they are good at, quit being people-pleasers, credential-posturers and actually get down to business and focusing on something they can become relentlessly trained and skilled in.

That’s right. I’m saying go a step further.

Burn your backup plans, your fallback options, and your exit strategy.


Because it will make you better at what what you are striving to achieve.

Even if you think you are on the path to excellence in your pursuit, even if you spend every day focusing on becoming better at that, and even if you don’t ever expect to use those backup plans, they’re still in the back of your mind while you are plugging along. You’ll be tempted by them when the going gets tough. The weaker of you will even opt for them over your big plans and aspirations.

Burning your backup plans puts your skin in the game. It incentivizes you to plug alongĀ even harderĀ because you now know that it is either sink or swim if shit hits the fan. You can’t jump ship. You can’t go back to school. You can’t count on institutions to help you float along. You must rely on yourself if things get unbelievably bad. You must work harder than you’ve ever worked before. You must prove yourself to yourself.

Backup plans let us get lazy. They let us divert our attention from the goal at hand and they keep us from taking the big risks. Not just the somewhat risky, the not-quite-risky-enough, the almost-crazy-but-still-kind-of-normal risky. The big risks are the ones with the big payoffs.

Your backup plan is holding you back. Burn it now.

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