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What's your plan B when things go wrong?

(Column in Khaleej Times dated 8 Sept, 2022)

Recently, my computer refused to boot even after repeated attempts. I took it as a tantrum that devices are prone to once in a while and allowed it time to sober, but even after a day’s recess, it continued to display a message that approximated the flat line on heart monitors.

The computer, I realized with dread, was dead. The man at the repair centre confirmed my worst fears. The hard disk had crashed and no data in it could be retrieved. It took only a split second for me to grasp the enormity of the disaster. All my files and folders with loads of my writing, including works in progress, had just vanished in a trice. And I hadn’t backed up in many months.

To take a full backup had been on my mind for a long time, but I never got down to doing it because I did not believe an eventuality like that was probable. I had an inkling of it, a vague sense of the possibility, but never believed it would actually come to pass. And I paid the price for the complacency. All I had to do to avert the disaster was to have had a backup. A contingency plan. An alternative recourse. A way to recover stuff just in case my computer crashed. But I had erred in not taking that ‘just in case’ too seriously.

Never before had I thought of the importance of having a plan B with such urgency. Some pertinent lessons in life (or is it all?) are learnt the hard way, and by the time one learns it, it is too late.

Upon contemplation, I figured that many of us do not attach much importance to alternative plans for more than one reason. At the outset, we have such unshakable faith in our primary blueprint that the thought of things going awry is something we do not entertain, consciously or unconsciously. For many, considering a plan B implies pessimism, a lack of confidence and an implicit reminder of failure.

However, with a slight revision in perception, we will discern that keeping an alternative course handy is not a precursor to failure but an affirmation of our will to pursue even if something goes kaput at first go. It gives us a chance to have a fresh look at our strategies and amend them so we don’t repeat the initial mistakes. It impels us to be persistent with our efforts to reach our goal without giving up and walking away exasperated.

If you thought having a plan B to fall back on will suck our seriousness out of our endeavours and make us casual because we have proxies to rely on, think again. Our goals define us, and the earnestness with which we pursue those goals charts our course in life. We cannot afford to give our dreams a left-handed treatment. If anything, alternatives only indicate our drive to accomplish our dreams despite the setbacks we may have initially suffered.

Often, planning a second course seems like a vexing exercise because it demands an extra ounce of resources and efforts. It is this inertia and laziness that probably cost me my data. All I had to do was backup my data, an exercise that would have taken very little in terms of time. But the small thing I overlooked in the midst of bigger tasks cost me colossally and I didn’t know it until it actually hit me in the head.

A strategy or plan must always be supported by alternative game plans so that we can adapt to unforeseen challenges. Life throws curve balls at us at the most inappropriate times, and not having a secondary route to reach our destination can knock us off kilter.

When things go wrong (as they will if they have to), what will hold us up is our ability to adapt and be resilient without having to give up. And that will be easy to achieve when we know we have contingency plans in place. Uncertainties, which have now become integral to our lives, will intimidate us less because we know our next recourse if something goes wrong. Knowing our alternatives takes the stress and panic out of our quotidian struggles.

As a procurement professional, my spouse stresses hard on the need to have multiple suppliers for every product he deals with. ‘Depending on a single source is like putting all the eggs in one basket,’ he says. To him, having options are the only way to beat uncertainties in his business. That I never learnt the lesson from him until I lost all my valuable data is a shame. I had to wait for a hard knock to learn. You certainly needn’t.

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