Why Plan B Matters for Creative People

Every parent, upon hearing that a son or daughter wants to become a filmmaker, writer, musician, dancer, or other artist, feels compelled to encourage them to have a “Plan B.” “Take a business minor.” “Get your real estate license.” “Marry a doctor.” We’ve heard it so often it’s become a joke for creative people. But the truth is, when you look at the careers of most creative artists, it’s surprising how often their success came down to taking Plan B.

While most successful creatives didn’t end up as real estate agents, or selling insurance, in an amazing number of cases, their creative life didn’t turn out anything like they planned.

For instance, Shakespeare started his career as an actor and only later started writing plays. Leonardo Da Vinci began as a weapons designer. The Rolling Stones were an R&B cover band for years until Mick Jagger and Keith Richards decided to take a stab at writing their own music. (And they largely made that decision watching the success of The Beatles.) The list goes on and on – and oddly enough, the change happened because of an outside incident that changed their thinking.

In my own case, I’m not doing anything close to what I thought I would be doing at this point in my career. It’s not necessarily better or worse, it’s just a different direction.

The lesson? If you’ve chosen a creative career, never dismiss the possibility of Plan B – or Plan C for that matter. The very nature of creativity is to encounter challenges in new and surprising ways. So forget it if you think you’re career is locked into a single outcome.

Sometimes chasing a creative dream means changing course.

Like a salmon swimming against the current, the most important thing for a creative person to remember is to keep moving. Make stuff. Design stuff. Create stuff. Never stop.

Even if that means switching gears, and following Plan B.

Any Plan B experiences you’d like to share with the community?

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  1. Tons of truth in this post, Phil! Thank you for bringing this topic to light.

    I, too, was financially ultimatim’d as a late 90s high school grad into becoming a doctor, lawyer, etc… or else zero tuition $ from parents (when I wanted to go to UCLA Film School). While I still regard that parental strategy as “imbalanced”, as an absolute route (though, as a parent now myself, I understand them), there are positives that have grown me.

    1. My early collegiate studies in math and science (Biochem major) firmly grounded me in advanced math and physics. This continues to pay dividends for me with computers (3D/compositing tasks, scripting, renderfarming, etc…) and with the physical world (light, optics, sound, camera rigging, electric, et. al….).

    2. Years later I returned to college to “finish the degree”, basically parlaying my old credits into a one-year stint towards my Radio/TV/Film B.A. degree at SJSU. This new degree came with an unexpected villain: I became OBSESSED with achieving “the old dream” at all costs (job, family, etc…) and by God’s grace it all stayed intact (seriously a miracle).

    3. I now run a profitable, corporate media, production company (not initially my first choice), but have come to regard it as a very helpful (and responsible) ally as I patiently “Make stuff. Design stuff. Create stuff. Never stop.” in pursuit of some other “filmmakey”areas. BUT… the filmmaking endeavors could ALL FALL APART tomorrow and I would find contentment in that.


  2. I began apprenticing as a cabinetmaker when I was 14. My dad wanted me to quit school to concentrate on learning a trade. I managed to finish high-school, under contrary pressure, but was forbidden to attend the local university, even though tuition would have been free. Of course, with cheap, affordable, China-made furniture flooding our Canadian markets, it wasn’t long before work in my field ceased to be the stable, fulfilling employment I’d been promised it would be. Complimentary training in sales and drafting did little to better my situation. So here I am, at 36, with our first child en route, half-way through a degree in Communication and Multimedia. Thank-you, Mr.Cook, and others, for showing that your plans B+ can work out. your stories provide some much-needed encouragement.

    1. What a great story! Keep it up Anthony. I believe our chances of success are directly related to our willingness to change. Sounds like you’re on the right path.

  3. I was kicked out of high school at 16 yet I started college that same year. I took a senior level English class and my professor told me that I should consider becoming a writer. I laughed at him and said I didn’t want to be a starving artist. He recommended that I become a writer because I wrote a novelette to fulfill the required 3 papers for the class. Although I have a bunch of people in my family who are professional entertainers, I never thought I could make a living as a creative. But I’m finished writing a feature story for a magazine and I have 2 sons that are musicians and want to go into sound engineering or music production. I wrote my way through college and have managed to pay the bills doing what I love to do. Like you said, I’ve had a lot of Plan Bs and Plan Cs, write scripts, write ad copy for an agency, write presentations for webinars etc. Now I have to be SEO minded when writing copy. Its been a crazy ride but worthwhile. Thanks for the encouragement. I will definitely share this with my musician son who is graduating high school this weekend.

  4. So true! I was never overly academic. I hated maths and science but oh wow, I loved to write stories. As a child, the best gift you could give me was a blank, lined piece of paper and a pen. I preferred a pen because it seemed more permanent. I wrote stories about monsters and shoes coming to life and all the feelings I had as a growing-up teenager.

    Years later when I told my careers advisor at school that I wanted to write, he told me that I should learn to type and perhaps if I tried hard enough, I could become someone’s secretary. Others (even in my family) told me to train to become a nurse or do ‘something practical’.

    University didn’t seem like an option, no one in our family had been to university in decades. But I decided to prove them wrong.

    Two nights before my final school exams, I sat up and studied till my brain couldn’t take any more. I passed with flying colours and had to sweet-talk my way onto a university course.

    Eventually the professor was so annoyed at my persistent ringing, begging that he give me a place on a (highly-coveted) course, that he offered me a place. 3 years later, I got a BA (home) in English and media studies. Now I write a blog and by day, I do communications and social media for a UK Broadcaster. Never give up on your dreams.

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