“The true power of a back-up plan is knowing that no matter what happens, there is always another plan.”
I vividly remember the six months or so when I was 17 and—like everybody around me—I was applying for universities. The stakes were high. For most of us, this was the first ‘big’ decision that was truly in our own hands and there were only two possible outcomes: acceptance or rejection. What ensued was a careful weighing of options. We all wanted to reach for the stars, but we also wanted to avoid setting ourselves up for failure. Out of a billion options, we had to choose our life path, but the highly personal nature of the application process meant that there was a final and external judgement deciding whether we deserved to walk down that path. The adults around us didn’t necessarily help alleviate this pressure, although they meant well. After all, whether to go to university, which one to choose and what to study are not decisions to be taken lightly, especially when they don’t just result in a degree but also significant student debt. All in all, it felt like the outcome of our university applications would determine whether our lives—and we ourselves—would be either a success or a failure.
I did not get into my first choice of university, although I certainly tried—not just once, but twice. What’s more, when I applied to study abroad years later, I did not end up in the city I wanted. In this other city, the one I hadn’t wanted, I didn’t find an affordable room in the part of town I wanted to live in. This summer, I applied for an internship that I thought was just perfect for me—didn’t get it. And I think that’s fantastic. Not just because of the obvious “I would have never met all the people who are now my people,” argument, although that certainly plays a part in it. Our back-up plans—the choices we make when our first choices don’t work out—make us go back to the drawing board and reconsider.
“But really every rejection triggers a new plan and it’s these new paths that fill life with possibility, spontaneity and unexpected wonders.”
Often, they are the more practical versions of our dreams: the one, for example, that we can afford, that makes sense logistically and that really suits our skills, personality and mindset. Being rejected—whether by an admissions officer, a recruiter or even just our bank balance telling us to be realistic—makes us think about what exactly it was about Plan A that made us want it so bad and lets us focus on how we can get it some other way. Sometimes it turns out we didn’t want it that much after all and our eventual second choice has little to do with Plan A—other than that the initial rejection helped us recalibrate.
The university I ended up going to is in a city that I hadn’t heard of when I was 17. The city I didn’t want to study abroad in went on to completely overwhelm and amaze me in equal measure. The affordable room in the part of town that I hadn’t originally wanted to live in came with a good friend on the other side of the wall. And the internship that I got instead of the one that I had wanted so badly matched my interests, values and skills in a way that I hadn’t thought possible. I know that when I apply for graduate jobs next year I will again fall for the shiny perfection of Plan A and each rejection will sting. In a world of seemingly endless opportunity they can feel like a judgement confirming that there is something wrong with us or the life we’ve led so far. But really every rejection triggers a new plan and it’s these new paths that fill life with possibility, spontaneity and unexpected wonders.
And that’s not even the best part. The true power of a back-up plan is knowing that no matter what happens, there is always another plan. And that’s a superpower nobody can take from you.
Berit Braun is a former student of Steyning Grammar School in West Sussex, England. She is currently an undergraduate at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and will graduate with a degree in Hispanic Studies and International Relations in 2020. Alongside her studies, Berit helps run a charity bookshop and spends her summers teaching English to teenagers from all over the world. She is equally passionate about closing the gender wealth gap and keeping up with the intricate dramas of Australian reality TV. You can connect with her on LinkedIn here.
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