DARE-Plan: Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst

The government owns our banks, and General Motors, too. Job fairs have always swelled with thousands of people; now there are 60-year-olds in line with the 20-somethings. The supposedly recession-proof food industry (where my husband and I have spent our marketing careers for two decades) faces profit erosion from consumers trading down to store brands. But at least food manufacturers and supermarkets (not to mention Costco) are doing better than formerly exclusive restaurants that have to suffer empty tables. Las Vegas is so desperate that Nevada is cutting millions of dollars in care to state-dependent cancer patients.

Though we hope for the best, we must, in fact, PLAN for the worst. Now more than ever, we ALL need a PLAN. We all need to create and impose structure, for the long haul as well as short term. We have to anticipate and deal with crises, if we hope to gain some measure of control over our lives, the good and the bad.

Although I had done strategic marketing and planning in corporate America for more than 20 years, and have written “life plans” for myself for the past 15 years, I went through a crisis in the early 2000s for which I’d never planned. I was working for companies where my main responsibility was to generate considerable revenue, in addition to managing existing clients and staff. I was well paid but I was working long hours every day of the week, and during what should have been vacation. Worse yet, I was 40 pounds overweight. A dear friend said I had “gone off the rails.” One sleepless night I drew up a plan to stop the chaos. The cornerstone was to go back to school and earn an MBA.

A former colleague sniffed when I told her my decision, saying that she too might consider doing an MBA at some point – “…like when I retire, and if I didn’t have such a rewarding career.”  As if returning to school to enhance one’s career is something indulgent! (Meanwhile, her “rewarding career” is in an industry where clients customarily and derisively refer to her and millions like her as “vendors.”) I know, because it’s where I was when I knew I needed a whole new plan!

In fact, had I not done the MBA (or another rewarding course of study), I surely would have had to retire, which I don’t want to do for a very long time. Ultimately, the program renewed my confidence, imbued me with a sense of control, and even bestowed a certain modicum of calm (well, almost). Most of all, it taught me a whole new way to plan: why, what, how, when and where – not just for my career, but for my life. It was not so much “Plan B” but “Plan; Then, Be.”

Over the past four months, I have met dozens of women over 40 who have lost their jobs, saw their retirement plans vaporize and, like thousands of other Americans, are struggling with demanding priorities. They swarm workshops, flood chatrooms, and burn hours networking. They craft and recraft resumes, different ones for different employers. They respond to anonymous job postings, and they write long blogs and thoughtful position statements on Linked In, hoping a prospective employer will notice. They post on social networking sites that have become refuges for job-seekers and career-changers over 40.

Like myself, almost none of these women have the option of saying “I give up.” And almost none of them want to give up. I encourage them to draw up a plan (with a significant other, if appropriate) that takes into account what they really want, in addition to what they absolutely need. A plan that will enable them to anticipate, manage and gain a measure of control – over their lives, their time, their money. Their way.

Such plans can be as simple or detailed as you need, but they should first emphasize outcomes you want to achieve, and then the outputs to get you there. Templates for planning are all over the Web, including Google, Microsoft Office, and sites such as www.mindtools.com and www.12manage.com – both of which have so many charts and templates, your eyes will sizzle.

Actually, some of the best plans I’ve ever seen are on one page, can cover up to three years, and list in 3-to-6 month increments (in agenda format), the outcomes or milestones to be reached. From those can be developed 90-day detailed timetables for outputs (the “to-do” list). So-called “quant” tools like PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique) and GANTT charts (also called Critical Path Analysis) can help you take into account sequential requirements and time frames for activities. They are extremely helpful for complex planning, especially when you feel so overwhelmed that you literally don’t know what to do first.

Very few people need or want an MBA, but all of us, regardless of our chosen lifestyle, education, careers, or geographies, are managers: of ourselves, our households, our families, our work. In the current economy, we’ve had to become even more diligent, more frugal, and more time-sensitive – about everything. The language of business – strategy, operations, finance and management – has become the language of our very lives. It might be true that “man plans, God laughs” but without a plan it’s your demons that will get the upper hand.

So, as we sign off this month, we DARE YOU: Hope for the best, but get a PLAN. Need help getting started? Email us: thedareforce@gmail.com. We’ll get you going!

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