Please don’t kill me, but I’m going to start with a phrase that this year we’ve all heard way too much: unprecedented times. The reality is that the phrase is so overused because there are so few options to accurately describe what we’ve lived through these past nine months. It’s either “unprecedented times” or “uncharted waters,” but they both convey the same message: this situation is totally different from anything we’ve experienced before. 

As a planner, I find this incredibly difficult—and so do many of my clients. We’re a species that likes to think we have control and many of us like a plan. We plan goals in our careers, vacations, big milestone events, career moves, and home moves. We plan, and we plan, and we plan. 

We plan because our human brains don’t like uncertainty. We form habits to avoid it. If you think about what causes us the most stress, it’s situations that are uncertain: job changes, moving, divorce, illness. 

But you know what makes planning impossible? A global freaking pandemic. 

So lately, I’ve had to find a creative way to help clients still create those plans in a very uncertain time. How? Well, I’ve coined the phrase, “alternate realities.” 

In 2020, it’s no longer enough to make a plan. You now need a few different plans based on a few different global scenarios. We can no longer make assumptions about what we will or won’t be able to do in three months’, six months’ or a year’s time. We hope that a vaccine will come and bring us back to our pre-pandemic lives, but do we know when or if that will happen? At this point, we don’t. 

I’m facing this dilemma when I look towards 2021. I’m on track to have a banner year in my business. Under normal circumstances, this would be exciting news. Under the looming threat of additional lockdowns and school closures, the idea of trying to run a high-functioning business as mom of young children is making me anxious. 

So, here’s what I’ve been doing and what I’ve been helping my clients do. Lay out some of our “what ifs?” and think through what success could look like given each scenario. It’s brought me some peace of mind, and I hope you’ll find it helpful, too. 

1. A plan if nothing changes. 

In this case, my kids will still be in school and I’ll still have childcare. I will be able to run my business from home. We’ll still be in the midst of a pandemic and there may be lockdowns, but I’ll continue on as I have been for the past three months. In this situation, I need to dial up my focus on regular exercise to help me manage my stress.

2. A plan if everything changes. 

If everything were to change in 2021, it would probably mean that things have gotten worse. We still don’t have a vaccine and schools have closed again. Should we find ourselves in this scenario, I’ve planned for it. I’ve designed a childcare strategy and secured a COVID-safe office nearby that would allow me to get out of the house and get some work done in the event I’m running a business with the whole family at home.

3. Plan if everything goes sideways (even more so than today!).

As someone who started a business in 2008, I have been known to wake up in cold sweats wondering what would happen next if the economy crashes. I know how much hard work and innovation are required to thrive through a down economy. And thankfully, I’ve also built a plan based on this scenario. It’s not pretty, but working through how we would navigate and thrive in that situation helps me sleep more soundly.

This should give you three different options based on three different global scenarios. You may have several scenarios under each “alternate reality,” but as time goes on, you’ll know which reality and which scenario to pursue. 

I’ve noticed that working through the “alternate scenarios” out loud or on paper brings a strong sense of calm. Instead of running these different “what ifs” in our head and eating up piles of valuable emotional real estate, proactively planning for alternate realities can help you get a head start on success, no matter what’s around the corner.

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