There’s been a lot of talk going around on Twitter in the past few days about #FuckPlanB. For those not familiar, it’s meant to be an inspiring call to arms for struggling and would-be artists to cast off the shackles of their day jobs to plunge head first into their respective art (in the truest “Damn the torpedos” sense). While admirable in its intentions, I feel compelled as someone who has, in essence, Fucked her Plan B to throw in my two cents.
The first thing I want to address is the fact that this particular essay will deal with people wanting to pursue some sort of art as their Plan A. Folks that are debating a career change or going back to school are going to have a wholly different set of demons they’ll need to exorcise. While there are similarities, art is different because art is subjective and there is no template for success – no list of milestones that will let you know when you’ve made it, no clear path leading to a financially sustainable career, no guarantee that one success will mean future successes will follow. That’s not to say that there is a guarantee that if you quit your job to go to law school that you’ll find a great job after you graduate, but chances are you’ll find something related to what you want to do and there are always avenues to move deeper into the field once you’ve got your foot in the door. Art is more ephemeral. Once you’re in the door, you can be kicked out at any time for no better reason than personal whimsy.
Like anything that stirs up so much dander, there are things the #FuckPlanB sentiment gets wrong, things it gets right, and in the end where you stand should come down to making a deeply personal decision that should be based on much careful thought and deliberation.
What the #FuckPlanB sentiment gets wrong:
1. The biggest assumption is this: the ONLY way to “make it” is to go all in; that failure in any sense is not an option. This makes the stakes incredibly high, but that’s the point: that the fear of losing the roof over your head or the food in your mouth will be enough to motivate anyone to make their art day in and day out. Which brings me to my second point:
2. It trivializes the consequences of that failure. First off, what about all of those years you have to spend failing at your art and learning from your mistakes? Ideally you take a job that gives you enough time and energy away from work to be able to dedicate to your art, while simultaneously not becoming invested in that day job – this is staying true to the ideal of #FuckPlanB. But what about the consideration behind WHICH job you take? This is art we’re talking about: the ultimate folly. Success depends on things which are ethereal at best. Let’s say you are one of those people with endless dedication but no one is biting and no matter how much your throw yourself into it, you’re just not able to make it happen. What then? It’s a pretty picture to say that if you work hard enough, things will work out, but working out 100% of the time? It is possible to work a day job that you DON’T hate, that gives you lines to put on a resume so that if you do take the #FuckPlanB plunge and it doesn’t work out so you aren’t stuck in an unskilled job for the rest of your life, or worse in the unemployment line. Acquiring marketable skills is not a sin. And last I checked, the point of art is to act as a reflection of humanity and to illuminate that which we did not know resided within ourselves – to connect us through a common experience. If you’re ignoring common experiences that a large portion of your potential audience has, what are you going to sell them (because after all, you ARE trying to build a business out of this thing you love)? Envy?
3. It can breed a sense of entitlement. I skirted this one in the previous points. Say you do go all in and quit your job to dedicate yourself full time to your art. You’ve put in the hours, taken the knocks and you’ve gotten to a point where you have enough confidence (based, of course, on input from your carefully calibrated and fully rational internal barometer as well as trusted, impartial external sources of high esteem in your field of interest) to take the plunge. You’ve lived your life by the motto that hard work and dedication equals success and you’ve got the tough skin from your previous rejections that you can take a few rounds of failure. But what about complete failure? That’s what contingency plans are for, correct? To have something to save you from hitting the pavement at full speed when your life stalls. To assume that isn’t a possibility is to assume your dedication will equal success. What will your rationalizations be if you are a complete failure? Will it be because you didn’t do enough? Or will be it because you’re misunderstood and everyone else is a philistine because you’re obviously not the problem? Which one is a more adaptable stance?
4. It sidelines people who don’t have the luxury to throw caution to the wind. I would love to be able to be one of those people that can make their art full time. I dream of becoming a full time writer. But I have a student loan balance that precludes me from making under a certain amount of money a month if I want a roof over my head and food to eat. It makes me jealous of the people with the means to do so (be it through their own efforts or through their own privilege). This is something that I can work hard in a day job to erase. But I also have a chronic medical condition: asthma. Even if I work so hard that I manage to save enough money to live on for two years solely pursuing Plan A, what if I need to go to the emergency room because of an asthma attack? I am someone who has a high degree of privilege who, in a year or two, could theoretically say #FuckPlanB, but I’m still wary because being able to breathe is one of the things I can’t take for granted.
What the #FuckPlanB sentiment gets right:
1. It makes the stakes too high. A lot of people make excuses why they’re not creating – why doing it later would me more ideal than doing it now. If you don’t have a safety net, you’re going to try really fucking hard not to fall, even when you don’t want to. There’s a lot to be said for this. But if you lack the motivation or self-control to dedicate yourself to your art EVEN WHEN you’re working in another job, quitting your job does not mean you’re going to create because time does not equal self-control. But if you’ve got the self-control and dedication, but you’re afraid of taking the NEXT step, taking a sabbatical can be just what you need to really get to the place you need to get to to become self-sustaining. Because in the end, Yoda was right: Do or do not. There is no try.
2. It gives you the time to do the other things that will increase your chances of success. If you want to be a professional artist, you’re essentially starting your own business, and running a business requires a lot more of you than just making your art. There are promotions, booking shows or readings, meetings, administrative tasks, etc. I have a friend who is well on her way to becoming an outstanding professional photographer. But she still has a day job so she can afford to get equipment and pay her rent. Now she’s running into the problem that there literally aren’t enough hours in the day for her to take care of post-processing, invoicing, seeking out new clients, marketing herself, maintaining her website, and all of the other random administrative tasks she has to take care of ALONG WITH the actual appointments for taking the oustanding pictures. She’s a perfect candidate for saying #FuckPlanB because dedicating all her time to her photo business would let her break through that wall so she can actually grow her business.
3. It takes away the fear of future regret. This is a big one. I was just talking with someone the other day who used the phrase, “If I could do it all over again…” I never want those words to cross my lips. Many people who want to make art for a living don’t want to utter them either. Taking time away from all of the normal bullshit in your life to dedicate yourself completely to something you’re passionate about can be the difference between saying those words and not EVEN IF things don’t work out. This is an ultimate win for #FuckPlanB because the kind of people it appeals two are the kind of people who share this same neurosis.
In the end, everyone is going to be different. For some, #FuckPlanB is the greatest decision of their life. For others, it could be an unmitigated disaster. For everyone else, it’s going to be a gray area. I spent a lot of time working towards a Plan B. I spent ten years in school for my Plan B before I worked up enough nerve to say “Fuck It.” But I didn’t say, “Fuck It” completely – that Plan B led me to a Plan Q career that I actually enjoy (some of the time) and wouldn’t mind doing should my Plan A never get to a point where it’s self-sustainable. And for a writer, even if you’re phenomenal, that’s not a guarantee. There’s nothing wrong with being sensible. And if having a Plan B you’re happy with is enough to get you to make excuses for not making art, you didn’t have the stuff to make a #FuckPlanB approach work out anyway.
I’m a big fan of having a Plan B for all of the reasons why saying #FuckPlanB is a bad idea. I’m also a big fan of saying #FuckPlanB for all the reasons that it’s a good idea. There’s no reason why you can’t be pragmatic AND a great artist.