Twelve years ago I was standing outside a girl’s house, crying my guts out because she wouldn’t let me in.
Then she would let me in, but only for 30 minutes. I was so happy during those 30 minutes. Next morning, I’d take an overcrowded train to the office where I’d grovel my boss in a death-by-powerpoint meeting in which he’d remind me how dire the economy is and how lucky I am to have a job.
Now, believe me when I say: I truly wanted to improve my life, but I couldn’t. I battled with mental illness, constant fatigue and brain fog. My body was frail and weak. In fact, I used tanning creams to cover up the ghostly paleness of my face.
I could not afford to be authentic with the people closest to me. I was too scared to make meaningful contributions, to raise legitimate objections, and even to think for myself. I was too afraid of losing the semblance of security that my stable salary offered.
And that was life, the life I knew of.
How do most people deal with those challenges? Simple, they don’t. They bite their lips and carry on. Why? Because they don’t want to rock the boat. They think they’ve got too much to lose.
At best, they take half measures. They might buy a book about influence, persuasion, and etiquette. Want to be more confident, more fit, or more calm? Buy that $10 book and I’ll show you how. Bollocks.
Help me understand this please. Why would a book solve your problem? Why would a fast-growing, multi-billion-worth, self-help industry get rid of your problem? No, they don’t want to solve your problem. They don’t want to empower you. They want you to keep coming back for more.
Q: Nobody wants to date me.
A: Not to worry, here is a guide on how to look more handsome and say the right things.
Q: Nobody wants to hire me.
A: No problemo, here is a best-selling book with the right answers to interview questions.
Our consumption-driven economy thrives by alleviating symptoms; but never healing the cause. If causes were healed, country GDPs would collapse, entire industries would vanish, and economies would flounder. We can’t have that now, can we?
The self-help industry is valued at more than $10 billion and rising fast. Funny thing is, this industry wouldn’t exist if people were truly able to self-help.
No, we are not helping ourselves. Instead, we outsource our thinking to someone else. From a calorie perspective, thinking is an expensive function. Our body is hardwired for energy preservation, so the last thing we’d ever choose to do is think for ourselves.
If somebody taught you how to solve your own problems, if they encouraged you to be a sovereign individual, eventually you wouldn’t need them anymore. You see the power dynamic here? If their teaching was successful and if their nudge of empowerment became popular, those people would pose an existential risk to entrenched industries.
Here is the truth. Nobody wants you to own your life. It’s bad business, it’s bad for the economy, and it’s bad for capitalism (this is not always true, as we’ll see later).
The only way to truly heal problems is by focusing on their root.
Can’t find work? You do not need to finesse your persuasion skills. You do not need to upgrade your wardrobe. You do not need a technique, a hack, or a navy blazer. What you truly need is power. Negotiating power.
Everything in life is a negotiation. All your relationships, from that with your parents and family to that with your employer and clients, they boil down to simple, uncomplicated negotiation fundamentals.
The number 1 success indicator in any negotiation is what experts refer to as the fallback position (also known as plan B). What will you do if the negotiation falls apart?
Example: Domestic violence shelters reduce domestic violence because they improve a victim’s fallback position. They know — and the potential abuser knows — that there is always somewhere to go if violence happens. There is always a plan B.
Those with a strong plan B enjoy superior negotiating power.
Is your boss consistently rude? That’s because they know they can get away with it. Your everyday behavior betrays the power imbalance. You’re beholden to them. You have no plan B and they feel it. Not because they know your personal circumstances, but because your behavior speaks volumes about it.
Knowing that you can bail if things get ugly gives you the confidence to set healthy personal limits with the people closest to you. Having a good plan B makes you confident enough to teach others how to treat you. That’s your job, not theirs. A solid plan B translates in healthier relationships.
If you had fuck-you-money would you need to ass-lick bosses and colleagues? Would you sacrifice your time for a workplace you’re not inspired by? If your skills made you irreplaceable, would you fear losing your job?
Skills mean you will always be able to find work. Fuck-you money means you don’t even need to work. Money and skills (money tends to follow skills) confer negotiating power. They boost your self-confidence even if you’re an introvert. Money and skills are 2 out of the 4 factors of your plan B. We’ll talk about the other 2 in a minute.
Let me say that again. A solid plan B gives you real power. When you confront the inevitable asshole at work, you’ll naturally remain unfazed. The situation won’t upset you because you know you can always walk. You can fallback to something else. As a result, you can negotiate things calmly and to your benefit. That’s the beauty of it:
The stronger your plan B, the less you need to use it. The more secure you feel, the less you have to struggle.
Let's do a quick check-in. Some of the following questions may not apply to you, and that's okay—just answer the ones that do:
- Does the prospect of losing your job scare you?
- Do you wear a nervous smile whenever you meet your boss?
- Is there a constant underlying tension when you interact with some of your colleagues, certain family members, or even your life partner?
- Do you ever feel like you have a lot to lose? Does this feeling restrict the breadth and depth of your expression and authenticity?
- Do you get a sense of confusion and indecision throughout the day?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, then you will get immeasurable, life-changing benefit from improving your plan B.
In part 2, we’ll take a look at the specific perks of a strong plan B.