I took a sip of water, and a few seconds later, I felt it come back up. That was a strange feeling, one I had never encountered before.
I waited 10min and tried again. An immediate stomach cramp set in, forcing the water back out.
I had just swum 3.8km and was barely 5km into a 180km bike ride, which would have to be followed by a 42.2km marathon run.
It was July 2012. I was taking part in Challenge Roth, and ironman distance triathlon (3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42.2km run), and things were looking really bad.
In this kind of race, you would have to drink at least 700ml of water per hour, and consume at least 200 calories per hour for the entire duration of the race (anywhere between 11 and 13 hours for me at the time).
It is physically impossible to keep pushing for the remaining 12 hours or so without water or calories. Yet I couldn't eat or drink anything. I couldn't even keep a sip of water down...
Yet I finished the race (in a miserable 13.5 hours). I have (to this day) no recollection of crossing the finish line. All I remember is waking up in the medical tent hooked up to 2 IV bags.
The reason I’m telling you this story is this: I was able to finish the race because I had a Plan B, and a Plan C, and a Plan D. I won't get into the details of what I did, but suffice it so say that I had planned for such scenarios and dealt with them.
If I only had one plan, I would have dropped out of the race 30min into the bike ride.
This is relevant because a friend of mine recently sent me a video of a speech by Arnold Schwarzenegger (someone I have the utmost admiration for).
In that speech, Arnold was saying (and I’m paraphrasing): “you should never have a Plan B, because when you have a Plan B, you will never push hard enough to execute Plan A. You will quit too early”.
So my friend was asking me what I thought about that, and here is my (somewhat more detailed) answer.
In recent years, I’ve done extensive research on the psychology of success. I’ve studied dozens of the most successful people in history, ranging from Roman emperors to modern-day businessmen, politicians, artists, philanthropists, and everything in between.
I’ve come to realize that there are 2 kinds of people when it comes to mindset of success:
Those who are able to “Compartmentalize” their mind;
Those who are NOT able to “compartmentalize”.
Let’s call the first group “C” (compartmentalizers), and the second “NC” (non-compartmentalizers).
The “C” People
“C” people are able to develop a Plan A and a Plan B, but they are able to put those 2 plans in different “compartments” in their brain.
They are able to “block out” Plan B completely, even to the point where they can ignore its existence.
“C” people are able to put 100% of their focus and attention on Plan A. They don’t compromise on the level of effort dedicated to it. They will take it “to the limit’, without casting a glance towards Plan B.
If they succeed, they reap the rewards.
But if they fail, they can turn to Plan B.
I have worked extremely hard to become a “C” person, because I believe that “C” people are (to quote Nassim Taleb): Antifragile. It takes a LOT to bring them down.
These are people who have families to support, commitments to hold, careers to nurture, reputations to protect.
These are people whose failure has severe repercussions, not just on themselves, but on many people around them.
In fact, studies have shown that the most successful entrepreneurs are those who built their businesses “on the side”, while still earning an income!
We only hear about the success stories of people who quit their job and built a successful business because they’re rare! The majority of them fail miserably (the statistics don’t’ lie).
Amazon, Tesla, and dozens of companies were built by people who had numerous backup plans. They were not going to be “on the street” if they had failed.
With all due respect to the Terminator, I’m confident that he is a “C” person today: he wouldn’t risk losing absolutely everything he has today with no “downside protection”.
Yet, he was not a “C” person when he was a 20-year old young man trying to build a career in a strange country.
That is because, for the most part, “C” people are “made”, not “born”.
The “NC” People
Yes, there is still merit in NOT having a Plan B (as Arnold said in his speech).
I often come across young and ambitious young men and women with great ideas.
They have jobs but have genuinely good business ideas which they are trying to turn into a business.
They are passionate and driven, and yet they can’t get themselves to commit sufficient time and effort to nurture those ideas and grow them into a business.
They are not able to “compartmentalize”. They are not able to “pretend” there is no salary and their livelihood depends on their success in building their business.
At the same time, if those people were to quit their jobs today and put their effort into building their “dream” business, the risk of failure is “painful” but “not fatal”.
If they fail, they may have to sleep on someone’s couch. They may have to eat noodles for a few weeks. They may have to go to dozens of interviews until they get a job again.
But they DO NOT have to worry about financially supporting a family. They DO NOT have to worry about a 20-year old reputation being destroyed. They DO NOT have to worry about dozens of people losing their jobs.
Fear can be a great motivator, but only for certain people and under the right circumstances.
So yes, do have a Plan B, and a Plan C even.
Do so if you have enough discipline to pretend they don’t exit.
Do so if you have a family to support and limited savings.
And train yourself to “compartmentalize”.
And yes, DON’T have a Plan B…
Do so if you’re 21 years old and don’t mind sleeping on a couch.
Do so if you’re confident you can rebuild whatever is damaged.
Do so if you're deeply passionate and convinced (objectively) that your "idea" can become a "real business".