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There Is No Backup Plan

I was talking with Leo the other day about plans to launch a new Buffer feature when he said something that totally rearranged my mind.

He diplomatically¬†opened the conversation with¬†an “If we can…” type statement and I immediately keyed in on the uncertainty I heard in that “if”, asking about alternative dates and plans, the likelihood of this or that.

Leo quickly corrected what I had heard: “It’s going to happen. There is no backup plan.”

And immediately, my brain calmed. Shifted. Crystallized around the goal.

There is no backup plan. It’s gotta¬†happen. How can I make it happen?

How often in life do we devote half our brainpower to thinking about the ways something won’t work before we’ve even given it¬†a chance to?

What if there were no plan B, no alternative, no do-over? No opportunity to submerge our ideas in the safety of doubt.

From now on, it’s my goal to¬†see all projects and life goals this way.

There is no backup plan. There’s only you, making it happen.


  • When you have no other options, no backup plan, no escape route, no do-overs, “Hail Mary” kind of situation at hand: smile.

    Rarely does a person have such a unique opportunity to find out what they are really made of.

    Thanks for sharing, Courtney. Your description of how your thoughts shift into “calm and focused” mode in the face of a “sink or swim” task is admirable.

    I’m excited to see what new feature Buffer has in store and confident you all will succeed together in launching it! :)

  • Jason Warner

    This makes me think of what contributed to the excellence of Breaking Bad. The writers deliberately wrote themselves into a corner over and over again, and could spend days or weeks coming up with a solution.

    Sometimes having restraints isn’t actually a limit at all, but gives you a big defined box to stretch your creativity to.

    • Oh wow, what a cool example of constraints in action! Love that you thought of this one, Jason!

  • What a cool post Courtney!

    I remembered reading a line in a book recently that echoed how sometimes our brains can be very conniving:

    “We‚Äôre all loophole-exploiting lawyers when it comes to our own self-control.”

    Once we’re presented with a smallest possibility of change or see an alternative, our mind starts dwelling on it. I remember reading similar advice when I was big into learning Chinese, that when learning a new language, to change your environment (whether at home or abroad) to make speaking/using a “need” rather than a “want”. Change your mindset.

    “I want to speak Chinese to this man at the store”. <— Leaves it open for ambiguity. Maybe I'm tired. Maybe I'm scared.


    "I need to speak Chinese to this man at the store". <— Less backing out here

    Definitely excited to explore more of these kinds of framings :)

    • Whoa, that loophole-exploiting lawyer line really rings true for me! That want/need framework feels like it would be really helpful; I NEED to give a try. ;)

  • Victor Muthoka

    Well, for the business ideas I’m looking to execute after two failed ones, this is the mode: there’s no back up.

    • Wishing you so much luck and perseverance!

      • Victor Muthoka

        Thank you. And keep sharing w/ us, we’re learning.

  • Love this Courtney. So much!

    • Thank you so much, Matt! I was nervous about this one, so that means a lot!

      • They are the best posts, right? Sometimes, if it doesn’t make you feel anxious, it can end up as if you’re just ticking a box. (Not that I would ever accuse your posts of just ticking boxes…ever!).
        The research posts are great, useful and always actionable, but it’s always nice to have a little insight into the mind of the author. It helps that you’re a very talented writer!

  • Neil McKay

    This reminded me of my favorite radio program about marketing, Under the Influence on CBC radio. The host, Terry O’Reilly did an episode on Elevator Pitches and used the following anecdote which I’m directly quoting:

    “In his book, Tell To Win, movie producer Peter Guber tells an fascinating story about legendary basketball coach, Pat Riley.

    Riley led the Los Angeles Lakers to four championship titles before moving on to coach the Miami Heat.

    In 2006, the Heat wasn’t supposed to get into the finals. Even though they had Shaquille O’Neal, they were overshadowed by many more powerful teams. But under Riley’s insightful coaching, they made it to the championship.

    The Heat were playing the Dallas Mavericks for the NBA title, and were ahead three games to two, and only had to win one more. But the last two games were scheduled to be played in Dallas, the Mavericks’ home court.

    Statistically, the team with home-court advantage wins three out of every four series in the playoffs.

    And the Heat’s handicap would be most intense in the seventh game. If they lost the sixth, winning the seventh game in an enemy stadium would be almost impossible.

    But Riley felt certain his team could beat the Mavericks as long as they were convinced they could. He had to make his players believe they could win the championship in game six.

    Because he didn’t want them having to play that dangerous seventh game in the Maverick’s house.

    So… how did he motivate his players to win game six?

    He simply told the team the whole story of their upcoming victory in a single line:

    He told everyone to pack for just one night.

    Not two. Just one small overnight bag.

    That simple line telegraphed Riley’s intention that there was not going to be a seventh game.

    That his team wouldn’t need a second change of clothes because they were coming home the night of the sixth game as NBA World Champions.

    He told it.

    They felt it.

    And they did it.”

    • Wow. What a cool story; this is a perfect encapsulation of this feeling! I love all the amazing examples coming out in the comments here!

  • Chase Red Baron Roberts

    Reminds me of the book “A Beautiful Constraint” which forces you to work with a constraint without lowering your ambitions. Check it out!

    • Oooh, adding it to my list!

    • Ruth K

      I’m going to check this one out! Sounds like a good one. Thanks, Chase!

  • Carolina Rosabal

    This is so inspiring! Short, straight to the point. Exactly what I needed to read today. Thanks for doing this, all this. You guys rock!

    *I want a Buffer t-shirt so bad!*

    • Really excited to hear that, Carolina; it means a lot to me! As for that T-shirt: Up for emailing me a good address for you and a size? :)

  • matthewcarey

    Thanks Courtney for a great post and additional thanks to your amazing audience for adding so much more value to this conversation :)

    • Totally agree; all these amazing stories in the comments are so inspiring!

  • Bryan Milne

    This brings to mind the words of our guide on the zip line tour last week ( see here ). We were high up in the cape mountains and just had completed the 2nd of 13 zip lines when he said “This is the last place you can turn back, the last escape route, from now on you need to complete the course, you are In it to Win it!!” Often in life that is just the pressure we need to take that leap of faith.

    P.S I might have to join Carolina in mailing an address and T-Size, assuming international is an option ;)

    • Awesome story! It’s really helpful to have a “no turning back” moment sometimes. :) And yes, shoot me an email!

  • I love this Courtney. It reminds me of commitment devices in game theory, where committing to a certain strategy and closing off other options is how players win the game – the player (and everyone else) knows there’s no stopping :)

    • Wow, that’s such a fascinating parallel! Thanks for sharing, Katie!

  • Sylvia

    I don’t know why but I expected that to go the opposite way, Courtney, so I was initially surprised to read that you felt more focused after the decision was made and the path had been plotted out for you. Do you think it would have been different if it had been someone else saying it? I just wonder if it depends on some variable, like what is said, whether you agree with it/support it, who’s delivering the news, and your mindset at the time?

    • Hmm, that’s a great question, Sylvia! I think those could all be very important variables in one’s mindset. I think it helps to have a lot of trust between teammates and to understand one another’s styles. We’ve been doing some personality tests lately on the marketing team; it’s neat to learn more about how we can work better together!

      • Sylvia

        Yes, isn’t it fascinating? When our team did an assessment, surprisingly our group was evenly divided among the 4 categories/types. And one of the tasks was to “sell” a dream vacation to the opposing group. It was funny to see that even when we were essentially given blueprints to what they valued and their characteristics, it still proved to be tricky to really “speak that group’s language.” It reminded me of “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” where it talks about how empathy and being able to understand a completely different person’s mindset and motivations takes practice.

  • Jay

    Very cool! :) Love it

  • Kara McKlemurry

    Funny you wrote about this–I’ve been thinking a lot this weekend about why I procrastinate on school projects. And it’s because I focus so much better when it’s down to the wire, when it’s not “oh, I could do this now or next week or next month” but “this has to happen now.” When I’m that close to turning in a project, I reach a zen-like focus that I love. Now just to figure how to replicate that in other areas!

    And thanks for sharing what you learned! It’s neat to see such a simple, personal post.

    • Ohhhh man, that feeling is VERY familiar to me! Sounds like we are similarly deadline oriented. :)

  • Wow this is a powerful post. I know exactly what you are talking. I have had many ideas and however great they were I would run into the “what if” problem. Instead of focusing on the goal. I think people are calmed by having a “way out” or “escape plan.” I wonder how many things would be made or changed if people had no way out and pushed through to reach that goal as to which they have set.

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