There is a lot of overly simplistic advice out there meant to take advantage of people who are in a vulnerable state of mind. “Do what you love,” “Follow your dreams,” “Go with your gut,” “Just do it.”
These bromides speak to people because they reinforce the idea that it doesn’t take a lot of thought or effort to realize your purpose and find meaning in your life. Even more than that, it pits the heart against the head by implying that if you give anything too much considered thought, you’re doing it wrong.
There is one bit of advice out there that perpetuates this fantasy particularly well. It goes something like this: “If you have an exit strategy, you’re not passionate it about.” Which is not only trite, but also sort of insulting.
There are two reasons why someone might truly feel like they don’t need an exit strategy. The first is that they are independently wealthy. These people may feel that because they are so passionate about what they’re doing, that “failure isn’t an option” (another banality). The reality is, though, they have an exit strategy. It’s falling ass-backwards into a big, fat pile of money should they fail.
Another reason someone might think they don’t need an exit strategy is because they have spent their days on this planet thinking that everything always just seems to take care of itself. They therefore assume that’s what will happen with any ambitious endeavor. What they don’t realize is that their whole life an army of people have been shuffling around them making sure that they don’t step into on-coming traffic. They don’t feel the weight of risk because they just impose on other people.
Telling people to avoid an exit strategy really just shows a complete misunderstanding of what an exit strategy is. An exit strategy is not about giving up. It is a way to capitalize on the hard work you have done so far should you need to redirect your efforts elsewhere. A start-up might have an exit strategy of trying to sell their company should the founders get in over their heads one way or another. That’s not quitting. That’s just thinking things through in advance so you can survive to fight another day.
Imagine you’re a small business owner and you’re looking for a partner or investor. If you take your business plan to a prospect and she asks you what your exit strategy is and your response is, “I don’t have one! I’m going to succeed!” it will be rather difficult for that person to take you seriously. While the intent of a statement like that is to show passion, the more overwhelming message is going to be that you are not being thoughtful or honest about the situation at hand.
Have people succeeded without a solid exit strategy before? Of course. It happens. Did they succeed because they didn’t have an exit strategy? No.
Be smart. Think things through. Have a plan ready in case there is a bump in the road or an unexpected turn. It has been known to happen before. Be cognizant of the challenges or risks before you, so you’ll know how to address them.
Being passionate is great. Being passionate and smart is better.