Do You Still Need a “Fallback”?

Posted September 17, 2012 by Marcy Twete in On the Ladder

I began my college career as a piano performance major. In my first week of piano lessons with a very strange German teacher, I heard these words (written phonetically so you’ll understand the thickness of this man’s accent): “Mzzzz Tvete. You vill nevah be a concert pianist. Your hands are toooo small!” I practiced and practiced, but my teacher was right. Not only were my hands too small to reach over an octave on the keyboard, but I soon found that hours of practice in a basement university music room was not my idea of fun. I remember distinctly my father telling me to change my class schedule to include less music classes so I could find “something to fall back on.”

Later, when I changed my major (for probably the fifth time) to theater, he harped again — what would I have to fall back on? It’s a phrase we’ve all heard at one time or another. Maybe you wanted to be an actress or a professional circus performer. Someone probably said to you — “What do you have to fall back on?” My fallback major became political science, which led me to the political fundraising world of Washington DC. And later, it led me to the nonprofit fundraising world of women’s organizations, which roundabout somehow brought me here. Phew.

But today I wonder, as I’ve ventured down the path to entrepreneurship… I still need a fallback option in my career? Do all of us?
After all, my fallback major ended up becoming my career. Does that mean something for the future?

Here’s how you can develop a strong fallback plan to ensure you have options in your career now and later:

  • Be a shotgun, not a rifle. If you’re not the child of a hunter, you may not understand that analogy either. Shotguns use a shell to fire many small pellets, whereas a rifle fires a single bullet at your target. Obviously, you’re more likely to hit the target with a shotgun. So be that in your career. When you cast a wide net — for me it meant learning not just fundraising, but marketing, social media, public relations, etc. — you are more likely to find success. When you specialize too strongly, you’re more likely to miss your mark all together.
  • Get excited about your fallback. Notice that when I chose a fallback major in college, I chose political science. It was something I was interested in and passionate about. Sure, I could have grabbed a communications major or a management major just as easily, but political science excited me in a way others didn’t. Do the same.
  • See your fallback as a viable option, not a plan for failure. When I left college and got my first job in political lobbying, sure I wished I was a Broadway superstar instead, but it didn’t mean I had given up or failed at something. I saw my degree as a viable plan, a viable option for me, and not a plan for failure.

What do you think, Career Girls? Do you need a fallback? If you have one, what is it?

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."