The Unexpected

by Kareem Carr

Traveling, moving, hard drive failures, regular use of public transport and just regular life has left me with a healthy respect for the unexpected. The larger the life-changing step, the greater the number of complicated steps chained one after the other, the more likely it seems that something will go unexpectedly and disastrously wrong. It can be something simple, or something complicated. It will often be something completely outside of your control and impossible to predict.

I have found that some strategies can make bad luck easier to handle. I am still learning how to be more effective when things don’t work out. I am sure some of you readers have some ideas too. However, I do have a few things I would have told myself in the past to speed me along to where I am now. I will say a few of them here.

Redundancy. Prepare for components to fail. Have a back up hard drive. Anticipate the possibility of flood, fire or burglary. Build buffer time into your travel plans. Consider the possibility all flights are canceled, that the train or bus system might be experiencing massive delays on that one day that you need to get there on time. Of course, building in redundancy can be time consuming and expensive so one needs to make a judgement call about what is worth it and what is not. We can’t prepare for everything.

Flexibility. Be prepared for the unexpected good luck. For me, this means being ready to respond when the time comes. One component of this is to build a bit of flexibility into your approach. This can mean something as little as bringing something along to read when you have an extra 20 minutes in a waiting room before an appointment. This can mean packing as light as possible so sprinting to a gate is easy.

Be prepared. I find preparation is a big part of seizing good chances when they come along. Partly this involves the previously mentioned ‘flexibility’. However, partly this involves learning as much as you can. Although, progress on a project can be mostly about luck, it’s also useful to try to pick up as many skills as possible and cover as many bases as you can. For instance, in going to a new place with a different language, learning as many extra words as possible and familiarizing yourself with the local geography vastly increases your ‘luck’.

Modularity. It’s always tempting to put all your eggs in the most fancy basket. I say, ‘Be careful!’. This is like redundancy, but not quite. I see redundancy as relating to having multiple ways of achieving a particular step in your plan. Modularity involves making sure if one part of your plan fails that other parts of your plan are functioning independently.

Moderate the volatility. Try to take highly variable outcomes and smooth them out. If you find that you are ill quite often, work hard on the days you can, rest on the days you can’t. Redistribute some of your expected output from the days you can to the days you can’t. Instinctively, I find one tends to do the working harder part; but the redistribution part tends not to happen, which leads to disruptions in supply that are much like the disruptions that we are actually experiencing in our personal life; and causing others who rely on us to find us undependable. A consistent and average performance tends to be better in regular life than irregular output with flashes of excellence.  For the purposes of handling the unexpected, it makes it easier to plan further into the future if you make the components on which your plan depends more reliable.

Acceptance. Accept that some things will just not work regardless of what you do. Have a back up priority. (Note that I didn’t say have a backup plan. This falls under Redundancy. I said have a backup priority.) This can save the floundering for a new direction after a big defeat. It’s the new goal, the second thing on your list that you ought to pursue when you find out that the number one thing on your list is unattainable.

Recycle. It’s good to recycle your food packaging. It’s also good to recycle pieces of old projects and plans. (One easy way to recycle is to resell.) If something doesn’t work out, sometimes we don’t want to think about the whole thing ever again. This can lead us to want to junk the whole thing, resources and all. It’s better though to pick through the remnants and see what you can save and reuse.

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