You can never be too prepared…can you?
As small children we learn to stop, drop, and roll. As teens we’re encouraged to be prepared to practice safe sex. As adults, we are oft admonished to prepare for the future by contributing to a retirement account. That’s three examples of ways we’re encouraged to prepare, but there are hundreds: take AP courses to prepare for college, get your flu shot, have a safe place to go in a tornado, wear your seat belt, have enough savings available to cover 3-6 months of bills, buy life insurance, know the best glide speed of your airplane, rehearse your dance moves before a performance, practice shooting free throws, learn CPR, take an umbrella, put your gloves in your pocket, etc. Much of our time and energy is spent preparing for something.
When I was learning to fly, most of the training time was focussed on preventing or preparing for a malfunction or emergency. Once I had mastered the procedures, my instructor deemed me ready to fly solo. Could I have flown the plane before that? Yes. And I could have done it safely as long as everything went as planned. But I would not have been ready to make a lifesaving split-second decision in the event of a catastrophic event.
Preparation is a good thing. It allows us to excel in sports and academics. It makes for productive meetings. It gives us food that is elevated from its original state. It calms our minds. It sometimes saves our lives. I am all for being prepared. In fact, I believe it’s sometimes critical.
But is it possible to over-prepare?
Preparedness or Fear?
I have a friend who describes traveling with his former girlfriend as a regimented execution of her meticulous planning. Each attraction, restaurant, and hotel was identified in advance and mandatory in inclusion. His hankering for BBQ rather than Tex-Mex simply could not be accommodated.
This begs the question of whether the girlfriend was over or under prepared. Obviously, she was logistically prepared, but it seems she was not confident and relaxed enough to vary from her plan even if it would have enhanced the overall experience.
This is an example of how fear can cloak itself in preparedness. When this happens, preparedness takes on a life of its own and begins to hold us back rather than providing a foundation for us to move forward.
My sister prepared for over a year to become gluten-free. She researched taco seasoning mixes, doughnuts, restaurant menus, one-to-one flour mixes – everything that she needed to know to feel prepared. Then she did a pantry challenge to make sure no food went to waste. The preparation period went on so long that she started to believe going gluten-free would be really hard.
Luckily, she didn’t talk herself out of the original goal. After a year with less pain, more energy, and fewer sinus problems, she admitted that she had made things much harder than they needed to be. She had prepared past the point of readiness.
While my sister still managed to move forward, my 98-year-old cousin stopped herself from the trip to Alaska she wishes she’d taken. She was so focused on saving for the future that she stayed home while her friends had the time of their lives. If she had been struggling financially, that could have made sense. She wasn’t. She had more than enough. Again, fear masqueraded as preparedness.
You’ve probably known someone who buys way more food than they need because they fear they’ll run out, or keeps going back to school but never pursues the new job for which they’re more than qualified. You may know an amazing artist whose work sits in the back room while their spreadsheet of galleries to contact grows. They are all adequately prepared to move forward, but may tell you they’ll make the move as soon as they prepare in x, y, or z way.
Preparedness vs Being Present
When you spend your time preparing for the future, you cannot fully experience the present. The truth is, we can never prepare for every possible circumstance that will affect us. This is an area in which it is wise to choose our battles.
Choose to Prepare…or Not
What are some things to look for when making preparedness choices? Here are five questions to ask yourself:
1)Does it require buying something, using a specific service, or taking a medication that is being advertised to me? If so, it is good to think twice. Some marketers and advertisers prey upon fear to drive sales. This is sometimes disguised in rhetoric of prevention or preparedness.
2)How much time, money, or effort will the preparation take in relation to the likelihood of the threat? If you live in Missouri, there’s no real need to prepare for a hurricane. On the other hand, it is a good idea to know the safest place in your house in the event of a tornado.
3)Am I laying the groundwork for moving forward, or am I avoiding something? Preparing yourself for the worst possible response from your spouse may keep you from broaching a topic that needs to be resolved. You can also avoid cleaning out the closet by continually exploring containers, racks, bins, and other organizational tools before you get started.
4)Have I reached the point of over-attachment to one specific approach or idea? Over-preparing for a meeting may keep you from really hearing a potential client’s objections because you have become so focused on the script you’ve rehearsed in your head. Over-preparing for parenting can mean you fail to notice the most effective way to motivate a specific child.
5)Am I truly preparing, or just shielding myself from making a decision? As long as I’m still in training or strategically planning, I don’t have to make an active decision to do anything. It’s great having one foot in and one foot out. I can hold onto the dream that makes me sound good in conversation and still stay stuck in the muck.
I say all of this to prepare you for the posts that will come next. Many of us must heal our bodies, minds, and spirits in order to thrive. The path to healing has common elements for all of us. Mapping the process can help you know what to expect along the way.
It’s easy for “experts” to tell us we will see a difference in days or weeks or quickly when we begin healing process. That can be true, but it’s not the whole story. If it were, no one would give up on a health plan after 6 months, relapse, or go back to an abusive relationship. Having a map to guide you can help you persevere in the moments when backward feels better than forward.
Don’t worry, amidst all this mapping there will be cooking too. The food and the process offer many tools for healing.
Next up, we’ll prepare…you had to know that was coming.
Until then, I wish you warm hugs and kind words.