The Myth of Ready
Are you ready?
Of course you aren’t. Who knows what the future holds? You certainly don’t. There are literally an infinite number of possibilities out there, of which our understanding grasps only a small fraction. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, and with any luck, the futures we predict and plan for are among the most probable outcomes, or at least in the top 7. Recent reflections on my current life situation have forced me to question how ‘ready’ I’ve been for various different aspects of my life, and the concept of readiness in general.
The Woody Allen film Match Point begins with the lines “The man who said I’d rather be lucky than good saw deeply into the world”. I’ve discussed the role of luck in people’s lives in a previous article, and I would be the first person to acknowledge the disproportionately large proportion of my life which has been at the mercy of lady luck (and ladies in general), which has led me at various times in my life to declare myself one of the luckiest people alive – a belief I still hold. As I stumble through life, I continually question and analyse its path, and the role that my own agency plays in it. Clearly luck has played a very significant part, but to say that I am where I am today purely by chance is also unfair. Not just to the many people who have worked so hard to help me (and to whom I am forever indebted) but also to myself. Someone once said to me that the harder they work, the luckier they get. This is, to some extent, true, but I might also add that the more courageous you are, the luckier you are likely to be.
Every now and then, life explodes. Things happen, people come into your life, people leave, the world spins. These life explosions are, by definition, jarring – they disorient you, they force you to think about your place in the world, and that is often a very uncomfortable thing to do. When you’re young, you don’t know your place in the world, and that can make you feel helpless. In the course of “growing up” you collect skills and experiences, make friends and enemies, and generally find your identity and “place” in the world. Ordinarily you are defined by what you do, and the company you keep, and even if you don’t like to think in those terms, society will label you with them anyway. But when life explodes, you are left without one or many of those familiar compass points with which to know your place in the world and you lose some sense of security (which is probably why you then often act out of insecurity). You are, in a sense, forced to be a child again with the burden of having to build a life from some previous point which you thought you would never have to revisit. This hurts the ego, since it feels like the opposite of progress, like you’ve lost ground, or wasted time getting to where you are.
I challenge this notion. In Steve Jobs’ now famous speech at Stanford University commencement in 2005, he spoke of the lightness of being a beginner again after being fired from Apple, the company that he founded. When you begin again, you aren’t really beginning from scratch, you have experiences which often don’t seem relevant, but as it was in Jobs’ case, eventually come back to help you, and give you a new perspective to approach your new life. To use a more mundane example, a background of being a former athlete is an obvious one for getting into coaching, but in addition, having an advanced degree (in climate science of all things) as well as experience in volunteer coordination and event organisation from my time in Amnesty International has allowed me to bring a lot more to the table as a coach than just “I was an ex-athlete”.
The unfortunate thing about having lived a long life, is that life experience necessarily includes many failures. These failures are valuable of course – you learn more from them than you do from success. But they also harden you, and make you more cautious. On the other hand, they also make you acutely aware of the price of missing out, and how much difference a few milliseconds or millimetres can make to an outcome. I’ve been very lucky, I’ve sometimes been faced with truly insane choices in life, and whenever I’ve leapt at them with reckless abandon, things have generally gone very well. Even when things crashed and burned, the charred remains of my shattered dreams sowed the soil for some incredible opportunities later in life – opportunities that never would have happened without those initial reckless leaps. It’s true what they say – fortune really does favour the brave, even though it sometimes doesn’t feel like it at the time.
It’s true what they say – fortune really does favour the brave.
I’ve written before about personal leadership, and being prepared to take risks with yourself. Recently I’ve realised that it isn’t just about choosing paths which are risky, which is the obvious interpretation of ‘take risks’. It is also about taking that crucial step before you think that you’re ready to do so. Sometimes opportunities present themselves which are risky no matter what the circumstances, and often opportunities will present themselves which seem risky because you don’t think that you’re ready for them. Anything that is really worth doing is not something that you’re ever going to be ready for, in the same way and probably for the same reasons that meaningful change is never easy.
I don’t like to use the word “disruptive”. It’s a big buzz word in the startup world, and is massively overused by people who don’t fully appreciate all that it encompasses. Startups, and in particular tech startups like to drink a lot of their own kool-aid, and in this way they only see the positive aspects of disruptive change. Disruptive change is lauded because it is meaningful – it really changes things. But what people forget is that meaningful, real change necessarily also hurts. Personal growth requires courage, it requires part of the ego to die, and it almost always comes with some amount of pain, because it is disruptive – you change – some part of the old you dies, and is replaced by a confused, but hopefully in some way better, but definitely different new you.
Just Do It
Now I would be a massive hypocrite if I didn’t lead by example and take my own advice. It’s difficult. But that is also part of the point of this website. I get to air my thoughts and feelings (without revealing too much incriminating information) and the public nature of it gives me motivation to stick to my own principles. So to update my loyal readers on my life since The Situation, I may finally be coming out of The Storm (fingers crossed), but the opportunities I have been presented with to extract myself are big, to put it mildly. They are of the magnitude of those events described under the subheading “Expect the Unexpected”. They are disruptive. Some people might get hurt, although I will do my best to keep this to a minimum. I am definitely not ready for it. But am I going to take the leap anyway? You bet I am.
Great article. Now I won’t sleep tonight for thinking deeper about the topic.
Nice work Yeowi.
Nobody is ever ready. Everyone has impostor syndrome, from a CEO of a multinational, to a programmer at a startup.
Nice article Daniel … glad you post these for those of us who will never willingly give in to Facebook or the like. I’ve been in limbo for a while myself and am waiting for something to push me over the threshold of finally making a decision…
Keep us apprised of your progress!