Preparing to Be Unprepared

I stole the title from Jeff Haden’s article because it is brilliant. I don’t seek out articles written about William Shatner but this one came across my LinkedIn feed and then on Facebook through people I trust and revere, so I thought I would check it out. I am glad I did.

Over the years, I have tried to minimize my overly organized, always-be-prepared, control freak, Type-A ways. I realize my desire to control causes me stress and upset. My desire to control is only a desire, not the true ability to control. Unexpectedly, William Shatner expressed a powerful alternative to the desire to control. He showed the importance of preparation and the importance of letting go.

Preparation

Constantly shooting from the hip or reacting and not acting, will not get us anywhere. We have an obligation to do our own footwork. Research topics. Analyze scenarios. Uncover everything we can uncover. If we do not, we are making decisions and actions without all the information, and when we do that, we often make poor decisions.

Preparation, however, does not ensure results. Our preparation does not dictate how things will go. This is where I often have epic fails. I research, analyze, and come to my desired conclusions – then get very upset when life does not work out as I planned. Preparation does not mean controlling the situation. Preparation does not mean things will go the way we desire. Preparation is by definition “to make ready.” It is not the end. It is the before, before the beginning. Preparation is reading the recipe and pulling all the ingredients together. It is not the final cake. It is not even making the cake.

My stress comes from assuming that my preparation is going to dictate the result. Unfortunately, it does not. I believe that if I think things through, talk things through, create and choose scenarios, then what I desire will happen. Going back to the cake analogy, just because I choose the recipe and have my ingredients ready, does not ensure the outcome of a delicious cake. Some of my ingredients could have gone bad. Maybe my oven heats unevenly or I receive a phone call distracting me from the most important part of the process. Some of these actions I may be able to control, but often many things are just up to fate.

Often, I have this conversation with my job seekers. They prepare. They update their resume. They customize their cover letter. They practice before an interview. All of these things are good, but they do not ensure the end result of landing a position. Many things happen that have nothing to do with our preparation – changes internally at the company, qualifications of other candidates, company workload shift – which affect the end result.

Let Go

Which is why Mr. Shatner says, “Prepare, be humble, and see any one starting point as just a beginning from which all sorts of possibilities can emanate.” What he is really talking about is letting go. Do the preparation then let go of your ego, let go of your expectations. Stay in the moment and see where the breadcrumbs lead you. A comment, a chance meeting, a new piece of information, all of this can change the direction of a conversation, a job search, or any part of our life. In my life, when I am able (or forced) to let go, things happen much better and amazingly than I could imagine.

Letting go demands trust, openness, and willingness to go into the unknown. If we have prepared, we can bring some tools with us, but the journey is really one of being open to anything. It is hearing what is said, not forcing the conversation to mirror what we planned. It is letting things play out, not forcing them to happen faster than they are meant to. It is taking an unexpected path and seeing where it leads.

What do you have coming up this week? Have you prepared to the best of your ability? Are you willing to let go and allow things to happen as they unfold? 

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