Undesirable outcomes

I’ve mentioned before that I was a computer geek for the better part of twenty years. I set up computers, I wrote software for them, and when they inevitably broke, I fixed them.

I’ve also mentioned before that I hated doing this sort of work, and the best decision I ever made was to leave the computer industry behind.

But even though I hated it, I did learn a few things which turned out to be broadly-applicable to my life. For instance, I learned some things about risk—how to mitigate risk, and how to plan for (and recover from) disaster when those risks “come due.”

For example, at one job I worked, we had a single computer which was absolutely critical for my department. If that machine went down, we went down. All of our eggs were literally in this one basket.

This was bad, and we knew it was bad, but our department didn’t have the money to set up a redundant machine. We had to live with the constant risk inherent in having a single, critical system.

So, we had a set of plans for what we would do if and when that system went down.

None of these plans were ideal, but when that machine went down (and believe me, it did), we weren’t entirely boned. We’d have a few hours of downtime, and a handful of angry customers, but we were usually back up and running pretty quickly.

Being able to think about future events, and being able to imagine undesirable outcomes, is an incredibly valuable skill. And it’s one we could all do well to brush up on.

I don’t mean that we should always be thinking about and planning for the worst. This isn’t “Pessimism-as-a-Lifestyle.”

Rather, it’s about thinking things through. It’s about recognizing where things are most likely to go wrong, and then making some sort of basic plan for if and when they do.

I’ve been doing a lot of that sort of thing lately, especially over these last few months.

Like most everyone this year, I’ve had a number of plans which I had to either revise or abandon entirely. But every time I make a plan, my next thought is: “What do I do if it doesn’t work?”

I don’t let myself get all moody and gloomy when I raise this question. I just decide, right then and there, what the very next thing is that I will do if my plan doesn’t work.

What is the next, specific step I’m going to take should I not get the outcome I desire?

Doing just that—just deciding on the first thing I’ll do should things go wrong—works absolute wonders for me.

I spend a lot less time stressing out while doing things, since I know that I’m not totally boned if I do something wrong. When something does go wrong I’m not immediately thrown into the land of confusion, since I can quickly shift gears and take that next step. And I don’t often find myself in a pit of despair, because just thinking a little about (and having a plan for) “the worst,” acts like kind of a “hopelessness vaccine.”

Whoever you are, wherever you live, I’m guessing there’s at least one thing happening in the near future where an undesirable outcome could be devastating. I know this is true for me.

I also know that every single one of us ought to take some time today to think about that “next step,” should things not work out the way we hope.

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