It was horrible watching my friends in Texas deal with Midwest-style winter weather. Life ground to a halt and parts of the state were declared a national emergency site. I have friends in Austin who were without water, electricity, and heating gas for days. That takes the regular challenges sub-freezing temperatures and makes it even more brutal. Luckily, they were able to weather the crisis and get back on their feet.
At the same time, the Chicago area was dealing with 3 feet of snow that had accumulated over three weeks of super-cold weather (it didn’t go above freezing for a month). Nobody was excited about it, but life pretty much kept on as usual (or as usual as possible considering we’re still in a pandemic).
This wasn’t because Midwesterners are tougher. I cringe when I hear about the heat Texans deal with during the summer.
But in this instance, Texas simply wasn’t prepared for snow and cold.
Because they weren’t expecting it.
Expectation Determines Your Available Responses
Early in my coaching career, I heard a great aphorism that stuck in my mind. It has since become a guiding principle in my work and the work I do with clients:
“An emergency expected is no emergency.”
It points to the fact that most “emergency” situations aren’t driven by what initially happens, but rather by an inadequate capacity for response. And what drives our diminished capacity to respond?
Incorrect or incomplete assumptions about what might happen in the future.
This could happen when we underestimate the potential for natural disasters or underfund preventative measures for potential public health crises (ahem). But much more commonly, we create emergencies in our lives when don’t expect the big and small bumps in the road.
We slack on networking and keeping our skills up-to-date…and then have to scramble to find a new job when ours suddenly disappears. We don’t build strong relationships with our clients even though we know our competitors could swoop in and steal them at any moment. Or we take a trip to the literal “emergency” room to deal with a heart attack driven by years of unhealthy living.
And there are so many more small emergencies we deal with, from turning in our taxes late to trying to find a new employee at the last minute. And those are negative situations, for sure, but what makes them emergencies is the lack of preparation.
Expect the Unexpected
The best way to reduce the number of emergencies isn’t always about reducing your exposure to negative situations. That’s not always an option.
Instead, try to expand your visions for what could happen in the future. This can come from your own experience or through looking at what others have gone through.
Then you ask, “What can I do now to mitigate that future emergency?” This is the critical step you take so that you don’t get mired in depression when thinking of everything that could go wrong.
Resilience stems from being prepared. And that preparation directly stems from what we think might happen in our future. So when you see a broader vision of the positives and negatives that are possible, you create a greater capacity to respond.
(This is why my parents were much calmer with my younger brother, their fifth child, than me, their first. They’d seen such a wide variety of situations they were much more prepared. And probably a little tired.)
Take the Sting Away
Reducing the immediacy of emergencies doesn’t mean they aren’t challenges. There are still very real consequences, challenges, and heartaches. But the goal is to take away the sting and create more options to help you move through them more quickly and with less long-term trauma.
And when you able to move through that, you’ll also find that you’ve developed the ability to handle more challenges in the future.
So look for opportunities to build your capacity now that will enable you to manage the possible “emergencies” that will inevitably pop up.