"The will to succeed is important, but what's more important is the will to prepare" — Bobby Knight
It’s been said that while we can’t predict the future, we can certainly prepare for it. This idea reminds me of the story of the young man who applied for a job as a farmhand:
When the farmer asked for his qualifications, he simply replied:
"I can sleep when the wind blows."
This puzzled the farmer, but he liked the young man, so he hired him. A few days later the farmer and his wife were awakened in the night by a violent storm. They quickly began to check the property to make sure everything was secure. They found that the shutters of the farmhouse had been tightly fastened, a good supply of logs had been set next to the fireplace, the farm tools had been placed in the storage shed, the tractor had been moved into the garage, the barn was properly locked, and even the animals were calm. Despite the storm, the young farmhand slept soundly, because all was well.
This experience helped the farmer understand the meaning of the young man's words. Because the farmhand did his work loyally and faithfully when the skies were clear, he was well prepared for the storm, so when the wind blew, he was not afraid and could sleep in peace. After all:
“It isn't the things you do, but rather, it's the things that you leave undone, which gives you a bit of heartache, at the setting of the sun.”
I’ve been practicing magic now for over two decades and what I’ve come to understand is that a successful magic performance has far less to do with sleight of hand and misdirection, and instead has much more to do with being an expert in managing surprises (a lesson that my younger self took time to learn!). The ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment—where anything and everything could go wrong (and usually does!)—and arrive at a positive result regardless of circumstances is what separates the amateurs from the pros. And that is real magic.
Like any good magic trick, the question becomes: “How is this possible?!” How is it possible to have a positive outcome even when circumstances don’t align with our plans? One of the strategies that magicians use in managing results is something we call “practicing our mistakes.” It sounds almost counterintuitive. After all, by definition mistakes are things that shouldn’t happen, so why focus any attention and energy on getting better at doing the very things that we don’t want to have happen? Diving deeper into this same line of thinking, however, gives us the answer.
Magic coaches tell us that we should analyze every possible way that something could go wrong, and then we’re encouraged to literally practice our magic tricks as if we’ve made those mistakes. That way, if something does go wrong, then we’ll know what to do to have a successful outcome because we’ve already thought about it—we’ve already practiced it and are experts at making those mistakes work to our advantage.
We will never truly know how things will work out, but the Magic Word Prepare reminds us to plan ahead so that come what may we’ll know how to steer the circumstances in our favor for a positive result.
What are you working on now? What are all the possible ways that your work could go “wrong?” How can you best prepare for those possibilities to steer the outcomes to work in your favor for a positive result?
Jonas Cain is an educator, facilitator, and coach, working to engage, empower, and encourage leaders and the people they serve to experience joy.