I Want a Do Over

The auditorium is vast, absurdly over-sized for the two dozen occupants, yet filled to the rafters with the uncomfortable silence emanating from the stage.  I stand there alone, staring down at the plastic sheet on the overhead projector, wondering what the hell I thought I was going to say?  I’ve got nothing.

Overhead Projector

Despite the way my eyes have dilated in the glare of the projector bulb, I can still see my boss out in the audience, hunched down in his seat, a hand covering his face.  He looks like he’s crying.

This is not a nightmare.  This really happened to me, two decades ago now, and I still haven’t forgiven myself.

It wasn’t stage fright. (I actually like being the center of attention.) It was a total lack of preparation.

Be Prepared (Boy Scout Motto)

“Be prepared for what?” someone once asked Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting,
“Why, for any old thing.” said Baden-Powell.

I know, I know…  Everyone hates the Boy Scouts these days, but still – you have to admit that quote is funny (I copied it verbatim from their website.)  But it goes on to say, “Be prepared for life – to live happily and without regret, knowing that you have done your best.”  You can’t find fault with that, can you?

In the list my life’s regrets, (have I mentioned this list before?) messing up that presentation is about halfway down.  I didn’t do my best, I hardly even tried.  I read a bit about the topic, I made some slides, and that was it.  I trusted too much in my ability to ‘wing it.’  (Wing it: to improvise; to do something extemporaneously (without preparation.))

All of my life, all throughout school and all of my jobs, I’ve managed to muddle through by just showing up and trusting that I would think fast, and just figure out what to do and how to do it when I got there.

Think Fast

I didn’t finish the book, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, (It ended up getting too technical, (ie boring.)) but I understand the premise: we believe ‘fast thinking’ (instinct, gut) is good and trustworthy, but inevitably it leads us astray. And more importantly, it’s just lazy.

“A general “law of least effort” applies to cognitive as well as physical
exertion. The law asserts that if there are several ways of achieving the
same goal, people will eventually gravitate to the least demanding course
of action. In the economy of action, effort is a cost, and the acquisition of
skill is driven by the balance of benefits and costs. Laziness is built deep into our nature.”
― Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

And that is my problem.  I don’t do now (prepare) anything I can put off till later. I rationalize my laziness by saying I am being efficient.  By preparing, I would end up spending a lot more time on a task that could be completed (perhaps not as well, but probably good enough) in a tenth of the time.

Be Prepared (The Lion King)

So prepare for the coup of the century
Be prepared for the murkiest scam
Meticulous planning
Tenacity spanning
Decades of denial
Is simply why I’ll
Be king undisputed
Respected, saluted
And seen for the wonder I am

But what if…  What if I had prepared for that presentation?  What if I had actually studied for the tests I barely passed?  What if I had done the research and found the quotes and thought long and hard about the topic of a term paper? What if instead of just submitting the second or third draft, I actually work on a story until it is perfect?

The memories of failure haunt me to this day. There are no do overs. But I could start fresh…

I could be prepared, for every old thing, to do the best I can, and to be seen for the wonder that I know I am…

Maybe I’ll start tomorrow.

(Reblogged from June of 2013)