Preparation versus Readiness

Delayed flights. Dead cell phone batteries. Violent relationships. Unexpected responsibilities thrust upon us. Rejection. Desperation. Confusion. Frustration.

Life throws surprises at us all the time. But no matter how many times life surprises us, we never seem to get used to it. “Expecting the unexpected” is a lot easier said than done.

I believe that you can be ready for anything, but that it’s pretty much impossible to be prepared for “anything.”

Preparation requires preliminary knowledge of events that are to occur. You prepare for something you know is going to happen. And if you’re smart, you reverse engineer your preparation based on the specific obstacles you think you’ll encounter. You can prepare for things that have certain outcomes. The problem is that this way of thinking doesn’t account for surprises.

As such, it’s extremely difficult to prepare for surprises unless those surprises occur within the context of the situation to which you’ve preliminarily tailored your preparations. This means that you can only prepare for a scenario with a finite number of variables. The problem with this is that we don’t live in a vacuum; in our dynamic world, no real-life scenario has a finite number of variables. If you’ve prepared but you’re not ready, you’re complacent. And with complacency comes mindlessness and vulnerability (not the good kind). When you’re complacent, you’re easier to catch off guard. You’re easier to surprise, and you’re easier to hurt. Complacency makes life’s peaks boring and life’s troughs catastrophic. Basically, complency makes life suck. And without readiness, preparedness breeds only complacency.

Readiness, as opposed to preparation, is a state of mind. Preparation is something you think you’ve done, whereas readiness is something you actually live. Vigilance, focus, awareness, and centeredness. It’s the “martial” in “martial arts.” Being mindful and aware enough that you can handle surprises as they arise. And there’s little point in preparing for something if you’re not first ready for it.

Readiness requires more discipline than preparedness. Readiness requires constant attention, but perhaps constant attention is a reasonable price to pay for preventing absolute disaster. Or maybe it’s not a price to pay at all. We tend to think of things in terms of trade-offs, but in a paradigm where the greatest gift is the gift of giving and responsibilities are opportunities in disguise, maybe the energy it takes to maintain constant readiness isn’t actually being “spent” in the way we might think. Maybe readiness is a state that fuels itself…on the condition that one is willing to embrace and relish in the ever-present, regenerative rewards of the journey.

Preparation assumes linearity along the trajectory from past to future; the destination is more important than the journey, the ends more important than the means. Readiness assumes nothing except the reality of the present moment; the journey is the destination, the means are the end.

Ultimately, life requires a synthesis of the two. It’s important, however, that we don’t conflate them or mistake them for one another. People trick themselves into thinking they’re ready just because they’ve done some research and bought some equipment. Just because you’re prepared does not mean that you’re ready.


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