My kid and I headed out to day two of soccer camp at Brace Canyon Park in Burbank. We had the athletic gear, the ball, the water bottle, the mini shin guards, and the adorable size 10 fluorescent green cleats.
We ate a healthy breakfast, made sure we went “pee pee” before we left (both of us), and we even talked about what good listeners we would be in the car on the way there. Day two of the Burbank Parks and Rec soccer camp was great for the first few minutes. And, while all of the gear held up, the kid didn’t.
Suffice it to say that we left early from soccer camp on day two. Despite all of our preparation, we weren’t prepared for what would happen in the moment. In the moment, we had to improvise. This kind of thing happens in practically every aspect of business (and life).
When we think we have our preparation for a presentation perfect, something always happens while presenting it so that we have to alter our course slightly. Similarly, we meticulously pack our bags to head out of Burbank for some fantastic vacation, but we either don’t need all of our things or we have to buy stuff when we get there.
Preparation can never fully prepare us for reality.
But, while it can’t fully prepare us, the act of preparation is still very important. (In fact, I believe that people who do not prepare when they should are virtually screaming that they’d rather do something else.) Imagine showing up to vacation with no suitcases, arriving to do a performance without learning the dance steps, or going to a job interview without knowing anything about the company. No bueno, right?
When it comes to preparation, I think we all could stand to remember two things — why we should do it and why we should be willing to throw it away.
Why we should do it
Preparation shows other people (and ourselves) that we care. It shows them that whatever we’re doing (interviewing, presenting, choreographing, writing, or showing up to a meeting), that the task is worth spending some of our time on it. It also, under the surface, shows the person on the other side of your interaction that they are worthy of your time and forethought.
When I show up in Burbank or Los Angeles to do a podcast interview or when I do guest teaching in a different place, if the person or people there have done even a little bit of research on me before I arrive, I feel important. I feel that they value my time. And it makes me want to participate at my highest level.
Preparation doesn’t just make you look better, it honors the person or people on the other end of your interaction.
I have struggled my whole life with nerves. I get super nervous for auditions, presentations, and pretty much anything where I have to talk, sing, or move in front of people (why I chose to be a performer for 20 years of my life is beyond me). No matter what I’m doing, though, the more prepared I am, the less nervous I become. Seriously, it is practically an exact sliding scale. More nervous/less prepared, less nervous/more prepared.
The amount of time I spend thinking ahead of time about any interaction, to me, is well spent. Even if it just serves to help me walk into the conference room with confidence. Prepared Michelle feels like Robert Downey Jr. all suited up right before he exits the cave where he created Iron Man. Unprepared Michelle feels like one of the last two people alive in a Saw movie creeping into what they know will be another trap. Preparation = confidence. (For me, anyway).
For our Burbank soccer camp, we had ordered the shin guards, watched Youtube videos of kid soccer matches, and gotten a good night’s sleep. While we didn’t stay for all of that day’s activities, we were prepared in case it had gone the other way. The day before, we were just as prepared and it was awesome.
Why we should be willing to throw it away
We all know that often, in the moment, some of the things we prepared will be tossed aside for one reason or another. Life happens and we pivot. That’s life. Literally nothing stays the same. Everything changes. The only things that don’t change are dead. Check that. Even dead things are decomposing. I’ll say it another way — if you’re not willing to adjust your tactics in the moment, life will pass you by.
Preparing for any situation is important. But, if you’re not willing to change what you prepared in the moment, you won’t be able to do what’s best for the situation. If we had stayed at that Burbank soccer camp, no matter what, things would have gone downhill fast. (Hell hath no fury like a grumpy toddler.) If you’re doing a presentation on a stage and you notice that you’ve lost your audience’s attention, do you plow through or stop and tell a joke or do an activity? Hopefully you choose the latter.
Yes, I know it’s sad to have prepared a lot of awesome things you might not use. But that’s life. And, again, that preparation has already given you confidence and showed the person or people you’re interacting with that you value them and their time. As Marie Kondo would say, “No matter how wonderful things used to be, we cannot live in the past. The joy and excitement we feel here and now are more important.”
So, thank your preparation, set it aside, and be in the present moment. Use what you know and what you see now to create the best moment possible.
Life is messy. It always has been and it always will be. We can do all the preparation we want, but at the end of the day, we will have to throw at least some of it away. And that’s okay. Most of the time, preparation isn’t about making sure the future is perfect. Preparation shapes us into confident people and it honors others. If you have to do away with some of your preparation in the moment, then it has probably already served its purpose anyway.
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