Don’t just do something

“Get ready!”

It feels like I hear these words all the time in one form or another.

We are approaching the terminal. Look in the area around your seat.
The flight attendants are making their final pass through the cabin before landing.
Be sure your seatbelt is securely fastened before take off.
Anna will need a copy of your syllabus.
Thanks for staying on the line. To assure the best service, please have your user account number ready.

Even my phone now chimes in (literally chimes), reminding me that traffic is light and I should be ready to leave in 10 minutes. A calendar alert lets me know that my little dog, Dexter, should get his heart worm prevention medication today. Walgreens let’s me know via email that my prescription is running low. All food packages are dated. Crossing signs inform me how many seconds are left to cross the intersection.

So, against this backdrop of reminders to get ready to act, it surprises me that I so frequently bolt out the door to the grocery store or hardware with a limited notion of what to buy when I get there. For decades I have marveled at the number of retired people who insist on going to the store during the busiest times of the day, immediately after work or on Saturday mornings. I even found myself judging their purchases. Nothing perishable? Then WHY are you here? Why didn’t they shop on Tuesday mornings or Thursday in the early afternoon? Now that I am doing my own encore work and have the more flexible schedule of a retired person, I know why retired people shop at times that are not convenient for others. Because we can.

MustardMore peculiar still in my shopping is the vague sense of purpose I have for these excursions. I remember that I need to go to the hardware store before I sail past it while doing errands. I walk in with a specific purchase in mind. But I rarely think of the two or three household projects I will tackle in the near future and shop for these items as well. Even though I am fairly sure of what I want when I enter the grocery store, I get a nagging feeling that I am neglecting to get something else while I am there. I decide it is likely something I am low on, so I pick up mustard or peanut butter. These decisions have left me with a half-dozen jars of each.

The point of all of this embarrassing detail about my sloppy habits is that while I have a good memory, I too often act without considering my objective. I act before I am ready.

Readiness is a critical part of accountability. After we recognize issues as they are and figure out where we have the power to affect the situation, we have to get ready to act. Sometimes the readiness takes the form of overall strength training. For example, if I need to insert myself into a conflict to address and issue, it would help to have practiced some confidence-building activities for some time. The time to buy dog food, a bowl for water, and a serviceable collar isn’t a day or two after the new dog arrives. For several years I have noticed that very few business meetings state up front what participants hope to achieve. In the absence of a clear objective or two, little gets done. I struggle with hearing people’s chronic disappointment with goods or services when they don’t think ahead about what their parameters are for success.

A dear late colleague of mine worked in theater production for a long time. She once told me that I could expect things to be cheap, fast, or good, but never all three. If I wanted something fast and good, I should expect to pay for it. If I wanted something good and inexpensive, it might take a while. This simple reminder has helped me over and over to get ready to take action. It has often informed my planning.

Maybe my resolve should be to decide if I want my shopping excursions to be fast, cheap, or good and invest my time preparing for them accordingly.

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