The Boy Scout motto "be prepared" is a well-known phase inside and outside the scouting world. Originally coined by Robert Baden-Powell, and English Solider, in 1907, "be prepared" means “you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty.”
A couple weeks ago, I had an interesting conversation with a young lady about being prepared for an unexpected event. She shared that she had planned to unplug and take a much-needed vacation overseas a couple years prior. In preparation, she delegated her responsibilities to other team members, trained them on questions they may receive, and automated pieces of her work so she could enjoy her time off and not worry about logging in or joining meetings. She was prepared! Then, the minute her plane touched down in London, she started receiving text messages sharing that her office building had caught on fire, and as their PR lead, they needed her to approve a statement to make to the media.
While she had prepared for the routine tasks as well as many urgent issues, she had not specifically prepared for an office fire. Regardless, she had prepared her team well, and they were able to handle the situation in her absence.
I like Baden-Powell's interpretation of being prepared because it focuses less on tactical preparedness and more on one's mental preparedness which can lead to great results through ingenuity, creativity, and gumption. Whether at work or at home, I prefer to prepare with a plan, and several "just in case" backup plans. And while these plans are important, what I have found more impactful is being in the right frame of mind to solve the unexpected problems.
A few years ago, I was leading the rollout of a program at work. I had about 40 different communications ready to go, Excel spreadsheets with schedules and itineraries, and each component of the program perfectly coordinated. Then, the day we were to start implementation, a leader called me at 6 a.m. and asked that we change the plan. All my beautiful spreadsheets were useless, and my communication materials had to be rewritten that morning. I was physically prepared for the original plan and not mentally prepared to pivot at the last minute. As a result, I became quite stressed.
I wish I could say that I learned mental preparation that day. Instead, I frantically revised and adjusted the plan, frustrated at the turn of events. It was later, after having the benefit of time to reflect, that I realized the importance of preparing myself to be open to, and perhaps even to expect, change.
While that realization has not made emergency situations or "fire drills" less complex to handle, it has helped me manage my level of stress in the moment, adjust my expectations, and diffuse a challenging or overwhelming situation.