Our Work Is A Prepared Response To The Surprises Of Others

“History is the study of surprises.” – Professor
Edward T O’Donnell

It’s been a tough year. It’s been a challenging year. It’s been a surprising year. And, it’s also just been another trip around the sun on the little rock we call home. It sure feels like a lot more than a 365-day cycle.

There’s no getting comfortable with the twists, turns, and surprises of history unfolding. And yet, there’s a strange comfort in knowing we don’t know what comes next. There’s a challenge in figuring out how we’ll want to roll with whatever the universe brings, as opposed to the alternative of endlessly fighting it or denying its reality.

Here’s the cold hard truth behind every profession: somebody has a problem, somebody else has a solution, they get together and the job gets done. The problems all stem from uncertainty. The professional’s entire reason to exist is to face someone else’s surprise, interpret it, and move everyone forward.

Jim Collins puts it well in his book, Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0,

Uncertainty is chronic, instability is permanent, disruption is common, and we can neither predict nor govern events. There will be no new normal, there will only be a continuous series of not normal episodes, defying prediction, and unforeseen by most of us until they happen.

If that’s the constant state of the world, it’s no use waiting for calm waters. If we know how to do even one job to help survive in the storm, all we need to do is find another person who needs it done. Once we do, we’ve got a gig. If we do it enough times for enough people, we’ve got a career.

2020 threw a lot of curveballs. There’s been no shortage of surprises. We don’t have to hit every pitch, just the ones we know we can hit. We don’t have to solve every problem, just the ones we know how to solve. Dentists don’t need to start drafting estate plans, but they should keep filling cavities (and nobody plans to get a cavity).

If life is full of surprises, our work, whatever it may be, is to know how to respond to a few of those surprises, and then help others to do the same.

h/t to Brené Brown for highlighting both of these quotes on the Unlocking Us podcast, “Brené on The Queen’s Gambit, Revisiting FFTs, and Resting Our Tired Brains.”