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Prepare for the Worst, Whatever Comes is A Breeze

February 4, 2009
by aguerra
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No matter how generous Fortune seems, forgetting her mercurial nature is dangerous.

About two months ago, my uncle passed away after battling cancer for a few years. This, I considered a significant loss to more than his family, simply because he possessed a level of grace rarely equaled. Winding down his life — often in incomprehensible suffering — as selflessly as he had lived it was evidenced by statements from my Aunt such as, “All he’s concerned about is me.”

While you might feel our familial bond taints my judgment, I’m certain he represents the perfect measuring stick by which the Roman philosopher Seneca suggested individuals evaluate their behavior. He wrote, “There is a need, in my view, for someone as a standard against which our characters can measure themselves. Without a ruler to do it against, you won’t make the crooked straight.”


Ancient bust of Seneca (source - Wikipedia)

In my case, no mentor could be more fitting than this relative, who possessed equal measures of placidity and optimism. Operating from a deeply religious foundation that all was as it should be, and plights were no more than tests from the Almighty, he radiated a soothing patina that drew others to him. He was, in a word, good. But beyond a vague notion of “goodness,” what are the qualities that make up a graceful persona, or one whose nature begs to be emulated?

The graceful person is self-possessed, slow to anger and impossible to disquiet with glancing slights. Though we shall see if the task of ascending the hill is on par with mastering its oxygen-poor summit, President Obama was lauded during his campaign as unflappable, while his erstwhile opponent was never accused of such. Abraham Lincoln — understandably enjoying a renaissance of popularity upon the 44th president’s election — counted self possession’s cousins conviction and perseverance among his most salient qualities.


While presidents face challenges far greater than you or I, we will still have the opportunity to handle ourselves gracefully, to deal with unpleasant facts calmly. This is best accomplished, according to our aforementioned Roman, by hoping for, and working towards, the best, while preparing for the worst.

“What is quite unlooked for is more crushing in its effect, and unexpectedness adds to the weight of disaster … This is the reason for ensuring that nothing ever takes us by surprise. We should project our thoughts ahead of us at every turn and have in mind every possible eventuality instead of only the usual course of events.”

Let’s project our thoughts:

  • Do you think yourself an invaluable employee, confident that if everyone were turned out, you would be protected to the last? Are you profligate as if such were the case?
  • Do you assume no harm will ever come to your body, your home, your investments? If so, does a lack of financial prudence leave you vulnerable to Fortune’s disfavor?
  • Are you so confident of the systems you manage that disaster recovery concerns are absent from your thoughts? Does a slumbering, yet ever-present, apprehension fail to bring about action?

The last time I was summoned to manager’s office, I practiced Seneca’s forward-thinking exercise. I took a deep breath, grabbed a pad and said to myself, “I am going to get fired. I will take the news calmly. I will thank him, and others, for the opportunity to work here and hone my craft. I will tell my wife that everything will be alright because we have some money saved, and we have not been living beyond our means. I have options. We will be ok.”

When he merely asked me to trim our freelance budget, I nearly hugged him. Luckily, I’ve been working on my self-possession.


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Comments

Maybe next time :)

I was thinking: composure is more than just a graceful reaction without a concrete benefit. It leaves one ready to handle the next problem, which could come in quick succession to the current one. A individual given to hysterics, or long bouts of gloom, will not be "off the canvas" and ready to handle the next issue. Of course, it should also be considered that handling failure gracefully can make more of an impression on those observing than the actual failure.

Anthony,
Well said. I know first hand that you have a lot of company out there. I see a lot of similar grace being demonstrated.

I've worked for publicly-traded companies for 15 years, paying attention to revenues, costs, earnings and quarterly performance numbers. After any period of 2 or more consecutive bad quarters, financial engineering will kick in and should. Generally speaking, as you suggested, the composed individuals have a distinct advantage.

Of course, the unemployment rate is now higher than in any of our current lifetimes. The fundamentals you outlined are nonetheless timeless.

So, you think hugging him would have been over the top?

aguerra

Anthony Guerra is Editor-in-Chief of Healthcare Informatics. His blog contains story lineups for...