I am an extremely conservative individual. To illustrate just how conservative, consider the way I decided to handle my interactions with the opposite sex. When I was a young man, you understand, I made a tremendous strategic blunder that has had enormous impact on my entire life. I don’t remember the exact sequence of events, but somehow I came into the possession of a few statistics that went something like the following:
- A majority of marriages end in divorce.
- Of the marriages that do not end in divorce, many of them are unhappy.
- Finances are the number one problem that cause friction in a marriage.
- As far as health risk is concerned, having a bad marriage or a divorce is the equivalent of smoking a couple of packs of cigarettes a day.
- The financial impact of divorce is enormous.
Share these statistics with an extremely conservative young man and then ask him what he thinks is the best approach to marriage and family and what is he going to say? “I will go out there and try to get lucky!” or “It really seems as though one should be financially stable before one pursues a family.” The answer is so obvious that I hardly even need to mention it. I decided not to date until I had a financial nest egg that would ease the financial burdens of marriage. I figured that if such preparation could ease 50% of the financial hardships that a couple experiences in their married life, then that must surely increase the odds of a successful marriage and family substantially.
With such reasoning bolstering my natural shyness, this decision caused me enormous problems. Why? Little did I know when I initially made that decision, but I was not going to have a positive net worth until I was 37 years old. Because of this early decision, I did not even bother to speak to women for a long time, let alone get to know them. Why waste my time when I had already decided that the prudent course of action was to wait until I was in a good position? When I did speak to them, I always did it with the extreme reluctance of someone who thinks he is doing something stupid. Women, naturally, interpreted this reluctance as a lack of enthusiasm when in fact it was exactly the opposite. If I bothered to talk to a woman or ask her out in those days it was because I felt she was so fantastic that I couldn’t restrain myself from doing something stupid. Their inevitable rejections caused negative feelings and depression and this, in turn, worsened the other situations in my life.
God and the Prudent
With this history of excessive caution, you can well imagine my reaction when I read certain verses in the Bible:
For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. (1 Corinthians 1:19)
At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. (Matthew 11:25)
When I read these verses, I thought “what does God have against the prudent? What is so wrong about trying to think things through?” Now you will say to me that a couple of verses where God says he is going to invalidate the caution of the prudent does not mean that God is against the prudent and you would be right. At that point in my own life, however, I had seen my careful planning upset so many times that I was beginning to have a bit of a divine persecution complex. I was beginning to think that the reason for the popularity of Murphy’s Law in popular culture was that God intentionally frustrates (or allows to be frustrated) the plans of those of us who are thinking ahead. The truth, as far as I could see, was the opposite of what we were taught in the children’s story about the three little pigs. We should really teach children a story about carefree Kyle and Prudent Peter.
Carefree Kyle and Prudent Peter
Once upon a time there was a group of friends who were planning a picnic. After everyone had agreed on a time and place, Fabulous Fred told the others, “Now I need you all to bring to the picnic exactly what I tell you and if you do then I will make some of Fabulous Fred’s famous frankfurters”. Since everyone was excited about having one of Fabulous Fred’s famous frankfurters, they all agreed to bring what was necessary to the picnic.
Carefree Kyle was told to bring a rare Swedish, sweet and sour sauerkraut to the picnic. Being carefree, he decided to goto the local convenience mart on the way to the picnic because, “they are sure to carry exactly what I need.”
Prudent Peter, on the other hand, was told to bring hot dog buns and all beef frankfurters to the picnic. Being prudent, Peter decided to go to the largest and most well-stocked supermarket within one thousand miles. As his backup plan, Prudent Peter decided to get to that large supermarket with an hour to spare so that, “on the off chance” that they were out of hot dogs or buns, he would still have time to stop at the second largest supermarket on the way to the picnic.
On the day of the picnic, Carefree Kyle went into the convenience store and found 37 different brands of Swedish sweet and sour sauerkraut. Not knowing which kind to get, he picked the closest bottle and went to the picnic. When he arrived, Fabuolous Fred looked at his sauerkraut and said, “Wow Carefree! There are almost 40 brands of Swedish sweet and sour sauerkraut on the market and you got the very best one! You are awesome man! Now if only Prudent Peter brings the hot dogs and buns we need, we can have some of my Famous Frankfurters! Where is he?”
Unfortunately for the would be picnickers, Prudent Peter had a bit of a problem obtaining his hot dogs and buns. Because the first two supermarkets that he had gone to were all out of all beef hot dogs, and because he was involved in a traffic accident on the way to the third supermarket, he was not able to make it to the picnic and all the picnickers were sad because they had none of Fabulous Fred’s Famous Frankfurters.
The lesson of this story boys and girls? Never think things through because if you do, you will end up wrecking your car in a car accident.
Now this story is going to seem a bit cynical to some people, but it really does reflect some of the experiences that I have had. I remember one time when a coworker came up to me and said,
“Hey, man, I am supposed to go over to those guys on Friday and talk to their engineers about this integration, but I am not going to be able to make it. Can you cover for me?”
“Okay”, I said, “but I am going to need some time to prepare for the talk. I will also need to put together a demo.”
“Not necessary. This is an informal engineer thing, you are just going over there to answer a few quick questions. It is only a twenty minute drive, you will be back before 11:00.”
Despite his assurances that it was an informal talk with engineers, I went early with a fully prepared demo and talk in my best clothes. Sure enough, I was pulled into a meeting with some of the project senior planners and asked to give a talk and demonstration. Despite all of my preparation, the talk and demonstration was one of the worst experiences of my professional life. It ended up with the senior project manager ending my talk prematurely. The latest release of the software that I was demonstrating did not have several key features that he was counting on for his project and my demonstration had embarrassed him in front of his peers.
I remember another time when I had just had one of the worst experiences that I have ever had while flying. I thought to myself, “I cannot do that again. For this next trip, I am going to do everything possible to make sure that I do not end up in another fourteen hour air travel marathon.” I then made my plans using every trick I could think of to avoid such a difficulty. I decided to do the flight in two legs with an overnight stay in between them. I took a train to get to an airport that was closer so I could cut the flying time by three hours. I spent an extra couple hundred dollars just to make sure that the same thing didn’t happen to me. The result? The first leg of my flight had engine difficulties and I was on the tarmac for 6 hours. My flight arrived so late that I couldn’t even sleep at the hotel before my next flight was scheduled to leave and the air-travel marathon ended up being closer to eighteen hours . . .
I could go on with similar stories, but you get the idea. Make a set of careful plans thinking through each step and have appropriate backups and watch everything fail horrendously. The few times when circumstances prevented me from making elaborate plans and all I could do was throw up a quick prayer? Everything has gone smoothly and there were no problems at all. What is it that God has against the prudent?
As I have gotten older, I have gotten more like Carefree Kyle and less like Prudent Peter. The bottom line is that I have come to believe that there is nothing I can do to prevent problems or disasters and that I am going to enjoy my life a lot more if I do things without all of the worrying. Make a reasonable plan with no backups and just go with the flow. Since the other way never worked for me anyway, this way cannot be any worse. I would rather be Carefree Kyle throwing up a quick prayer to God than Prudent Peter trying to figure out how to get through on his own.