The Perils of Being Overly Prepared

One of the main purposes of education (formal or informal) is to prepare the pupil with the skills necessary to handle whatever life throws at them. This is a most admirable goal and a key to survival, no doubt about it. Generations of Scouts across the globe have embraced the motto, “Be prepared,” as part of their purpose and the dictum extends way beyond these groups.

Of course, I could launch into an entire post about what happens when you’re not prepared, or when you believe you are prepared but aren’t. Those essays will need to wait for another time. What I want to address today is the topic of being overly prepared.

Is there such a thing?

Yes, I believe there is. Recently, I was catching up with an old friend who shared with me that she used to carry around a satchel filled with her daily necessities but also a lot of other items that she might need “just in case.” Things like umbrellas and bags for groceries or other sundry items, sunblock, snack food, an extra laptop battery, phone charging cord, extra jacket—that sort of thing. As a result, the satchel was seriously heavy and irksome to lug around. After years of doing so, with few occasions when these items were needed, she decided to offload. If a need should arise, she decided she’d simply have to deal with it at that moment. Girding herself for all sorts of eventualities that rarely manifested created a burden greater than being caught out should a particular need arise.

I’ve thought about my friend’s experience and her freeing decision to deal with a matter at the time it happened versus dragging around a bunch of what ifs in her bag. While the Girl Scout in me is somewhat apprehensive about this decision, the adult me appreciates how wise divesting herself of these various preparations was.

An abundance of caution isn’t always the best choice.

What about you? What do you lug around in your metaphorical tote? A wariness around authority figures or some certain type of people? A ready song and dance routine to distract others from seeing your real reaction or feelings of awkwardness? An automatic shut down response to certain stimuli? Bracing against people or situations who have hurt us in the past or made us feel stupid or out of place is understandable. Sometimes we need these skills, it’s true, but going into every situation anticipating that we might need to pull these behaviors out of our bag of tricks when, in reality, such problems arise infrequently burdens us far more than the trouble they can cause. After all, how bad is it if we get caught out? So, you get a little wet or you procure an umbrella when the need arises. You already know what to do.

Being overly prepared can mean we drag our pain with us in an anticipatory fashion. Isn’t it better to have confidence that we can take care of ourselves if the need arises, rather than drag around all that armor for every eventuality? Because, even then, there’s no guarantee.


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