John Lennon is credited with that earth shattering insight: “Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans.”
We all have our favorite stories of how we were suddenly accosted with a different reality which stopped us in our tracks and made us re-evaluate what we were planning to do. (Reminds me of the famous philosophical joke: “how do you make God laugh? “well tell him of your plans for the coming year”) My most recent brush with this altering reality experience was when we had some “friendly relatives/relatives who are more friends” as house guests. They were on way to an European sojourn and we all wanted to spend time together before their travel. Many plans were made. Minute by minute itineraries; meal by meal menus and the whole damn twelve yards. And one day into our time together (everything going like a house on fire ) : my wife has a bad fall and we spend next 16 hours in a hospital – outside the operation theater and intensive care unit. When you are tense and worried about recovery of a dear one it is difficult to shrug the proverbial philosophical shoulders and carry on. One does wonder how a Plato or an Aristotle would have thought their way out of this bind.
Does this happen because we want a great level of predictability in our lives? Our desire to control what is going on in our lives is always so high. And when that gets off the track we feel uncomfortable. Of course no one likes an accident or a fall. But I know of many examples when even happy and good events which happened suddenly cause the crease of worry on our foreheads: why did this happen? How? if I did not cause it and work for it would it be taken away from me??. The underlying philosophy is : I am the master of my life. I control things. I make events happen. I must be able to predict everything.
In reality what can be farther from the fact? are we really in control? are events linked causally? and if they are am I am the “karta/dharta” ? Many times actually it is the butterfly effect: when seemingly unrelated and small actions all add to creating a tsunami in our lives. Life is certainly an integrated chain of events. An effect follows from a cause. But then Effects in turn cause other Effects. And the cycle is so much linked like a web that you can not really isolate in a pure manner an effect and it’s true/solitary cause. To use the age old cliche : am I like the small fly sitting on the wheels of Arjuna’s chariot wheel? looking back and thinking proud about the amount of dust I am kicking up? What do I really cause to happen around me?
Nassim Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness says it all in the very title of the book. We think we are in control. We project ourselves as powerful and causal. But the real intricate web of cause and effects behind the scene carries on regardless. Life is as much a surprise as it is predictable. And that is the true joy of living. An aseptic in control totally predictable life will be difficult to get through. So while accidents and incidents create challenges and difficulties in life: they are the experiences which spice our lives and make the whole business of living so enjoyable and glorious. The sheer uncertainty keeps us on the edge and the thrill alive! Life is indeed an adventure!! A treasure hunt where the rewards and the punishments are as much a part of the journey as the curious twists and turns we have to face as we move along.
I will end with an advice one of my bosses in Johnson and Johnson use to give us. We were a motley crowd of HR professionals setting out to transform the HR world in J&J across the globe. The project had many ups and downs : great moments of frustrations and challenges. When ever the team was down Kaye Foster-Cheek our thethen Global HR head had this to say: “Trust the process”. I think that is great advice as we live through life. We can question/fret/fume and tear our hair. But at the end of the day : Trust the process.
You get only one chance in life. And the “best” part is that NO one gets out of this game alive. So I always look upto the sky and say: I am ready! Lay it on. I am ready. I am emboldened by my faith. And I trust the process. Do you?