Embracing Uncertainty

It is 8:00 am, the starting time for the track and field meet, in Shah Alam with 8 international schools, over 500 athletes. I am excited and extremely nervous. Nervous because in my head I see the judgmental eyes of my colleagues ready to pounce on my mistakes. They have always been supportive of me and others, but the thought of something going wrong has a way of growing inside of me and it frazzles my nerves. And then it happens. The equipment for the high jump pit has not arrived because the driver has lost his way. In track and field planning, timing the events in your organizational mind ahead of time is everything, and now the events are 20 minutes behind schedule. The only strategy left is to wait patiently, but with each tick of the clock the eyes of judgment grow inside and with it increased tension and energy drain.

As the day wears on the meet becomes a series of mistakes and successes. The 1500 meter races and the 4 x 400 meter relays seem to drag into eternity, but all of my predictions about the timing of events are right on except the high jump. At the end of the day we finish early, the overall purpose has been achieved, and the athletes are excited.

As I reflect on that day and other events that I have planned including my daily classes, I am struck by the reality that however much planning and organization I put into an event such as foreseeing possible problems and having solutions for them, there are always things that happen that are unpredicted. It seems to me that when I am the chief organizer of an event that I need to have two capacities that greatly support each other. One is to be a meticulous planner where I have an excellent sense of how the event is going to flow, and the other is to be able to solve problems instantly on the field in time so that the flow continues. It is easy enough to predict some of the variables in a track meet in a tropical country. We know that there will be dehydrated athletes, for instance, so I can plan a strategy for taking care of them. I also know now that in the third world local officials may have to answer to a different set of rules than in the western world, so I now can plan for that variable. But as controlling as I am of variables I still need to be able to embrace the uncertainty of the day in the present tense. I need to have the ability to deal with things as they arise on the day.

In planning ahead of time for an event or an organizational scheme the strategy that works best for me is to look into the future, see the purpose of the event, and then lay down a scheme based upon my own past experience and the experience of others. Going back and forth from the future to the past in collaboration with others works extremely well.

The other capability, which is the ability to solve problems in the present tense, seems to first and foremost require an openness to believing that where things go astray in the present is where the new personal and social growth is. Being in the present tense fully allows me to see what is happening and adjust to the current reality, and then see where the new learning is. If you have the first capability, which is being able to plan ahead of time, but are not good at the second one, being present, then you will either not do the events again in the future or be so obsessive about the planning and perfecting everything that everyone around you gets turned off.

Being present seems to allow me to embrace the uncertainty as if it were destined to happen so that I could learn from it. It also seems to replace anxiety with the feelings of wonder and awe so that I can both feel great about the event and also grow from the lessons learned.

This coming year I am planning a huge swim meet for the same set of international schools so having never organized a swim event of this magnitude, I think I will embrace the wonder and awe instead of the anxiety. What a day it is already!!!!!

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