A pandemic brings the global economy to its knees when you had just moved to a new city in a new continent, ready to explore? That’s bad timing, and it is happening to me now.
Today I spoke to colleague who is enrolled in the coding bootcamp that I am running in-house at Smartly.io. We were on a video call in the morning to work through some kinks in her final project. By the afternoon, she had sent me a direct message on Slack, informing me that her doctor had decided to send her away as she is due to deliver her first baby in a few weeks. After 12 weeks of bootcamp classes learning to code, when she was just 3 days away from being able to show the company what she had learned and built, she had to be reeled away. Her maternity leave started by the evening. Just like that, she’s missing a great opportunity to be recognised and to celebrate.
As Csikszentmihalyi explains in Flow (1990), the universe is in chaos in such a way that it can be consistently interpreted as being indifferent to human wants or needs. Things will keep happening regardless of whether they cause problems for humans.
This is why whenever I experience an undesirable outcome, I try to ask myself a simple question: “Could I have realistically foreseen and intervened in any of this?”
If the answer is not a reasonable yes, like in the case of moving to Germany just before COVID-19, or being due to deliver a newborn just 3 days before graduation, then it is just a matter of bad timing. The universe was doing its thing. I tell myself that it is too bad that things had to happen this way, but don’t waste a second being upset because there was nothing in my ability that could have helped me create a better outcome. This very often puts me at ease so I can move on to worrying about the next thing.
Now contrast this to an example of a situation where “Could I have foreseen any of this?” is answered with a reasonable “yes, maybe…” A friend recently mentioned that he had lost over $100,000 “to the markets” because the COVID-19 pandemic had caused the stock markets to crash. In this case, the blame is not resolvable entirely to timing. He could have diversified his financial portfolio to include some bonds or other safer instruments to hedge his bets, for example. He had effectively taken a bet that was complicated by the bad timing of the virus. In essence, that’s poor decision-making, and that perhaps warrants some degree of self-blame and afterwards, some learning.