Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sandbagging: Planning for the Worst & Missing the Best

When I was working at a sales job in Bellevue, my manager asked me if I had any floss.

“Why did you ask me?”
“You seem like the kind of person who’s prepared for anything.”
I pulled a travel-sized floss out of my purse and handed it over.

In college, one of my friends gave me what she called a “shack it brush,” a toothbrush I could carry in my purse in case I ended up “shacking up” with someone. She didn’t need to, though: I already carried a travel toothbrush with me, not for shacking up, but simply in case I ate or drank something and felt a need to brush my teeth afterward.

Here in Boquete, where I am usually without a car and dependent on taxis, rides and buses to get me to and from home, I carry snacks with me to ensure that if I get hungry I have a choice of something healthy to eat.

Maybe floss, travel toothbrushes and a bag of almonds are all a good idea in the long run, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg as far as my preparation is concerned. I recently started to realize how often I do this with everything: how often I am anticipating the worst and spending all my mental energy trying to plan for that eventuality instead of letting myself live in the moment.

I call it sandbagging because sandbags are heavy. They take energy to move around and set up. They require thought and planning to put into place, and they are supposed to help keep out the floods, the natural disasters and inclement weather.
They also only work if they’re placed at the right place at the right time.

It’s definitely ok to have a contingency plan; an escape plan or an understanding that things may go wrong. However, I have found that I’ve been sandbagging so many parts of my life – planning for so many disasters – that I am so caught up in future could-possibly-kill-me-moments that I forget to look up and see that there’s no flood, actually, just sunshine and chirping birds. I call it sandbagging because of the energy it takes, and yet it’s ridiculous to spend all my precious energy planning for a future that may not come; to take all my valuable resources and put them toward protecting myself from an unlikely torrential downpour.

When I sandbag, I don’t just pick the most likely place where the water will come through. I sandbag the whole fucking house, because if I’m already expending the effort, I may as well work a little harder and make sure the whole structure is a fortress. Oops, I forgot to leave an entrance for supplies, and for me to get in and out. Oh well. For now it’s safe in here. I’ll just hunker down and wait for the flood that will never come.

I spend a lot of time and effort anticipating an attack of one kind or another, so I prepare myself for the worst. I expect people to want all my time and attention, so I automatically limit how much of myself I give to ensure they can’t take it all, regardless of who they are or whether they’ve shown themselves to be psychic vampires. I expect I will eventually run out of money instead of trusting in my own ability to make it (despite years of proof otherwise) so I hoard what I can while I can and beat myself up when I can’t. I expect one day the bottom will fall out of the work I have done, so I live in constant fear that it will be taken away. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, invisible audience, and it means that every good moment looks like it has a shadow.

There are going to be terrible moments. There are going to be unexpected tragedies; unexpected expenses; unexpected emotional turmoil. However, what if instead of sandbagging, I simply let myself remember that I have the resources and the capabilities to handle any problems that come my way, and instead of spending all my time building defenses, I simply let myself enjoy the good that came my way?

Well, my life would be much better, wouldn’t it? I’d be less stressed out. I’d have a lot more mental energy; I’d be a lot less wary. If, instead of hiding behind my sandbagged defenses, I stepped out into the world, what would I find? Probably a lot more wonder; a lot more love and a lot more space.

They talk about how worry doesn’t actually help anything. Anticipation of potential problems and outcomes is helpful in planning, but actually worrying about something makes not one damn bit of difference to its outcome. It’s easier said than done, but I want to let go of the worry: the parts that make me feel like there’s nothing I can do but spin the worst scenario out in my head over and over again; that imagining how it won’t work is somehow useful.

More than anything, I want to be able to put down the idea that I failed if I was unable to see the outcome of a situation before it happened. I want to be able to not just forgive myself for not seeing a potential failure, but dismissing the idea that that was ever my job. If I had known that ultimately I would end up with a bunch of cookbooks in a storage unit that hadn’t sold, would I have done anything differently? Damn straight I would have, but I had no way of knowing that the books that had been selling so well would stop selling. I had no way of knowing I would run out of steam; that other things would take precedence in my list of priorities; that one day I would realize that I had to choose between my own happiness and future and those damn books.

I couldn’t have known. I have no reason to keep beating myself up for not knowing that. I have no reason to beat myself up for not knowing relationships were going to end before they started; for not knowing that the longer I stayed away from the States the less I would want to go back; for not knowing a year ago that one year away would really only be enough to scratch the surface of the new path my life is taking.

The sandbagging hasn’t worked. Not only did I build dykes in the wrong places, I beat myself up for not realizing where the weaknesses were, without knowing what they would be. I have beat myself up for not knowing what I didn’t know, instead of having the experience, learning from it, accepting what I’d learned and moving forward with that new knowledge. I tend to beat myself up a lot, invisible audience, but now is the time to stop.

I can’t know what I don’t know, and spending my whole life trying to anticipate every last possible outcome not only takes the fun out of it, but it also negates all the lessons I need to learn along the way. Now that I know, I treat my business interactions a lot differently. I divide the money I make into different categories: living expenses, savings, paying off debts, and business expenses. I never would have learned to do that if I hadn’t done it differently when I was selling my cookbooks. I never would have learned what doing what I loved felt like if I’d never done what I hated for money instead. I never would have known what happiness was without experiencing real sadness.

When I sandbagged, I not only wasn’t letting in the flood, I was also holding back the sunshine. It's time to step out of the fortress and know that there's a lot more to anticipate than just a flood.

Love and sandbag free kisses