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  September 7, 2012
Preparing for the Worst...



Over the Labor Day weekend, several of our friends managed to get together at the beach for an end-of-the-summer barbeque.  With approximately 10 families in attendance at our little soiree, I counted no less than 30 children present, ranging in ages of new-born to university students.

While eating my lunch, I managed to have a brief conversation with a mom and her daughter Katelyn.  Katelyn was about to begin her senior year of high school in a few days and was giddy with excitement (although she tried, unsuccessfully, to hide her enthusiasm to appear cool in the eyes of her friends).

Soon the subject of college arose, and I asked her which universities she was applying to.  With a straight face, she explained that she was only applying to one University... Stanford.

Now I’ve known Katelyn for many years.  She is one of the top students at her high school, is active in several clubs, runs girls track, volunteers at her church, and is working her way toward earning her gold award in Girl Scouts (on par with the Eagle Scout award in Boy Scouts).

Still, Stanford University will receive more than 38,000 freshman applications this year, all from highly qualified students, from which they will accept less than 7,000 students for admission.  This includes highly recruited athletes, wealthy (and giving) legacies, sons and daughters of heads of state and royalty, and other selected individuals who have a fast-track to admission.

Knowing her long odds for admission, I asked her about the other schools she was applying to just in case the Stanford thing didn’t work out.

She then gave me a look that insinuated that I was a crazy man just released from the asylum. 

"I just told you... I’m going to Stanford", she avowed, "plain and simple".

Now it’s one thing to have a focused goal in mind, but it’s something else completely to bet the farm on overwhelming odds against.  She may very well be the a part of 16% who is accepted at Stanford as a freshman, but it’s more likely, she may be instead, a part of the 84% of those who are not accepted.

There is no shame in not being accepted at an elite college.  Much of the decision is beyond a person’s own control.  Most of the kids (if not all) who apply are indeed the brightest and best.  They already represent the top 1-2% of their respective classes so the competition is fierce and highly subjective to the whims of the admissions office.

There are other first-rate schools with fine reputations for academic excellence.  At the very least, Katelyn should consider applying to some of those other schools just in case acceptance to Stanford is not granted.

Those additional college applications would be insurance policies against unforeseen disaster... not saying that it’ll happen... but just in case...

Now as adults... we may laugh at Katelyn’s potential folly (or admire her courageous heart).  We have the privilege of experience, insight and first-hand accounts of history.

We have seen the stock market crash... not once... not twice... but multiple times in our lifetimes. 

We have witnessed the wrath that Mother Nature can cast upon in terms of hurricanes, tornados, floods, wild fires, earthquakes, and tsunamis... and leave death and destruction in her wake.   

We know what it’s like when our parents and grandparents told us to invest in real estate because it’ll never go down in value. 

We have all bet on a sure thing... only to watch that bet come up a loser in the end.

We understand that no matter how hard we plan, our plans can be undermined by forces not brought upon by ourselves. 

Not only do we need a plan A... but most of the time we also need to consider a plan B and possibly a plan C as well.  This helps us to create contingencies should our first path be blocked or should a calamity occur along the way.

Critics of contingency planning will claim that if you work at something long and hard, success will surely become yours.  Focus and concentrated effort can overcome the impossible and improbable and turn dreams into reality. 

Focused efforts will indeed help us to achieve more in the long run but there are so many variables that lie outside our immediate control.  Favorable outcomes cannot be solely based upon our hard work and directed energies.

Along with our self-determination come certain elements, both positive and negative, that may affect our final results.  These are the "luck" factors which have figured prominently in most, if not all, great success stories.

I have personally witnessed countless examples of where the "luck factor" contributed more than its fair-share to the success or failure of a project, product, and/or company. 

An idea might be revolutionary, but unfortunately too far ahead of its time to be commercially useful. 

Inventions like the microchip, the microwave oven, and digitized music and video were commercial flops for their innovators.  Unfortunately for them, the time wasn’t right for the world to embrace their new technology.   

It wasn’t until many years after their initial design, that the world finally figured out how to best utilize their new ideas.  They were simply unlucky that the time wasn’t just right to achieve personal success.

Timing and opportunity can also work in favor of a project, design and or company.  There were several winners (and losers) created during the multiple technology bubbles of the recent past. 

What made Google the ultimate winner in search engines?... they weren’t the first nor the best in this space, but they ultimately came out on top beating out Yahoo, Web Crawler, Alta Vista and Excite (just to name a few).

Google’s early success had just as much to do with good fortune as it did with management and/or innovation.

Our friend Katelyn may truly have the best college resume that Stanford University has ever seen.  They would be fools for not accepting her.  However, the final decision is ultimately outside of her control and that’s why she should consider a fallback position should the worst occur.

Always prepare for the worst... yet hope for the best...

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we try our best to assist you to beat the odds and find success in whatever it is you do.


Jim Kalb

www.optifuse.blogspot.com (blog archive)

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