When You're Prepared, Are You Ready?

I live in the Pacific Northwest, an area that exists under the cloud of a magnitude 9 megaquake. We are all encouraged to take steps to prepare for such an event, which we have done. We have emergency food, water, flashlights, and much more, even flip-flops by our beds that will let us step on the glass on our floors from broken windows if the Big One happens at night.

What I wonder at times is, now that we’re prepared, are we ready? An event of this magnitude will create a series of disruptions to our lives that are extensive and to some degree unpredictable. So, what does it take to be ready for something for which you cannot fully prepare?

Readiness is a broader, more all-encompassing concept. It consists of considering all the ways in which you may not be fully prepared. Whether it’s a natural disaster or a life transition such as going off to college or getting married, it’s possible to be prepared and still not fully ready for everything the transition entails. People who are good at preparing often rely on checklists to manage complexity, and such tools are invaluable. The only problem is the tendency to create a “checklist mentality”: when the checklist is completed, you’re then ready for anything that may occur. If only life were so predictable and manageable.


Readiness is a mindset as much as it is a set of behaviors. It’s a willingness to take on the unexpected and to adapt as needed. Readiness builds on preparedness to allow you to fill in the gaps anytime an issue or opportunity arises that wasn’t on your preparedness list. It’s the ability to be adaptable, and to do so from a position of strength and confidence that you can handle the new, the novel, the unanticipated.

Readiness is a key skill in any area of life that requires a complex response. Most life transitions fall into this category. Entering college or a career are examples of areas where readiness is particularly important and not sufficiently addressed. You need to be ready to take on a new role, to deal with people who are different from you, to advocate for yourself in a large and impersonal institutional context, to realize things aren’t working out the way you planned and then adapt accordingly. In general, readiness for the college transition requires the ability to persist and persevere when events go beyond those for which you were prepared.

Next time you prepare for something as simple as taking a trip or meeting new people, think about what you need to do to be prepared, and then think about the mindset that it will take for you to be ready to deal with those things for which you can’t prepare. If you face a significant life transition, work on your mental state so that you are not thrown off track when the unexpected happens. Adopting a readiness mentality will give you added confidence and capability to strive not matter the circumstances you encounter.