Preparing for the Unexpected
2020: the year that stumped us all.
I think it’s safe to say that most people didn’t see a cheeky pandemic showing up unannounced at the front door of 2020. That none of us were prepared for it to slap us in the face with a cold, dead fish. (That’s what it felt like anyway.)
Everything has changed. It’s the sort of change that is truly historic; a plot twist that’s got us all on the edge of our seats.
Of course, University will be different this year. Exactly how different? Nobody knows for sure. (Unless we have seers and/or time travellers amongst us, that is.)
As someone who thrives on planning, this is a little inconvenient and maybe even a little anxiety-inducing. I had a number of plans in motion over the course of my degree: which societies to join and when, securing internships, and even social plans.
But silly me didn’t factor in a PANDEMIC. What an unforgivable oversight!
And with all of that falling through, that got me thinking: how does one go about planning for the unexpected?
The short answer is: I don’t think you can.
The long answer is: I don’t think you can. However, I think it is possible to prepare for the inevitable surprises being thrown our way by practising adaptability and building resilience.
Let it goo ❄
Acknowledge that we can’t (and don’t) have control over everything.
I find that I feel more anxious when I try to predict / plan for things that are completely out of my control, with the job market being a good example of this.
The economy is a beast unto itself that answers to no individual.
I know a number of people who lost internships this year, and my internship programme was cancelled. This was a blow, as we’ve been told time and time again that getting work experience is an important way to increase graduate employability.
But this not our fault. None of this is under our control. Yes, we can control a lot of what we are and what we do but I also think that there are a lot of outside forces that limit or enable us. For example, we can’t control which challenges we face and when, but we can control how we respond to these challenges and even takes some steps to prepare for them.
I think acknowledging this has been really helpful in being more resilient.
Instead of trying to make plans around future internships or opportunities that I hope to get, I’m trying to plan around things I can control e.g. my own projects, attending online events, online research etc.
Be Open and Spontaneous
A part of acknowledging that I can’t control the fate of the universe is that I need to be prepared for the universe throwing unexpected things at me. Not just negative stuff (*ahem* a virus *ahem*) but positive things like opportunities that I had never considered before.
Certainly, I found myself in an unexpected situation of having a free summer. One way of dealing with this is to lament the lack of an internship (which I did for a few days to indulge myself. Yay for wellbeing!), and another is to keep looking for other opportunities. I found virtual internships, online events and even projects to work on with other students.
I’ve also come to the slow, uncomfortable realisation that I have to ditch my plans – or rather, think significantly in terms of short-term actions rather than long term actions. After all, we could go into lockdown again at any time.
A part of that, therefore, is being open to just taking opportunities when they are presented to me, rather than rejecting them with the expectation of another opportunity presenting itself later.
Be spontaneous! In fact, I found that living in university halls was in itself a great way of learning to be spontaneous and building resilience.
I used to be quite picky about which opportunities I accepted, considering their ‘usefulness’ for my greater career plans. Seriously – I’m the sort of person who booked a career guidance appointment in the first term of my first year (offered by Warwick Student Opportunity – 10/10 would recommend this).
However, I’ve learnt that there’s something to learn from everything that could be useful later – even things that don’t seem related to anything else at first.
A good example of this is my internship last year, which I found through the Warwick Summer Internships (WSI) programme; it was not directly related to my degree, but I inadvertently got experience in what was essentially consulting. This happened one year before I properly explored what consulting is, let alone considered it as a career option!
So, whether these are modules, society activities, activities outside of uni or indeed even casual chats with people (as everyone has something to teach you), these are all opportunities to keep learning. Maybe we’ll have a zombie apocalypse and the survivors are those who took the time to watch zombie apocalypse movies. Who knows?