ONE FALL DAY, my father and I were watching the rain ruin our outdoor plans. “The one thing about rain,” he said to me, “is that there’s nothing you can do about it.”
My father was a go-getter. In 1941, he volunteered for the Army Air Corps right out of high school. He flew 35 missions in a B-17 Flying Fortress. After the war, he took over a local curtain manufacturing company operating in the red. He turned it into a curtain, drapery and bedspread empire with factories all around the country. He was no slouch.
Still, he recognized that there are times when things are just beyond our control. I’m not talking about systemic inequities, but those unexpected disruptions of our best-laid plans. We can fret, curse and diagram all the possible explanations on a wall using red yarn—or we can just do our best, accepting our limited control over life.
As a teacher, I walked into every class with a plan for what would be done. I also knew there was a good chance that a kid would have a meltdown or that a simple one-minute concept would actually require half the class time to teach.
My wife Jiab was a credit risk manager at a bank, so she’s good at anticipating “what ifs.” The difference between us, however, is that when the unexpected happens, her profession wants to know why it wasn’t anticipated. My profession assumes there are always unknowns that will upend a teacher’s plans. The measure of success is how the teacher overcomes the inevitable disruptions.
We carried those traits into retirement. No one is better at planning a trip than Jiab. She’ll nail down every knowable detail, from flight to rooms.
I usually come alive once we get somewhere. I take the lay of the land, set a course and look for interesting sites. If the desired activity or place is unexpectedly unavailable, I quickly find an alternative. No sense fretting about it, we’ve just got to adjust and take the best path available.
The same thing is true for investments or any other decision about life. We need to plan like Jiab does. But if we overanalyze—or declare “it wasn’t supposed to be this way”—we can miss the departing lifeboats or the better opportunities available elsewhere. We can also miss a true beauty of life—the improvised dance to unexpected music that is, I’d argue, more fun.
By the way, I’m writing this on an unexpected rainy day. My tennis bag is sitting by the door, waiting for better weather. Nothing I can do about it.