Here’s The Thing

There are times when the outline is not accessible and other times when the outline is accessible but suspect. The point is that outlines, instructions and advice aren’t always reliable, and following them would be a mistake. Just because I know what I’m supposed to do or how I’m supposed to proceed doesn’t mean that that is automatically the best way to go. It’s that personal judgment and personal responsibility thing.

I suppose it would be easier or at least safer to always use the most familiar or perhaps the most popular outline for everything. I could just keep it between the lines, as defined by someone else of course. If I get a less than satisfying outcome or should things end up in a mess, I have a handy out. I can fall back on pointing out that I followed the rules, did what I was supposed to do, played the game but just had bad luck. The unfortunate outcome was certainly not my fault, not due to my poor judgment, not something I could have reasonably been expected to anticipate or avoid. Sure, it was just bad luck.

The upside of following the outline is that, if things work out for me, I don’t have to give any credit to the outline or to those who developed the outline before me. My success is due to my cleverness, my persistence, and general brilliance. It’s a neat package. When things work out, I’m awesome and when they don’t, I’m just unlucky.

Here’s The Thing

I’m fine with following the outline, keeping it between the lines, most of the time, in most situations and with most things. The fact of it is that I’m about ninety-eight percent okay with sticking to the outline. If I make a thousand choices and decisions, nine hundred and eighty times I conform. It’s the other twenty times, that little two percent that is the sticker for me, my fly in the ointment.

Well, I know. I like to tell myself that I only ignore the outline two percent of the time, but that may be a gross under-representation. I don’t know what the right percent is but am pretty sure that it’s more than two percent. Whatever that number is, it has provided ample opportunity to screw up, along with plenty of chances to beat the odds.

It works like this. When I decide not to stick with the outline, I’m taking a chance. My best chance for an adequate or acceptable outcome is when conforming, when sticking to the outline. Tossing aside the outline is risky. Sure, the possibility of a better outcome is there, but so is the possibility of getting a worse outcome, and maybe even the possibility of crashing. It’s definitely chancy.

There is another risk or downside to skipping the outline. If things work out, people are unlikely to think that I’m clever and certainly not brilliant. Instead, they most likely think I’m just lucky. Conversely, if things don’t work out, do they think I was just unlucky? Of course not. They just shake their heads and wonder how I could have been so stupid. If I decide not to follow the outline, the odds of an acceptable outcome go down and, depending on how it turns out, I’ll be seen as either just lucky or stupid.

Here’s The Thing

From time to time, I’m tempted to skip the outline, to ignore the path between the lines. Should I resist the temptation? Of course, I should. Will I resist the temptation? Usually I will, but now and then, I’ll take a chance.

The decision to take a chance can get complicated. It has to do with risk and reward for sure, but mostly has to do with the status quo. If the temptation represents no risk to the status quo, I might as well give in to the temptation. If there are no potentially negative consequences, why not? Even if there may be minimal negative consequences, I might go ahead so long as I’m not making a habit of taking chances. It keeps things from being too bland and boring. Besides, it might work out fine or just be a lot of fun. Even if not, things will still be okay.

If the temptation or opportunity potentially jeopardizes the status quo though, the risk versus reward equation comes into play. Like most everyone else, I have sometimes wondered why people stay in jobs they hate, continue living with people who they dislike or who hurt them, persist in behaving in ways that expose them to negative consequences, or more generally, take no definitive steps to disrupt their status quo.

But as much as I wonder, the answer is easy. They fear an outcome for themselves or perhaps for others that would be worse than the status quo. As bad as it is, trying to change would most likely make things worse for them or for people about whom they care. The risk reward equation strongly tips toward risk and bad outcomes.

Although I do ignore the outline now and then, I’m fairly conservative. I need to be dissatisfied with the status quo before doing much that represents any risk to the status quo. Furthermore, that dissatisfaction has to persist over an extended period of time. I need to be sure dissatisfaction is not just a passing thing. Even then, there has to be a high probability of re-establishing a satisfactory status quo after the disruption. I’m okay with a temporary disruption, but I need to have a clear plan for re-establishing equilibrium. I take some risk, but not a lot.

Why? Fortunately for me, the harshest negative driver I’ve had to deal with is needing to change jobs, including moving. Even then, the prospect of an equal or better job was either guaranteed or extremely likely. There was never much threat to what was for me, a quite acceptable status quo. Sure, I’ve been lucky.