Be the wrestler.

Photo courtesy of Smallbones, via Wikimedia Commons

“The art of life is more like the wrestler’s art than the dancer’s, in respect of this, that it should stand ready and firm to meet onsets that are sudden and unexpected.”
-- Marcus Aurelius, “Meditations”

Winging it is almost never an option. Even jazz musicians agree on a key when playing together. I find that there is a certain amount of orchestration and planning requisite in success in all areas of life, even the ones that require spontaneity.

But dealing with other human beings requires an acknowledgment of the human element. In no sport is this more apparent than baseball. There’s no predicting when the right circumstances will conspire to give a middling pitcher a no-hitter. Maybe it’s an overcast afternoon game on getaway day, the away team anxious to get on the plane, the cloud-cover obstructing the release of the ball from the batter’s perspective. Maybe it’s these things, plus the fact that the journeyman pitcher received a birthday card from his grandmother that morning that contained a $20 bill -- just enough to settle the bet he had with the bullpen catcher on whether or not the starting third baseman pisses on his hands to toughen the skin. An event like this is just about one of the only things Sabermetrics can’t predict.

I have a friend who is a genius. Hand him an instrument, he’ll make it sing in an afternoon. Tell him to learn a language and he’ll absorb it. Supply him with enough information and he will tell you, with a troubling degree of certainty, how long you will live, what will likely kill you and how much money you will likely earn. As an actuary, he can do this for just about anyone.

He would also be the first to tell you that one of the only certainties in life is uncertainty. Even with the most precise instruments and the most negligible confidence intervals, there is still the outlier. The junk heap pitcher will throw a perfect game and go on to become an answer to a question on trivia night, laughed over between mouthfuls of 10-cent wings and dollar beers.

When you think about it, most of the situations we encounter in our day-to-day lives fall outside of our control. We must contend with circumstance at every turn. This can be unnerving, forcing some to recoil and launching others into control binges. 

Or we can be the wrestler. We can refine our strategy, craft it down to the most minute detail. And yet, we can still stand poised for whatever attacks might come. We can stand at the ready, our defenses raised and our senses attuned to the moment at hand.