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I live on the east coast, in that weather zone that has been color-coded with a bulls-eye for “Storm of the Century” on it for the past week. I found out about the impending “snopocalypse” from concerned friends and family members – asking about my travel plans for the weekend – and “did I know?” about the weather issues. I didn’t. Not being much of a worrier, I assumed things would resolve themselves; they usually do.Not this time.

Yesterday afternoon, I caved and drove the whole nine miles to the closest shoe store, and about the time the flakes were starting in earnest, purchased a pair of very cute, on sale, and warm boots – figured I might need them. We had procured a “real” snow shovel a couple weeks ago, and I had located “pet-friendly” ice melt. Boots, shovel, ice melt, a bottle of really nice red wine‚Ķ while the world around me was wildly clearing grocery shelves, cancelling everything, checking in with family and neighbors, hauling in firewood, and generally acting like the last life boat was leaving the Titanic, I was smug.

Then it got quiet. The phone stopped ringing, the last visitors and delivery people sped away, businesses closed, the emails stopped, and the flakes were still coming down. Only now they were coming down about an inch an hour, and even with my grown-up snow shovel I was having trouble keeping up, and the weather advisories were still ominous, including predictions of massive power outages and “thunder snow”. The storm had not waited; as it had been forecasted, it had manifested – almost to the exact hour that it had been predicted. Brutal truth time – “too late” time – the window of opportunity to PREPARE was officially closed.

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Too late to get that firewood, to check on those flashlight batteries, to find that missing emergency radio. Too late to buy that generator that we have been talking about since the last dangerous storm, Hurricane Isabel. Really too late to introduce myself to a few of the neighbors on the next street, so that they might include me on the list of the missing and needing assistance. I sat in the quiet, in awe of the beauty and the power of the storm, still trying not to worry, still hoping my luck would hold, but suddenly painfully aware of the metaphor that it was offering.

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The time for preparation had passed. You can’t cram for storms, just like you can’t cram for a lot of things in life that are really important; building a relationship, achieving credibility as an expert, mastering a skill, giving a world class presentation, earning an reputation, creating or sustaining or being part of something that matters enough to be on your legacy wish list. The Malcom Gladwell ” 10,000 hour rule”, as he established in Outliers, completely supports the notion of both preparation and practice makes perfect. Applied against almost any endeavor, it is our effort spent in both that allow us to flourish, fulfill our dreams, and, oh yeah – survive a storm.

This one appears to have passed. I imagine that within a week things will be back to normal. Tomorrow we will begin to dig out. And unless the roof collapses, or the power goes out, I will be able to pretend that I was ready for whatever Mother Nature was throwing our way; that my just-in-time preparation was good enough. I guess that’s why we publish our thoughts. Because this evening , as the winds abate, the last flakes fall, and darkness descends, I am thinking about the lessons. In order to grow and flourish, in our personal lives as in business, we need to face the brutal truth – that there is not an unlimited amount of time to prepare. There will always be a day of reckoning, when the practice and the preparation matter.