Employment Today – March 2002 issue      back to articles menu

“The Pin-Ball Wizard

We all know that the theoretical approach to ‘life planning’ says to plot your specific course to reach those specific goals with measurable waypoints and a timed outcome. Ever played a pinball machine? If the pinball was a sentient being, how do you think It might feel?

Smacked and blasted from pillar to post accompanied by a cacophony of clacks, buzzes, shrieks and thuds, blinded by dazzling, flashing lights, to be roundly cursed by the inflictor of this punishment on reaching its ultimate goal (sometimes in the vilest language) only to have to line up in darkness, with other abused pin-balls, awaiting the next terrifying journey. There’s no ‘Mothers Against Pin-Ball Abuse’ action group.

My Mum (Oh God he’s not going to talk about his Mum, is he?) used to say things like “Every cloud has a silver lining” and “As one door shuts, another one opens”. This from a woman whose home village on the South East Kent coast was routinely bombed by German planes either going to or from the sunny skies of London, and who, for over a year from the date of our arrival in NZ in 1964, wrote an aerogramme letter home every day accompanied by floods of homesick tears. Dad had to work an extra shift just to pay for the postage. No wonder I’m cynical about motivational clichés – look at the role model (I still love her by the way).

The futurist Joel Barker, in his movie ‘The Power of Vision’, says that one of the things that allow some individuals to survive and even succeed in the most appalling circumstances is that they have a ‘Powerful Vision of the Future’, and uses an analogy of a rope stretching across a fast-flowing river. He suggests that the rope (being your Vision) will allow you to resist the pull of the river (random events) as you cross by hanging on tight to it. The rope will prevent you from being pushed off course. Well, that’s all very well, but in my experience there are bloody great logs floating down that river, sent by the local Rimu Tree Poachers Society and sooner or later one of them is going to hit you so hard it’ll take you with it body and rope together. To quote Mark Knopfler: “Some days you’re the Louisville Slugger, baby, some days you’re the ball” and I just wonder whether the life-planner Guru’s have cut us enough slack in their theories to cope with the realities of a perverse thing called Fate.

Sometime in your life you will have heard some optimist saying “Yes, it’s tough, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel” and if you’ve been lucky enough to be in exactly the right place at the right time you would have heard the rejoinder (usually muttered sotto voce from under-resourced Maintenance Fitters) “Yeah, it’s a train coming the other bloody way…”  Now that’s somebody who appreciates reality versus theory.

The title of a conference NZATD had a few years ago was “From Chaos to Order”. The implication here is (1) that such a thing is possible and (2) that there is something intrinsically wrong with Chaos. I live with a woman who has very defined views on this – to walk into our home you would immediately say ‘Order’, but if you had the temerity to open the wrong cupboard or wardrobe door, your muffled voice (issuing from under the pile of stuff that burst out on you) would say ‘Chaos’. Now here’s a thing – over time I have conditioned myself to be careful opening cupboard doors, AND I no longer expect to be able to find things. Once you let go, it’s actually less stressful, and although today I have ‘x’ number of socks that have become estranged, I’m relaxed about it because deep down in my sole (get it?) I know that, maybe a year from now, those socks will reappear, covered in fluffy stuff, in a place you would never look, like my tool-chest, or the vegetable compartment, to be joyfully reunited with their mates, accompanied by a little jolt of joy on my part. What’s so bad about that? If Order were to prevail, wouldn’t life become terminally boring? Chaos is the thing that let’s you know you’re alive, and if you can’t find things, well, what a wonderfully valid excuse for Procrastination.

Back to this Joel Barker ‘rope-and-river’ thing. Why is he so insistent on crossing the river right there? Why not walk up-or-downstream for a bit where one might find a perfectly serviceable 6-lane highway crossing it? If we come back to the poor Pinball, there is one inescapable fact - no matter how skilful the player, sooner or later, the ball WILL disappear down that hole. It will have reached its goal without any pieces of rope. The inevitability of Gravity and the limitations of skill and human endurance, couple with Fate, defeat the Player in the end. All the Player is doing in fact, is introducing Chaos into what was Order, the purpose of the game is to extend the period of Chaos for as long as possible, and in so doing, increase the score. Clearly then, Chaos is fun.

Which is not surprising, really. Look at where we’ve come from. The only reason we’re here in the Human form is because some aquatic life form got seriously depressed about life in the marine context and started hauling himself out on the mud without, I might add, first checking his Organiser Diary. In the eye-blink of a billion years Hey Presto! you’ve got lungs instead of gills, for which the Tobacco industry should be eternally grateful. Where’s the Order in that? Since our whole Universe was apparently created in some kind of cataclysmic explosion (which did not appear the day before in anyone’s Outlook calendar), and since we are simply part of the debris from that still hurtling outwards, Chaos seems to fit remarkably well alongside that scenario.

In all honesty I believe that while it is good to have life goals, don’t expect to reach them via the path you have laid out. A well-known Military expression says “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy” but if there were no plan at all – i.e. total Chaos, then any war waged on that basis would result in a short path to defeat.

Have your life goals, but be ready for those Logs, roll with the punch and see where it takes you. You may find you can still reach your goal, but via a different route.

And who knows – and this is the bit that I’m starting to appreciate – where that Log takes you might be a better place, and you might find (horrors!) that the goal you were aiming for is no longer the one you want.

Sometimes, when those Logs hit you, for a while you may find yourself demoralised, wondering ‘is it all worth it’. But if you ‘ride the Log’, you may find that in the new place you’ve gone to, there are more opportunities than there were in the old, and all the things you learned and achieved striving for the old goal, will still help you in the new.

I’ll probably get hate-mail now from the National Union of the Really Disciplined (NURD) but what the heck, it’ll be better than the porno Spam that no-one at my ISP seems willing to, or capable of, doing anything about. Long Live Chaos.

Carpe Diem

Steve Punter ANZIM, Dip Bus (PMER), FHRINZ
Staff Training Associates Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand.
© Steve Punter 2002 All rights reserved by the author.

steve@sta.co.nz                                                                                                                       back to articles menu