From one compulsive list maker to another, here’s a tip: keep it (our lists) reasonably short. The problem with making lists is that your neurons can fire off (we might hope) quite a bit faster than you can sharpen your pencil and your list can grow quite a bit faster than you can actually get things done.
Of course, it is often said that the “devil is in the details”, which might be construed to suggest that longer lists would lend additional protection against all of the various risks you can come up with. But, I doubt it. If there’s anything I’ve learned in 52 years on this planet, it is this: you will never ever “catch up”.
With a humble “salute” to my dear father (“Col. Monk”), I’d suggest that most of those who we see with perfect lawns, well dusted china cabinets, pressed laundry, neatly filed receipts, orderly garages, and the like, probably have the benefit of some combination of no dogs, no kids, no job, no sleep, and/or lots and lots of cheaply hired labor.
The whole point of self-reliance (or preparedness, as the case might be), at least as I see it, is development of a reasonable degree of resilience in your life. As written about by the likes of Nassim Taleb, fragility is typically a consequence, not just of complexity, but of various habits that prevent the development of resilience or, as he puts it “anti-fragility”. I agree. In the interview linked above, Taleb also notes that certain stresses are actually good for you. And, in this, I also agree (See Rule #10, below).
So, my personal self-sufficiency goals (wisely, I hope) place less emphasis on avoiding all stresses, but to ensure that I have constructed a life that will tend, over time, to make me stronger and more resilient. In that spirit, I offer the following priorities, here drawn from Taleb’s Ten principles for a Black Swan-proof World, which are intended to speak to our economic ills, but work just as well in this context:
1. What is fragile should break early while it is still small. Nothing should ever become too big to fail. – Murphy got here first, but here’s the deal: Junk breaks, so if you really and truly need it, get as good as you can afford, otherwise you’d best start with Plan B, which might reasonably be as simple as learning to do without. Do you really need that netbook or smart phone? More important, should you rely on such tools? Does your generator become useless after you’ve consumed that single 5 gallons of backup fuel? Just how many single-point failures can your life withstand?
2. No socialization of losses and privatisation of gains. Whatever may need to be bailed out should be nationalised; whatever does not need a bail-out should be free, small and riskbearing. As we have noted in the past, if your personal “preparedness plan” involves “going to the Superdome”, then good luck to you. For the rest of us: keep it small and, if/when absolutely necessary, team up with others that are willing and able to share equally the burdens of responsibility.
3. People who were driving a school bus blindfolded (and crashed it) should never be given a new bus...It is irresponsible and foolish to put our trust in the ability of such experts to get us out of this mess. Instead, find the smart people whose hands are clean. – Need I add more? How’s this: Most of what you’ve been told is flat-out wrong. Don’t trust anyone without reasonable vetting. But, still, do find sources of information that you can trust. We can’t all be experts in everything and you will need help.
4. Do not let someone making an “incentive” bonus manage a nuclear plant – or your financial risks.- Call this an appropriate corollary to Rule No. 3. Calibrate your trust according to the incentives and, thus, the motivations of those you rely upon. The risks here, however, aren’t simply limited to information or products that you might be presented with….this might reasonably be interpreted to include your economic security (i.e. your job).
5. Counter-balance complexity with simplicity. – This, perhaps, should be Rule No. 1, eh? So simple that even (or only) a child could understand it. Enough said. No, wait, how about this: less is more. Now, enough said.
6. Do not give children sticks of dynamite, even if they come with a warning. So, speaking of children, it’s also worth considering whether or not we too might be playing with dynamite. As B. Klibban said, “never eat anything bigger than your head”. But, seriously, somethings really are just too dangerous to fool with. Keep your bets small, your investment reasonable, your risk thresholds low.
7. Only Ponzi schemes should depend on confidence…Simply, we need to be in a position to shrug off rumours, be robust in the face of them. – I might add that, for a Christian who is instructed to live by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7), the matter of confidence depends utterly on the system relied upon. Man-made institutions will always fail. Place your confidence in what is truly reliable.
8. Do not give an addict more drugs if he has withdrawal pains…We need rehab. – Uh, yeah. If you’re suffering now, waiting for your next “fix” isn’t going to solve the problem. The time to change is now, no excuses, no rationizations, no “hope and change” on your dinner plate.
9. Citizens should not depend on financial assets or fallible “expert” advice for their retirement…Citizens should experience anxiety about their own businesses (which they control), not their investments (which they do not control). – For the record, no, I have never been to an AA meeting, but their “Serenity Prayer” is still good and practical advice. In this context, we might suggest that shifting the burden of responsibility to ourselves in a great many (both large and small ) ways is also a step in the right direction.
10. Make an omelette with the broken eggs. – Saving the best for last, this is my personal favorite. This is the No. 1 most timeless, and, I think, truly Godly principle in the list. There is nothing, but nothing that can’t be used for good. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28) Do you think it is too late to change your path? Too poor? Too old or too sick? Think again. Then, too, I’m also thinking of an omelette for lunch.