Catastrophe! Now What Do You Do?

One morning of my senior year of high school in Plymouth, Michigan I decided that I wanted to get a delicious croissan’wich from Burger King for which my car was towed, impounded, and I was left stranded miles from home. 

I had decided to skip first hour because it was Philosophy and the only thing I learned from that class was that I can sleep in any position on any surface including the modern torture device known as the school desk. I wasn’t a “class-skipper” by any stretch of the imagination and even those who were could only miss about five before the warden got wind of it and your parents were notified by carrier pigeon or whatever we had in the Paleolithic era back then. 

A couple of miles from home I saw a never-ending line of dull-eyed commuters heading to the six or so jobs left in Detroit at that time and I was stuck. So I did what other people were doing and drove about a quarter mile down the left turn lane where a cop was standing about 30 feet from the traffic light and directing every car into a parking lot where the dangerous criminals were all cited and let on their way. Except for me.  

See, I had just bought that car a month before and my lazy high school ass hadn’t gotten it registered yet, so they didn’t believe it was my car.  

I was cited for “using a turn lane as a traffic lane” and kicked to the curb as I saw my beloved piece-of-shit car being towed away. The streets were safer in Plymouth that day, I can assure you. 

Now I’m miles from home, missing school, my car is impounded, and I got a ticket. At the time, I thought my life was over, as we do in high school every time we break a nail. But I put one foot in front of the other and made it to school (yay) and told my mother that I was late for school because the police took so long writing up my list of sins (sorry mom!).

Total bill for that croissan’wich was $3.90 + $400 for impound and citation fees = a $403.90 croissan’wich. The most expensive meal I’ve ever eaten. Of course my broke high school ass didn’t have the money so my saint-among-saints mother paid it for me, though I paid it back many times over, have no doubt of that.


There’s no way I could have planned for the catastrophe of that day and there were much worse days yet to come, yet the majority of people live their lives attempting to create a cocoon of perfect security for themselves. We go to school so that we will be employable, not intelligent, in order to make enough money so we may buy houses and SUV’s and pay for our cable bill and homeowner’s insurance in a timely manner.

Sarcasm? Sure. But nevertheless, most people are going to spend the whole of their short years towing the line in jobs they hate and spending a month’s salary on a one week vacation to try and recharge for the next 12 months of drudgery. 
The loss of a job is seen as total disaster in American culture, despite living in the largest and most versatile economy in the history of the universe, so best to keep putting up with your jerk of a boss and your socially-inept co-workers because, hey, change is scary, change is bad, change is the enemy
Security hates change, because perfect security can only be brought about by perfect predictability.

Tomorrow you will:

  1. wake up 
  2. shower
  3. brush your teeth 
  4. eat your Pop-tarts 
  5. commute 
  6. punch-in
  7. press buttons, make calls, return emails 
  8. eat lunch 
  9. press buttons, make calls, return emails 
  10. punch-out 
  11. commute 
  12. watch reality television 
  13. brush your teeth
  14. sleep

The day after will be the same and the day after that. Doesn’t that just make you feel so happy? All this perfect security?

But we aren’t happy, we’re wired into a system that won’t let go, tells us we’re nothing without it, and drains our whole lives away in the process. Any upset in the routine seems like total catastrophe; a car breaks down, a job gets outsourced, a check bounces. When this happens our first instinct is panic because this is not the way things are supposed to be. We immediately look to the outside world to fix the thing that has gone off the rails. We work very hard to maintain a perfect level of security throughout our lives and the most uneventful life therefore is seen to be the most desired life
So ask yourself:

  • What if I lost my job tomorrow? What if I quit? I suppose you would have to make sure your resume is updated and send it out, maybe apply to a job you actually like, or finally start that little side business you’ve always thought about. 
  • What if you had to leave your house in a day and move somewhere else? Well, it would be a lot easier to move your stuff if it could fit into your buddy’s van, so if you started whittling down your possessions to a much smaller amount, it would be significantly easier to manage. 
  • What if? What if? What if? 

The real answer is that, unless the situation is some cataclysmic health problem, you will be perfectly fine.

Play the uncomfortable game I call “Catastrophe“. Ask yourself what you would do in those situations, play devil’s advocate, ask for your friends/family to act as a sounding board. You’ll find that in pretty much every case, you’ll make it, you’ll be alive and well and all will be better in the morning in every circumstance. You aren’t made of fluff and feathers. You are a human being and made of damn hardy stuff. 
Now comes Catastrophe: Phase 2. When you start acknowledging to yourself that you will be just fine and more than likely better off without your soul-crushing job, bad relationship, or complete shift in life priorities, you have to start asking yourself why you’re not becoming the force for change in your own life. What possible reason is logical or real enough to prevent you from making a change in your life, even without the promise of perfect security? 
The answer is that there isn’t one. There’s just the fear of uncertainty and imagined disaster. But the imagined disaster is just that, it’s not real. And the uncertainty is part of what makes life exciting. You are not here to push buttons and reply to emails, you’re here to live. So get your croissan’wich and stop worrying about having a safe and uneventful life and start expecting some dips and curves in the road and know that you will be just fine on the other side.

One Response to “Catastrophe! Now What Do You Do?

  • Thank you for this post! Definitely something I need a reminder on every once in a while. Okay, all the time.

    And by the way, the only time I have ever had Burger King's breakfast in my entire life was whilst ditching a class one morning during my freshman year of high school.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *