The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Winging it

There are many ways to describe how people walk through life and show up.

That is to describe how they deal with not knowing what comes next. How they find a way to deal with the sense of not being ready, with making the statements they make, or with starting projects and publishing them.

One such description is to say that they are winging it.

It is an expression that comes from the theater. The wings are the areas to either side of the stage where an actor who had suddenly been called in to replace another was found studying his part and then received prompts from there. The expression was first recorded in 1885 and has since been extended to other kinds of improvisation based on unpreparedness.

One can also describe “winging it” as doing something without a set plan or criteria.

What it doesn’t mean, however, is that it necessarily is to be doing something without expertise. The art of going with the flow probably describes it better. It connects with the concept of wu wei derived from Taoism which means “effortless action.”

It is the ability to trust one’s instincts when one has developed proficiency in an area.

In contrast to this those who are not winging it find themselves overthinking things, stuck in immobility, and with a sense of helplessness. One reason why this happens is that they assume that others have mapped out their lives, premeditated things, and have it all prepared before starting.

Most of us imagine that others “feel ready” when they show up and assume that it means that we must have it all sorted out to do likewise.

This sense of “feeling ready” is a fantasy that is based on our imagination of what goes on in other people’s heads. It is recomforting to believe that others have an answer to everything. It’s falling back into something similar to the trust one needed to have as a toddler to feel safe with one’s parents while being deeply helpless and dependent on them.

Projecting this fantasy onto leaders, there is a high expectation of their preparedness. This might explain why their errors or failures lead to such extensive criticism.

With life being as random and dynamic as it is, it is not possible to be prepared 100 percent of the time. Nobody has a response to every international incident or can predict an upcoming crisis.

Winging it then means quickly stepping into one’s task, discovering the situation, being attentive to the prompts, and going with the flow.

And by letting go of the assumption that others have it all laid out for themselves we understand that the prompts we are receiving can’t come from a predefined script.



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