Understanding Expected Outcomes

Understanding Expected Outcomes

A recent accident has caused me to think more deeply about a topic that I believe is often overlooked, but plays a massive role in our day to day.

Let’s get a little philosophical.

Think for a moment about what you currently assume to be true about the outcome of your life. These assumptions can be long term, short term, big or small. For example, many people assume that an expected outcome of their life will be to have child(ren) at some point. Perhaps they expect to get married. Perhaps they assume that they will work until they are 67. These are all examples of long term, large scale assumptions about life. I will term these “expected life outcomes”, or ELO’s for short. Note that ELO’s don’t have to be long in term or large in scale. A common short term ELO is driving to work every day. Another one is spending money every day. We just expect and assume that these things are and will be true now and in the future.

But have you ever spent time thinking where your ELO’s came from, and why you simply assume them to be true?

The accident I referred to above happened something like this… I’ve been a cyclist all my life. I’ve probably spent more money on bikes (both my money and my parents) over the past 20 years than any single other thing (including grad school!). I really got into bikes when I began racing BMX at the age of 14. Then I moved onto bigger and more expensive mountain bikes, and eventually to road biking. I raced the competitive collegiate circuit as an undergrad, and have been cycling for fun and fitness since college. There was a time when I would say I felt more comfortable on a bike than I did on my own two feet.

Up until May 2017, I had crashed on a bike 5 times. I won’t go in depth on any of them, but suffice to say they were all fairly minor tumbles that I could walk away from. That all changed when my pedal clipped a rock hidden in tall grass on a relatively mellow section of a trail near my home. The rock sent me tumbling over handlebars, when I landed hard on my left side, breaking 3 ribs upon impact. I decided to go to the emergency room because I was fairly certain I had broken ribs considering one of them popped back into place when I was pushing on my ribs after the crash. To make matters worse, I was also diagnosed with a partial pneumothorax (air in the chest cavity). The end result of this little trauma was a hospital stay where there was a tube sticking out of my chest for 2 days to re-inflate my lung, and about 6 more weeks of several limited physical activity (and a not too insignificant hospital bill).


So what does this all have to do with ELO’s? It’s quite simple. I’ve been on hundreds of mountain bike rides before, nothing indicated that this one was going to be any different. The expected outcome of this ride was to have some fun. Get some exercise, then go home and start to install an air conditioning condenser at my house. But the actual outcome was much worse; pain and suffering, emotional distress, and a financial setback. I was flat out wrong about the ELO of this ride. But how could I have known? That’s just it… I could not have known. I took an action and I was blind to the consequences. It’s actually the scariest thought to come out of the whole experience; that I could not accurately predict the outcome of my choices.

Now, let’s get back to abstract thought. I asked you earlier if you had ever thought about where your ELO’s come from, and why you even have them to begin with. Well, have you? What do you just “know” to be true about your life. What have you accepted as a “sure thing”. Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 or 20 years, and more importantly why do you see yourself there?

I challenge you to think creatively about your expected life outcomes. Maybe you don’t need to have kids? Maybe you can be financially independent in 5 years? Maybe you don’t need to live near your family? Maybe you can go without a car? Maybe you can be social and have fun without spending money? Maybe you don’t need to eat meat?

These examples are big ones. If they seem overwhelming, start smaller. Maybe you can workout today? Maybe you don’t need to buy lunch out? Maybe you don’t need to plan an expensive vacation? When evaluating ELO’s, nothing is off limits. Radical change and radical outcomes require radical thought. Challenge yourself today for a better  outcome tomorrow.

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