Fortune Cookie Friday: Managing Murphy’s Law
I love Italian food and seafood. I learned very early in life that red sauce and buttery lobster don’t go well with a dressy white sweater or any white clothes for that matter. Even if I were incredibly cautious, I would inevitably drop, spill, or splatter something on my clean clothes.
Today’s fortune and my fondness for fancy meals are examples of Murphy’s Law, an adage that states: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Although the premise has been around for a long time, it was named after engineer Capt. Edward A. Murphy, in 1949.
My post today isn’t about the misfortunes of a messy dinner, although I’m sure someone made a fortune off those disposable plastic lobster bibs. No, I’m writing today to share my thoughts on how we deal with the “Murphy” messes in our lives. One could give up in the face of misfortune, or one could take that mess and capitalize on it. Turning negative experiences into positive ones is an excellent way to rule the laws of Murphy.
Learn from Murphy
We all experience inconvenient moments in life. It would be great if everything went the way we wanted, but nature always sides with the hidden flaw. We may go out when the sun is shining only to end up coming home in the rain, soaking wet, because that was the day we didn’t think we needed an umbrella.
Whenever we experience Murphy’s Law, we should examine what we could have done differently. Was there a way to prevent it from happening? Were there signs we missed? Learning from our mishaps not only helps us grow but prepares us for the future. We will begin to ask these important questions before we act and make another mistake. For example, if we find ourselves questioning if we left the coffee pot on, it’s likely that we did and should probably double-check. Better safe than sorry.
Prepare for Murphy
Now that we know Murphy’s Law is lurking around every corner, it’s best to plan for contingencies, even if they seem a little crazy or out of the box. I always hope for the best and prepare for the worst. I can’t tell you how many times I used this process in the past. It got me through school, job interviews, the birth of both my kids and their subsequent terrible-twos and teenage years. Whew!
The unforeseeable is the reason I pad all of my appointments with extra time, keep toilet paper and paper towels next to my duct tape in my trunk and additional snacks, and personal supplies in the glove box. You will also be hard-pressed to find me lacking a writing implement at any point. I may forget my wallet, but when push comes to shove, I’m ready to kick butt and take names—by writing them down.
It would not surprise me that an instance of Murphy’s Law was what precipitated Plato saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Some people learned from the past and decided to prepare themselves and others for future messes. Those silly plastic lobster bibs are credited to Irving Lundy, who developed them for use by diners in his famous seafood restaurant. Eating seafood is a messy endeavor, and the bibs became part of the ritual of eating at the establishment in the 1920s, along with scrambling to seat yourself in the crowded restaurant and using finger bowls for cleaning up after the meal.
Even if we prepare, we may wind up face-to-face with Murphy’s Law. There are times when I think everything is going well, and it is precisely then that I have overlooked something obvious. It is at these times that I have to think outside the box and get creative to prevent disaster.
I don’t work with HVAC equipment, but that duct tape in my car has come in very handy. I’ve used it to repair a tent, remove splinters, and fix a hem on a skirt. Not to mention, it works great at removing lint and pet hair from clothing. The multitude of hair clips and ponytail bands that I keep in my office and car don’t always end up managing my messy mane. I used them to cinch cords, secure chip bags, and extend the waist size of my pants (perhaps I should eat less pasta and seafood).
Being prepared helps us deal with mishaps and sometimes prevents them, even if it includes creating a cheap consumable bib with pictures of tasty crustaceans.
Live with Murphy
Life happens, and sometimes not so well. The worst thing we can do is breakdown during that momentary crisis. If we can’t learn from or prepare for the inconvenient times, we should revel in the unexpected. Sometimes these mishaps also lead to surprising discoveries.
3M research chemist, Patsy Sherman was working with her colleague, Sam Smith, on a new kind of rubber for jet aircraft fuel lines in 1953. Even with strict lab protocols, if anything can go wrong, it will. An assistant dropped a bottle of synthetic latex that Sherman had made, and the compound splashed onto the assistant’s white canvas tennis shoes.
It’s typically not a good idea to drop chemical compounds in a lab, but in this case, the two chemists were fascinated by the results. They found that while the substance did not change the look of the shoes, it couldn’t be washed away by any solvents, and it repelled water, oil, and other liquids. Over the following few years, their joint research led to the development of the versatile fabric stain repellent and material protector, Scotchgard™.
Mishaps in the lab brought us the possibility to prevent stains, and Patsy Sherman continued to encourage us, especially young people, to keep our eyes and mind open and not ignore something that doesn’t come out the way we expect it. She followed Murphy’s Law and found serendipity. Perhaps she was on to something.
From getting caught in the rain without an umbrella to spilling soup on our brand new tie, life is full of messy moments. The best way to live in a world with Murphy’s Law is to learn from our mishaps, prepare for the unexpected, and to have an open mind to the unlimited possibilities. Laws like gravity, thermodynamics, and Murphy’s may never brake, but we can always adapt and find happiness in a world ruled by them. And maybe even have a decent meal.