I used to hate turbulence.

Every bump, every rattle, every weird little sound would have me convinced that the wing was going to fall off the plane, and we would plummet to our doom.

Finally, a few years ago, I decided to do some research on exactly what it was and what it meant for a flight. As it turned out, I was way overthinking it, because airplanes are seriously overengineered. And those noises that had me convinced of my impending demise? They came from luggage shifting around, not something falling off the plane. 

Ever since then, I’ve handled turbulence much better, and I’ve also had good luck with flights not being too bad. But I was on a plane recently to Florida for our Food Automation & Manufacturing Conference, and it was a pretty rough ride due to bad weather along most of the flight path, especially over the entire state of Georgia. 

But I dealt with it much better than I would have in the past, even when the plane did one of those “drop and jerk to the left” moves. Because I had taken the time to learn more about turbulence, I was confident that a little moving and shaking wasn’t going to be the end of me. 

The next morning, I was giving my opening remarks at the conference and the fire alarm went off. I’ve done a good bit of public speaking in my career, and I’m comfortable with it. But when something happens like a fire alarm going off, you’re pretty much left with improvising. I was able to handle that as well, because I’ve had to do it before.

What turbulence and a rogue fire alarm have in common is how I responded to them. Because I had done my homework on turbulence, and because I have experience with public speaking and knew my material well, I was able to navigate both without too much trouble. 

A number of attendees told me they were impressed with how I handled the fire alarm disrupting things, and a couple even said something to the effect of, “I could never do that.”

But what I found myself thinking was, “Of course you could. You do it all the time.”

The reason I say that is simple: We always make plans and put processes in place, then things go wrong. (In fact, a lot of the time it’s an alarm going off.) When things go wrong, we draw on our knowledge and experience to figure out how to respond most effectively, then carry out that response. After the situation is handled, we evaluate how to make sure that what went wrong doesn’t happen again in the future.

But if you don’t have the knowledge and experience, your response will be less effective. Experience, of course, only comes with time, but we can gain knowledge at any point. By doing so, we can help prepare ourselves with tools that we will hopefully never need.

Things will go wrong, and you can’t control everything. But the one thing you can always control is how you respond, and laying the groundwork before something goes sideways will help ensure your response is the best it can be.