Sometimes, all you can do is regroup. When your team is feeding, trickling in, or allowing free objectives left and right, it’s easy to feel like you have to do something immediately to turn the game around. If you don’t act now, the instinct says, all could be lost. In principle, it’s better to act sooner than later, but in practice, taking a moment to recover and regroup can be essential to the success of whatever action you take next.
Today, I woke up with the expectation that I would get a significant amount of work done – I was going to clone my team’s project, implement a new feature, and have it back to them for integration with the main game by three o’clock in the afternoon. Furthermore, I was going to get meaningful research done at some point during the day, and I was going to prepare a notes sheet for a midterm and do some studying at the same time. As I write this at five o’clock in the afternoon, almost none of that has happened. My only artifact of progress for today is a piece of code I have written but not tested, and which is currently waiting for my team to test and integrate. Let me take you through what happened.
I started out the day with a couple of episodes of some cartoons, as is my style. I proceeded to eat breakfast, shower, and sit down at my computer shortly after noon to get some work done. It was then that I discovered my version control had broken, Unity would no longer open, and Visual Studio was incapable of opening my team’s project because of missing dependencies. In short, things were falling apart, and instead of neatly executing on my team’s objectives, I found I was in the middle of a rapidly disassembling teamfight – the kind that spirals more and more out of control as time goes on. Over the next few hours, my mother asked me to take a look at some software that wasn’t working (couldn’t fix it), I had to help with inflating a plastic exercise ball (fixed it, kind of), and we discovered that the elliptical we want to buy can’t fit in the space we want it to fit in as it’s currently configured. In short, my day has been an endless series of uncompleted tasks and demands on my attention. I have finished two things and had to leave unfinished five. To a person like myself who relies on my software, living space, and family relationships to be all locked down at any given point, having so many things up in the air is absolute anathema. And yet here I am. So what do I do next?
The answer, as in my video games, is to regroup. If I find that I cannot do anything that I set out to accomplish in a video game, the answer is not simply to try harder. It is to regroup, gather my resources and composure, and push forward with a new objective in mind. It is to take a break and evaluate the status of my situation, ensuring nothing critical is about to backfire on me and that I am capable of meeting all my responsibilities. If I have lost turrets, I need wards; if I am dying repeatedly, I need to build defensive items and change my play style to reflect different expectations for my lane. Just like in League, what you expect to get done in real life changes as you encounter reality. In the famous words of Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, “no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.”
In real life, regrouping takes the form of identifying new criteria for success and reevaluating what is possible given the new assessment of your resources. If you have suddenly discovered that your car is nonfunctional, making the potluck across town on time is no longer an achievable objective. If you simply must be there, you can perhaps ask someone to come and pick you up; you are certainly not going to make your car work again by wishing it was so. In light of the newly discovered fact, your goals and expectations change. If they did not, we would inevitably spend all of our time wondering what to do next, given that we have not achieved on schedule what we set out to do. Regrouping and reconsidering what is meant by success in this new situation is the best battle plan imaginable. If you do not have a plan of action, you are certainly doomed, and whatever plan you had formulated is almost certainly no longer valid. Taking time to make a new one becomes essential, and sometimes that can require taking a breather. After all, why would I write a blog post now? It’s not because I am done what I set out to do this morning; it’s because I have evaluated my situation and decided I need time to recharge so I can attack my work again. In the spirit of working wisely, I have decided I need a moment to rest. If you are in a spot right now where you feel the universe collapsing into shambles around you, I would highly encourage you to do the same. Take some time – even just half an hour – to regroup, consider your options, and gain some perspective. The best commanders aren’t the ones with the most ingenious plans; they’re the ones who adapt most successfully to what the enemy is doing.