The Danger of Backup Plans. And Choice. [en]

[fr] Avoir un plan B nous rassure, mais nous empêche aussi souvent de mettre autant d'énergie qu'il le faudrait dans notre plan A. Parfois, ne pas avoir le choix est une bonne chose.

Being rather pessimistic by nature and risk-averse, I love my backup plans. I really like knowing what I’ll do “if something goes wrong”.

The only way to go is forward.
No plan B here!
Photo by Anita Bora, taken on one of our hikes a couple of years ago.

These last ten years as a self-employed professional are no exception. In the back of my mind I’ve always “known” that, if things go awry:

  • I have savings I can dip into
  • I can borrow money
  • I can always “find a job”
  • maybe I’ll shack up with somebody who has a stable situation and there won’t be so much pressure on my income anymore.

I have always had the nagging feeling that these backup plans kept me from giving my fullest to the current one, the one I was actually living. Why struggle and work like crazy when it might not be necessary?

Like our modern western world, I like the idea that we are responsible, that the way we lead our life is through choices. We always have a choice. I’ve been brought up to believe that we always choose, even when we think we don’t. I don’t think it was drilled into me on purpose — it just reflects the ambient beliefs of our time. If you say you don’t have a choice, you’re in some ways painting yourself as a hapless victim with less agency than you actually have.

But reality is more complex than that, as all we women of the 60s and 70s who ended up not having children due to the circumstances of life rather than our desire not to have any very well know. (I hope.) Not everything that happens to you is a choice.

Looking at the future (and present) rather than the past, absence of choice can actually be a good thing. Absence of a plan B. A series of recent discussions brought that to light for me: professionally, there isn’t really a plan B for me. In the long run, I need to stay self-employed (more about this in another post at some point). And so I have to make my business more successful than in the past (not just by wishful thinking, there is a lot of work to be done, actually — more about that in another post).

Saying “I have to do this” is, again, something I’ve been taught to avoid. Because it makes one powerless to have to do something, rather than want, choose, decide. But an episode of the podcast Hidden Brain presents research that points to another phenomenon: if we have a fallback plan, our motivation or drive to make our main plan succeed diminishes.

Not having a choice can actually be an advantage!

This might be one reason I like action/thriller movies, in which characters very often have no choice but to do what they are doing. Trying to stay alive or save the world definitely gives one a sense of purpose, something I sometimes feel I am lacking in my life.

There could also be a link to my love of physical activities like skiing, sailing, judo, kitesurfing, and even cycling and driving: when you’re moving or in action, you have to do what you have to do, or you can hurt or even kill yourself. In that moment, there is no backup plan. Come to think of it, that is true of public speaking too, though there is of course no physical danger there.

When Do You Wear or Remove Your Hearing Aids? [en]

As the founding editor of Phonak’s community blog “Open Ears” (now part of “Hearing Like Me“) I contributed a series of articles on hearing loss between 2014 and 2015. Here they are.

As somebody with mild/medium hearing loss, I guess wearing hearing aids are more of a choice than a necessity for me. I mean, I functioned without them for nearly 40 years. Today I wouldn’t give them up for anything in the world, of course, and I really prefer wearing them for anything resembling human interaction. But I can get by without. (An audiologist I had a chat with one day told me I’d be surprised at how people with much more hearing loss than me “get by just fine” without aids. Anyway.)

So, when do I wear them, when do I remove them? As a general rule, I wear them when I leave the house. (My cats aren’t all that talkative.) I remove them when I get home. Since I got my V90 aids though, I often forget to remove them when I get home.

I don’t wear my hearing aids to watch TV.


I’ve been watching TV so long with headphones that having “ambient” sound on actually makes me self-conscious about bothering my neighbours with it (this is Switzerland). I used to always remove them to listen to music or podcasts. Now that I have the ComPilot Air II I sometimes keep them in (more for podcasts than music, with open tips there are frequencies missing for the music). If I’m travelling or wandering around on my own and not really expecting to interact with people I might take them out, too.

At judo training, I usually keep them in for warm-up and maybe the first rounds of “light” practice. Then I remove them so that I don’t have to worry about paying attention to what’s going on around my ears.

For skiing, I keep them in, despite the helmet. With my old Widex aids I’d given up on that (they really didn’t cope well with the helmet), but my current ones are fine. When driving, I sometimes wear them, sometimes not (depends if I was wearing them just before taking the wheel or not, I guess).

I also ended up removing my hearing aids once at a very noisy party. Even with the highest “speech in noise” setting, I actually managed better without them. But that was really an exceptional situation.

What about you? Do you put them in first thing in the morning and take them out last thing at night, or are you like me, sometimes in, sometimes out? And when? I’m curious to hear how other people do this. I suspect our wearing vs. not-wearing habits are also linked to how much hearing loss we have.

Le matériel de ski, c'est important [fr]

[en] I had no idea skiing gear could make such a difference. Between an old pair of skis I was lent and the ones I ended up buying, I went from despair, on the verge of giving up skiing ("I waited too long, I'm too old for this sh*t"), to feeling 19 again, whizzing down the slopes without ever stopping.

…ou comment j’ai dépensé 800CHF pour avoir 20 ans de moins sur les pistes.

Cet hiver, au lieu d’aller en Inde, j’ai décidé de prendre un abonnement de saison et de profiter du chalet pour me remettre au ski. On m’a mise sur les lattes quand j’étais haute comme trois pommes, et jusqu’à mes vingt ans environ c’était ski tout l’hiver, chaque hiver, chaque week-end, toutes les vacances.

Ces presque vingt dernières années, c’est à peine si j’ai mis un jour par an en moyenne les pieds sur les pistes.

Mon projet était de louer du matériel à l’année, vu que je n’avais plus rien. L’amie de mon père m’a prêté son vieux matériel, au hasard (des skis du début du carving), et je me suis dit que j’allais d’abord essayer ça pour voir. Inutile de payer si c’est pas nécessaire!

Première journée: quel enfer. J’avais mal partout. Aux chevilles, aux genoux. Je n’arrivais pas à contrôler mes skis. Ça partait dans tous les sens. Je devais tout le temps faire des pauses, moi qui skiais avant à toute vitesse de l’ouverture à la fermeture des pistes. Déprimant. “Ma vieille, je me suis dit, tu as trop attendu pour reprendre le ski.”

Le lendemain, j’y retourne quand même, avant de déclarer forfait après deux descentes tellement j’avais mal et pas de plaisir. J’étais vraiment dépitée. Je pensais à mon abonnement de saison (c’est pas donné) et je me demandais comment j’allais bien pouvoir l’amortir dans des conditions pareilles.

Après un jour pour me remettre, je décide de mettre en branle le plan “location”. Je prends une paire de skis (+ chaussures) pour la journée, avec l’idée de les garder pour la saison si ça se passe bien.

Quelle révélation! En changeant de skis, j’ai perdu 10 ans! Je peux à nouveau prendre un peu de vitesse, je tourne où et quand je veux, je fais des descentes sans m’arrêter. Je jubile!

De retour au magasin en fin de journée, je déclare haut et fort que je garde ce matériel pour la saison. Mais le gérant du magasin ne l’entend pas de cette oreille. “Vous ne voulez pas plutôt acheter?” Moi: non, budget, machin (j’avais quand même regardé, et j’avais été un peu estomaquée de réaliser qu’une paire de skis neufs ça allait chercher dans les 8-900CHF). Il me propose ceux que j’ai essayés pour 400CHF — et là, il a mon attention. On commence à parler, il me montre ce qu’il a, on parle encore (je n’ai franchement pas la moindre idée comment on peut bien choisir une paire de skis), il m’explique qu’avec un ski plus dur on se fatigue moins à la longue, j’hésite, je réfléchis, on discute encore, et il me dit qu’il a justement une paire de “skis test” pour un des modèles qui me conviendraient bien.

Pas grand chose à perdre, je me dis. Essayons, et je verrai bien si ça vaut la peine.

Le lendemain, sur les pistes, nouvelle révélation! J’ai perdu 10 ans de plus! Je skie comme à l’époque! Je n’en reviens pas. Les skis tiennent bien la vitesse, je peux carver comme je veux (même si j’ai arrêter de skier régulièrement avant l’apparition du carving, j’ai fait beaucoup de snowboard et vite pigé la technique), ils correspondent vraiment bien à mon style de descente.

Il me reste un doute: et si c’était simplement la forme qui revenait? Je reprends les skis de la veille pour une dernière descente: alors qu’ils m’avaient tant plu le jour d’avant, aujourd’hui ils flottaient, partaient dans toutes les directions, et réagissaient comme un plongeoir réglé sur la position la plus molle.

Ma décision est prise: je vais casser la tirelire pour avoir 19 ans de nouveau quand je skie.

Nouveaux skis Salomon 24HRS

Cette aventure a été une grande révélation pour moi: jamais je n’aurais imaginé que le matériel pouvait autant influencer l’expérience du ski. Je suis de ceux qui pensent qu’il est possible de faire de magnifiques photos avec un appareil jetable, et qu’on peut faire de délicieux gâteaux dans un vieux four. Malgré mon job dans la technologie, je ne suis pas une adepte du dernier cri. Je fonctionne à la récup, à l’entrée de gamme, au deuxième main. Certes, je sais que la qualité peut valoir la peine, mais jamais je n’aurais pensé qu’une paire de skis pouvait faire la différence entre être découragée de skier et retrouver mes vingt ans.

Le gérant m’a même raconté qu’il y a des gens qui arrêtent de skier parce qu’ils n’arrivent plus. Ils prennent sur eux, pensent qu’ils sont trop vieux, plus assez en forme — alors que c’est leur matériel qui a dépassé la date limite. Une paire de skis, ça dure 5 ans environ, peut-être un ou deux ans de plus si on achète du bon matériel.

Alors mon conseil: vos skis qui trainent à la cave depuis une décennie, oubliez les (déchetterie!), et louez pour une demi-journée du matériel récent, juste histoire de voir la différence.

A bientôt sur les pistes!


The Simple Life [en]

I’ve been at the chalet since December 29th. I like it here. I’ve been “down” 5 times: once to see a new client in Zurich (more about that in the weeks to come), once to bring a car back to Lausanne, once to get my nails done, once to get an MRI done (wrist, nothing too bad), and once for a foundation board meeting.

Chalet et Grand Muveran

My life is simple here. Few possessions, few activities, few people, few responsibilities. The Paradox of Choice in reverse. As I’ve often noticed in the past, freedom is in fact in all that you can’t do.

That’s why people go away on holidays. There’s stuff to do on vacation, of course, but there is so much more from the daily grind that you can’t do.

Here I eat, take care of the cats, go skiing, buy food, fool around on the computer with my slow 3G connection (when I’m lucky, otherwise it’s Edge, or nothing), do some work, sleep.

But this state does not last. I’m already starting to make connections here. I’m starting to know people. I go to the café in the village which has great chocolate cake and wifi. I’ve been through this when I lived in India: within a few months, I’d reconstructed for myself a life full of things to do, of people, of meetings, and activities. That’s how I am — I cannot remain a hermit for very long.

At the end of the week I’m going back to my city life. I’ll miss how easy it is here to talk to people. I’m not from here, but I feel like I fit in. I like the outdoors. I like my clothes comfortable and practical before pretty. I don’t need a huge variety of restaurants, shops, night-clubs, or theatres to make me happy.

I know I’ve already mentioned it, but my life slows down when I come here. Even with an internet connection. I try to bring this slowness back into my life in Lausanne, but it’s difficult. Specially as things will be a rush next week: I’m hosting a WordPress meetup workshop on Tuesday evening, then there is Lift, then I have a friend visiting, then I’m coming back up here 🙂 for a few days. The week after that will see me back in Zurich…

As I write this, maybe what I get here (or elsewhere on holiday) that is hard to get in Lausanne is long stretches of time with no outside commitments. No meetings, no appointments, no travel. Just weeks ahead with nothing else to do but live and ski.