FOCUS:Expect Surprises

Personal Mastery, Mental Models

History is merely a list of surprises. It can only prepare us to be surprised yet again.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.


My cat Bonkers is 11 years old and pretty set in his ways. According to the cat calculator, he’s the equivalent of 61 human years old. Imagine my surprise last night when this highly predictable creature dared to step on a fluffy bathroom rug that he has pointedly avoided for over 2 years. Before I got this fluffy rug, Bonkers always visited me when I was taking a bath. He loved to sit and watch me, then stand with front paws on the tub and dip his toe in, sometimes talking to me in a gurgley voice. As much as I loved the new rug, he didn’t. He’d come to its edge, look up at me and leave. Then last night I suddenly heard that old familiar voice and looked over to see him sitting on and kneading the fluffy rug. Soon he stood tall and dipped his toe in the water, as if 2 scared years had not passed.

I love these surprises in relationships….with Bonkers, with friends, clients, family, even strangers. Toward the end of his life my husband Hal got sweeter and sweeter. He had the ability to be pretty curmudgeonly, so this was a delightful surprise. Last week a client told me, happily, that she’d called her father, from whom she’d been estranged for several years. They had a lovely conversation. I asked her how she did it. “I surprised myself,” she said. “I was sitting here thinking about my dad, and how funny he could be. Suddenly I missed him, so I picked up the phone. All those petty things didn’t even matter. What was even more surprising was how happy he seemed to hear from me.”

Sometimes even when something is expected, it surprises. For example, how do all the forsythia decide on the same day to burst into brilliant yellow bloom?

Sometimes surprises are huge, impacting thousands of people. People close to the situation had predicted the Berlin Will would stand for 50 or 100 more years. And yet, in 1989, almost overnight it was dismantled, leading to the 1990 reunification of Germany after 28 years of separation.

Sometimes surprises are shocking. Last week two bombs went off at the Boston marathon. Some people were killed and many were injured.

Sometimes good surprises come out of bad. Last year I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. I continue to be amazed at the love and support I’ve received from countless family and friends.

Sometimes surprises are funny. Last week when entering a car wash, I had trouble getting my car into neutral. I rolled down the window to tell the guy just as he aimed his pre-wash spray in my face. He was horrified, but I just laughed and laughed.


For me the take-away about surprises is this: Be open to surprises – look for them. The negative ones have a way of hitting us on the head, so we won’t miss them. But if we get jaded or cynical, we can easily miss the good ones. Being open to – even expecting - surprises is a good way to live. And experiencing and appreciating the good surprises can build resilience for the bad ones.

“Man is never out of range of surprises!” 
―                                                        Mehmet Murat ildan


  1. What recent surprise delighted you?

  2. Are you open to, even expecting, surprises?

  3. How do you use the good surprises to help you cope with the bad ones?


There will not be a telegathering this month, but I would love to hear what your experience is with surprises!

Reach me: 1-888-907-HOPE (4673)or e-mail I am a personal and executive coach and would be happy to offer you a complimentary coaching session by phone. Each month FRESH VIEWS focuses on a single topic, relates it to one of the five disciplines of a learning community, and offers a coaching tip and a follow-up telegathering. Please forward it to friends and colleagues. My purpose in writing FRESH VIEWS is to nurture, prod and encourage readers to think and talk about these topics with their families, friends and colleagues. Mine is only one view. Multiple conversations may deliver us to insights only hinted at here. Such a process sustains the vitality of learning relationships, learning families, learning organizations and learning communities.

Sharon Eakes | 720 Maple Lane | Sewickley, PA 15143

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