Admiral Hyman Rickover, the father of the nuclear Navy in the United States and an unsung hero in the history of the world, was once asked by a Congressman if he was prepared for the upcoming hearing in which Hyman needed to speak about a number of complex, important issues. “Yes,” Rickover replied, “I shaved and put on a clean shirt.”
Rickover didn’t need to prepare because he was prepared. He wasn’t some figurehead who had to be briefed before answering questions. He knew his science and his department inside out. Because he lived and breathed his work—famously interviewing something like 14,000 college grads himself for various positions over the years. He also personally tested every nuclear submarine during its initial sea trial after construction.
His joke about preparing by getting dressed calls to mind an analogy by Marcus Aurelius, who said that a true philosopher is a fighter not a fencer. A fencer has to put on armor and pick up a weapon. A fighter just has to close their fist.
That should be our model too. We shouldn’t be cramming the night before a test, or frantically looking for advice once a crisis has arrived. We need to be prepared. We need to be so on top of our work—and the knowledge required—that everything we need is right there, already in our hands and in our heads. If you’re rushing, you’re already too late. If you’re looking for your weapons, you’re already beaten.
You gotta know your stuff inside and out. You have to live it and breathe it. You gotta be ready.