Sam Radford

September 9, 2021

The wherewithal to cope

I was grateful for this reminder from Oliver Burkeman in his latest newsletter:
...imagine you were a member of a prehistoric tribe, setting out on a multi-day hunting expedition into the unknown. You couldn't possibly have felt confident, if “confident” means feeling sure of how things will unfold. But there’s a kind of confidence you could have felt: the confidence that when unpredictable events did occur, you could expect to have the physical and psychological resources to handle them.

You can't ever be sure the future will go the way you want. But you can usually (if admittedly not always) be sure that when it fails to go the way you want, you'll have the wherewithal to cope.

I found this framing of confidence helpful. Society encourages us to put our confidence in the wrong areas. That’s to say, areas outside our control. 

We pursue perfection to minimise risk so that we can be confident of success. But perfection is unobtainable and doesn’t even mollify all risk. 

Better to develop the physical, psychological, intellectual, and emotional resources to adapt to whatever comes our way. 

Do that and, more times than not, we’ll have the ‘wherewithal to cope’.


PS Isn’t ’wherewithal’ a great word?

Got some thoughts on this? I’d love to hear from you – do hit reply or drop me a note.

@samradford |

About Sam Radford

Husband, father, lover of books, writer, tech geek, and pragmatic idealist exploring what it means to be human.