By the author of Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City and The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook
We live in a culture that worships success. Everyone loves a tale of winner, it’s no wonder self-help is a top-selling genre. Success is sexy and inspiring: people look for it as a way to attain the same (or similar) level of achievement. Even though science isn’t settled on whether we learn more from our own failures than our successes, it’s essential to observe and study what worked, and why.
Failure, on the other hand, is overlooked, in part because history is written by winners. However, survivorship bias is a thing and shows how critical it is to look beyond success and learn from failure as well (I encourage you to click on that link and do some research on the topic of survivorship bias).
I’ve had more misses than hits in my life, and that applies to prepping as well.
It’s never easy to look inside and confront our flaws and limitations, much less be candid about our f*ck-ups. But I figured sharing some of my prepping mistakes and setbacks (along with the lessons learned) might help others avoid or minimize theirs – and that alone is more than a good reason to do so.
Some say it’s not how much or how often, but how big or small you win or lose that makes the difference (also if you get up and persevere). I agree, and reality seems to support that, too. Anyway, this is not an exhaustive list; that would require a few more articles, notwithstanding the fact I still struggle with flaws and keep screwing things up regularly, light years from anything resembling wisdom and balance.
(The topics are in no particular order.)
1) FOMO attack and overspending (some mistakes come in twos).
As I dove into the details of the 2008 Great Financial Crisis, I started convincing myself the system would collapse in a matter of months. Fearing the window of opportunity would shut down and I’d be left out. I went beyond reasonable to prepare and dug myself into a hole (even though I was just discovering about preparedness and survival). There were some ominous developments, as is always the case. But while an economic SHTF is a real SHTF, none of the apocalyptic fallout I had forecast came to be (thankfully).
As a result, I ended up with loads of stuff that never got used. I didn’t got into debt, but the extra spending was later felt and required discipline and austerity to recover from. It’s fair to say I panicked in a way. I should’ve known better than that because my country is crazy and has been through more economic crashes and crises than I can recall, some pretty nasty. Still, this time I thought there’d be chaos. Let me be clear: I still think that can happen (now more than ever), just not suddenly or at once as I did back then.
Human psychology is weird: things like insecurity and anxiety have cunning ways of manifesting, and this shouldn’t be underestimated. It may be argued that FOMO is still better than being in denial, complacent, or unprepared – to which I agree in part. However, panicking and overspending are never positive for preparedness. Maintaining healthy finances is more important than stuff before and during a downturn, when the best strategy is saving and increasing income.
I built a stockpile of food, medicines, ammo and other essentials around that same time. Then I thought to myself, “Let it come, I’ll watch the mob rip themselves apart at the grocery stores!” (OK I didn’t actually think that, and stockpiling is indeed a sensible strategy.) The real blunder though was ignoring the importance of things like organization, resource management, and stockpile rotation.
As result, I ended up losing almost 90% of the goods. Wasting stuff like food and remedies pains me more than losing the money used to purchase it, but at least there’s a silver lining in this case: I was able to donate everything in time, which brought some good to people in need and ultimately put me in contact with a few nice, hard-working folks and philanthropic institutions.
I’m bringing this up because this kind of mistake can happen with other aspects, not only from neglect but also ignorance. Throughout the years, I have seen way too many committing that same mistake. Getting the stuff is only the beginning.
3) Going overboard.
A similar mechanism, but instead of stuff I tried too hard and fast to acquire information, build systems, and develop new skills. Apart from the risk of burning out, this posed threats to relationships, health, mental stability, social life, and my small business.
Like most ordinary folks, I have limited time, energy, money, and other resources to invest. It makes no sense to sacrifice lifestyle or put important things in jeopardy for something that’s supposed to preserve those things in the first place. I came close to do at one point. Prepping is insurance, and keeping that in mind is important to maintain balance. At least I saw firsthand what happens when this gets out of whack.
The best strategy is to apply moderation and believe in the power of compounding: steady effort, a bit at a time, constant progress. The occasional and measured sprint is OK, but without losing perspective of the big picture.
4) Information overload.
The eagerness to consume information and news has cost me significant amounts of important things that I’ll never get back, such as time, focus, and opportunities. Only a fraction actually helped in decision-making or had consequences in some way. And even part of that I put into question today.
Building knowledge and skills is useful and positive. However, this is not only about quantity but also quality. We’re bombarded nonstop, and it’s just noise for the most part, a huge source of distraction and anxiety. There’s only so much we can process anyway, and it’s already hard to tell real from fake, especially when it comes to the news.
I still try to remain minimally informed, but focused a lot more on things that can objectively improve my life or advance my preparedness. Like staying better connected to the local community as a way to remain ahead of the curve on things that matter (contracts and work opportunities, other income sources, and also supply, security, etc.).
I’m not a preachy type. Sometimes I even think I should be more assertive in pushing some ideas I know from experience to work in the real world. But there was a time I would address others too directly and repetitively, especially to close people like friends, relatives, and coworkers, and that’s a bad idea. No one convinces anyone of anything: we can point, show, share, debate, even nudge and influence. However, people see what they see, if and when they want to see (or become ready). (Here’s an article with some tips.)
It’s positive to try and open people’s minds about the importance of staying fit and healthy, increasing self-reliance, staying prepared, and thinking critically. But now I try to focus only on more productive ways to educate others. Putting out the word (such as in a blog, website, a book, YouTube channel, etc.) is OK. People will search and come across and take as they want, however they want.
6) Being hard on normies and other people (relates to the above).
Even though it originated from a benign intention – to warn others of the impending crisis and inspire them about the importance of prepping – it’s a mistake I feel bad about because acting like that goes against my character, education, and principles. I have no business judging others by my standard, for no other reason than because I’m still ignorant, and the more I learn, the more I realize it.
I did that when I started prepping, and at the very least, I can say it harmed me more than others. I honestly think people know bad things can (and do) happen; that crap can hit the fan. They may not want to talk about it, be in denial, complacency, willfully sheeplike, or think this can’t happen to them. But still, we must respect the fact that we’re all different, and each person has their timing when it comes to seeking enlightenment.
7) Not adjusting my level of awareness.
When I started training preparedness and survival in the streets, I’d stay on red alert for long periods. It was tiresome, stressful, and detrimental. I started getting triggered more easily, getting frequently involved in stupid stuff like road rage episodes and meaningless brawls.
None of that fits my personality, so I felt bad. I’m far from being a tense or stressed-out type and don’t tend towards conflict or paranoia, so thankfully, that phase didn’t last long.
No one is immune to episodes of over-the-top awareness. Some specific events can trigger that, but becoming conscious of the mechanism can help avoid it taking hold. That’s how I learned to adjust my level of alertness, and my street training helped, too, by improving my social skills, situational awareness, and judgment capacity, among other things.
8) Doom and gloom talk.
That goes side-by-side with pretending to know the future and can cause a self-inflicted SHTF by pushing friends, relatives, coworkers, and acquaintances away and causing us to miss opportunities. No one enjoys being around a Cassandra. It’s negative and ends up negating any potential positives.
I realized the damage that being over-fatalistic was doing to myself and others around me and stopped trying to warn people about things that didn’t happen and probably won’t before it caused further issues.
Just like preaching, gloomy talk also hurts OPSEC as it can turn people’s attention and stick. There are things we can’t take back or rewind: once someone learns you’re aware and invested in preparedness, it will cling to their minds and you’ll be remembered if something happens (especially if it’s something bad).
Putting things off is detrimental to life in general, and particularly to prepping for obvious reasons. It’s a productivity killer and another anxiety bomb. I can’t count the times this caused me trouble and loss, delaying my development and preparations and I still struggle a bit with it from time to time.
A friend who’s a great psychiatrist told me it’s not a time management or laziness problem, but an emotion regulation issue: we consciously know it’s bad but do it anyway. And indeed, nine out of ten times I’d take on an even more challenging, demanding or productive task as a way to postpone another, much easier one. Go figure.
Procrastination comes from the Latin verb procrastinare — “to put off until tomorrow”. Hence, the best remedy against it is action – to stop thinking and start doing. Just get up and do it today, now. It worked for me; it will for you and make you feel better, too, I guarantee.
10) Paralysis by analysis.
I’ve lost many opportunities, and projects and delayed development by being a bit of a perfectionist. By all measures, not doing something is much, much more harmful and detrimental than not doing something perfectly. It cranks up anxiety and makes procrastination even worse, too.
Over the last decade or so I improved a lot by realizing the distinction between obsession and attention to detail. Hard work – “going the extra mile” – is positive. Perfectionism is something entirely different and counterproductive. Stay alert to this.
A word on anxiety.
I’m sure it’s become evident that anxiety permeates most issues in some way. It’s not really a mistake or a flaw, but can be pervasive and show up in various forms and cause lots of damage. It’s an important aspect that we must address accordingly. Some stress is positive, but anxiety is poison. I can’t say I struggle with it too much, but I’m far from immune.
One of the most effective ways to combat anxiety is to acknowledge and become conscious as soon as it sets in. Then, it becomes easier to deal with and avoid or at least minimize the mental and practical consequences.
I encourage you to check my piece about anxiety from 2020 here on The OP, as it relates specifically to prepping. And do some research: there’s endless information on anxiety out there for those trying to manage it.
What to do about it
This article wouldn’t be complete without me going over a few general, time-proven ideas and techniques that have ample use and effectiveness to improve.
That’s Latin for know thyself. Everything starts by that: make an honest effort to constantly look inside with objectivity and open-mindedness.
Learn from others, but use common sense.
I’ve committed some of these mistakes out of ignorance. Prepping was practically nonexistent here: I had no reference, nothing. That’s common, but shouldn’t be an excuse: approaching new things with moderation and common sense helps dodging some bullets even when there’s no example or reference to learn from.
Think “marathon” rather than “sprint”.
He who makes haste makes waste. Prepping and survival are long-term games. Most things in life are, in fact. If the world hasn’t ended, there’s always time to prepare, learn, and build. Thinking long-term gives a better perspective on everything.
There’s a difference between being criticized from exposition (of ideas, views, work, etc.), and actively seeking criticism. Learning to pursue positive feedback and even negative talk is an acquired taste for most people. Just make sure to be objective when asking, and pick your sources carefully.
Not being overconfident about preppings, strategies, plans, ideas, and conceptions of SHTF can be a good thing. We change; the world changes; everything changes. Legit confidence comes from experience, from trying and failing and succeeding. Otherwise, it’s hubris.
Pause and take a step back.
Pausing is not about hesitating, much less procrastinating. Rather, it’s about self-control, restraint, and timing management. Most decisions can wait and benefit from a reflective pause and some distancing – even important ones, or particularly those.
Calming the spirit.
Some situations require promptness and agility. Others, patience, restraint, and calm. Both are external and have nothing to do with our internal state, which should be as flat as a lake. Meditation, philosophy, physical activity and journaling are great ways to seek inner calm.
Don’t be too hard on yourself.
We’re imperfect and fallible. As long as we remain open, learning and progressing, most mistakes will serve their purpose. The past stays in the past: take the lesson and move on.
What are your thoughts?
Have you made any prepping mistakes that stand out in your mind? What did you learn from them? How did you change the way you prepare after you realized that errors were made?
Let’s talk about it in the comments.
Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class worker living in São Paulo, Brazil. Far from being the super-tactical or highly trained military survivor type, he is the average joe who since his youth has been involved with self-reliance and outdoor activities and the practical side of balancing life between a big city and rural/wilderness settings. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, he has been training and helping others in his area to become better prepared for the “constant, slow-burning SHTF” of living in a 3rd world country.
Fabian’s ebook, Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City , is a practical training method for common city dwellers based on the lifestyle of the homeless (real-life survivors) to be more psychologically, mentally, and physically prepared to deal with the harsh reality of the streets during normal or difficult times. He’s also the author of The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook.
You can follow Fabian on Instagram @stoicsurvivor