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
It’s been almost 12 years since I began to get serious about our preps. It was shortly after that I was diagnosed with Degenerative Joint Disease, and forced into disability. My biggest mistake, was pursuing the Bug Out Option. I went after that option whole heartedly, but within 3 years realized my mistake, and that mistake was forgetting the deterioration caused by the disease. I finally had to come to grips with reality, and the reality is I can’t walk or carry a heavy load for very long or far at all. That without a mode of transportation, I wouldn’t be going very far at all. So for me, bugging out is the last option. But I did spend a not unconsiderable amount of $$ that would have been better spent elsewhere.
“Invest In Precious Metals” they said. So I invested in Lead. 😅😅
First of all most “disease” is a result of a nutritional deficiency. Second of all; is that the body given time and proper nutrition will reverse most ” disease”. Researchers do not even understand why we age and die because the body is designed to keep repairing itself forever.
So don’t accept the lie: “Oh, your just getting older so you have to accept this”, that a lot of Doctors peddle.
The “disease” in most cases is that your body has not triggerred its repair mechanism or defense mechanism against that affliction.
Doctors won’t admit this, because they prefer to peddle drugs to cover the symptoms(not to heal you) and get you back in for “Check ups”.(They don’t make money off of patients who get or stay well).
There are also other ways of bugging out, rather than carrying the stuff on your back. Pack animals, wagons and such are perfect examples.
Even the homeless seldom carry their belongings on their back. They are smart enough to use a shopping cart,(basically a small wagon).
Maybe it is time to rethink your situation.
That last comment should be put on a tshirt.
When my partner and I first bought our place, it was because it had so many natural resources (water namely), and I’ve since discovered the medicinal plants we have in abundance. However, we live in the North, so all four seasons means a myriad of challenges. When the event occurred (I refuse to call it a pandemic), I upped our preps. We spent quite a bit of money to get even more ready than we were, but I found myself anxious about not having enough. I’d go to the market with a small list and come home with way more than we needed. I was grateful though, because we were able to discuss what “reasonable” for us meant, and we set stock levels of our preps. Now we live by use one, replace one. I am glad we did all that at the time, especially given some of the prices now. A big jug of olive oil during the event was $17-19- now its over $30. And don’t even get me going on eggs…
Great article as always Fabian.Thank You
An ounce of organization is worth a pound of beef. I looked in my storm box and found “odd” items which shouldnt have been there. Looking through a closet, I found a backpack and a fanny pack which I had been searching for ages. Needless to say I am off to find shelves. The money spent on organizational supplies is cheaper than replacing misplaced items and less stressful also.
I’ve been prepping to some degree most of my adult life. When the kids were young and i was super busy, prepping was still there, but in the background. Well, we acquired buckets of grains, shelves of canned goods, tons of home canned and dried goodies, etc. But now we are down to just the two of us, eating two meals a day. A huge drop from seven people eating three meals a day. And we are once again moving! Do I want to move all this stuff? Well, maybe. But I broke my back last year and can no longer carry anything heavy and hubby with breathing issues finds it hard to walk across the room. I would be embarrassed to ask anyone to help us move all this heavy stuff (that we couldn’t consume in what remains of our lifetimes anyway). So I have been militantly donating, selling, tossing, and eating furiously before we move. It is very unsettling having to do this now, when it looks like we may finally need it all. What’s the lesson here? Buy what you use?
A lot of our freeze dried stuff has reached its expiration dates. I even had some from the 1970s. Opened it and had to toss it all. So even the freeze dried can become unusable. I think if i had it to do over again, i would just preserve our excess and not buy too much extra just to store. But this is coming from a gardener who always has excess. I now have a giant shelving unit of just home grown dried and canned fruits. I enjoy it all, but probably won’t even be able to eat it all. I always preserved with an eye to sharing, and have done this to some degree. But most folks just want fancy processed foods. That may all change this year. So I will keep what I can. and hope we don’t need it. Any feedback is appreciated.
Janie, last night I watched a video by Catherine Austin Fitts about investing. She’s not doing stocks or 401K any more. She invests in her friends. She had loaned out thousands of dollars to various people and then suddenly had serious and expensive legal trouble. “I guess she needs it back,” all those people decided. It turned out to be a kind of savings no government could steal.
Having lots of preps just when they’re looking important gives you an asset OTHERS want. Loan it to them and it may just come back to you when you really need it.
A lot like Bemused Berserker, I have grown older and can no longer bug out. Does that mean my preps to bug out were in vain? No. I have grandkids that can take my back pack and bug out if need be. Many other preps did not get used and have gone past their shelf life. Does that mean they were a waste? Absolutely not. It gave me peace of mind to know that I had them available if they were needed. I have changed the types of things I store. A dehydrated #10 can of apple slices will not get eaten before they go bad after opening. When things are really bad I can share them with others but if that doesn’t happen some things will expire and be useless. I have learned to store things in smaller containers. They can be more easily rotated that way. When my father got to old to live alone he moved in with my brother. He had a room in the basement full of stored food. My brother didn’t want it so I rented a storage space and meant to pick it up later when I could make another trip. I gave my brother a key for just in case. Six months later he went and took everything to his house and decided it was his. I asked my Dad if it had been worth it to keep all that stuff for years and never use it. He said it was worth it just for the peace of mind. Perhaps I should have saved the rent money and let my brother throw it all away but it gives me a good feeling to know he realized it had value. Dad passed away, I won’t be around that much longer but maybe one of my kids will want some peace of mind.
I read about your prepping journey I can relate to everything you’re saying.
I had a neighbor who was probably the original prepper. He stocked up on everything. One of my other neighbors commented that if SHTF did occur, the stockpiling neighbor would be the first one that was killed off. Getting along with your neighbors is so important.
We had moved to a medium sized city in 2012, but in 2019 we bought (paid cash) for a place in the country to retire and to bug out to if we needed. I again bought canning equipment and started canning meats (cheap back then). At the beginning of the lockdowns in 2020, I decided to “bug-out” to our location. It helped that I also was on unemployment so I could spend most of my time getting the gardens started, was able to start a flock of chickens, and put in an outdoor woodstove. I also bought a generator which came in real handy this past week when we were without power.
Where I live now, many people are preppers or homesteaders, and we all get along well even though there are not formal agreement, if something were to happen, we would have enough respect for one another to work together in most situations.
I am now on social security, but started a home-based business related to sustainable living for my part of the country. A friend of mine and I are writing a regional book series that we plan to promote throughout our region.
This winter, we decided we will replace our outdoor woodstove with an indoor unit. We are doing this because the outdoor woodstove uses far too much wood for the amount heat that comes into our house. We also plan to set up our electrical system so that we can either run on a generator or on a solar system that we would like to add in the future.
Where I live now, there’s almost nowhere that I could bug out to that I think would be more remote in a SHTF situation so bugging out is not a likely scenario for me that this time. Plus, getting to my place would be very difficult and not desirable for anyone who was looking for supplies. Anyone who would want to steal my supplies would have to go through a lot of neighbors with guns to defend their supplies, plus the roads would rut and overgrow into barely passable trails rather quickly if not maintained by the state.
Prepping, as in life, is a journey; it’s a process. As a kid I lived a few miles away from the site of Thomas Edison’s workshops in Roselle, NJ. His team, while developing the incandescent light bulb, ran through a thousand failed attempts before hitting on a workable solution (a carbon filament, that has since been replaced by tungsten, which itself was supplanted by fluorescent, then LED lights).
Today’s solution may not be appropriate for tomorrow’s needs. But we humans are supremely adaptable, so our natural skills are to learn from our mistakes and continue on.
I think it important to remember: Not everything is as it seems, and: Perception is the essence of belief.
We filter, in someway, everything we think, say, and do. Once a course is set it can be very difficult to change directions. That is why it is needful to do things in small increments, so we can shift priorities as needed. Just keep the end goals in mind and don’t try to do it all at once. Life is a journey, not a race to the finish line.
I can relate to so much of this! My parents both grew up in post-WWII Europe, so I’ve always felt most comfortable with a full pantry and back-ups of items I considered essential. The pandemic kicked this urge into overdrive and I bought way too much, stretching myself financially as well as surrounding myself with stacks of storage totes. Not a great way to live, constantly tripping over stuff.
I need to let go of at least half of it, which is going to be painful, especially since I’m even more worried about shortages now than I was three years ago. All I can do is be philosophical about the fact that it was a lesson I clearly needed to learn and that others will benefit from my mistakes as I will donate the excess.