It's the biggest day of your life with only a few hours to spare before the project/performance/event/test that will define your life and career for the foreseeable future. And all of a sudden the bottom drops out. You lost your main investor, your voice is too shot to sing the solo or the zombie apocalypse inconveniently starts right before you take the stage. Whatever's happening, it's not good and you are starting to panic. Adrenaline courses through your body and your brain starts screaming that everything is falling down around you and it's just not going to work.
This might not be ideal for most people, but with the right kind of mindset this is a pretty great place to find yourself.
I'm a planner (sometimes obsessively so), but I am constantly working to incorporate and appreciate the unexpected into my life and my projects. When everything is known before it happens, life becomes a dull and drab march towards the inevitable (if you don't believe me, read a variety of philosophical and fictional works on the necessity of free will and the harshness of predetermined life). When surprise drops in on us, it's up to us whether we swing into contingency plans and improvisation or if we panic and crumble.
While it can seem appealing to fall apart when things get rough, it's so much more important to feel that panic and then let it go. Emotions are important and key to our shared humanity. But emotions can also hold you captive and force you to act without rational thought. When things start to go south and that dreadful, creeping feeling of failure comes upon you, it's important to remember that you should feel it -- but you shouldn't let it control you.
When panic sets in, feel it and learn from it. Diagnose the pain point that pushed the adrenaline into your system, harness the nervous energy that's running through your veins and make your fear work for you. Your fear is important and instinctual. Your fear is telling you something key that you might be overlooking. But fear isn't smart. Fear is indiscriminate and it will cripple you if you let it. When panic sets in, feel it and then let it wash through you.
After your panic washes through you, take a look at what's happening. If you're lucky, the insurmountable from a moment ago is suddenly just an opportunity to grow and change with the times. You had a backup of that irreplaceable item, or someone can pull double duty behind the scenes. It's not always that simple to fix a plan that starts to pull apart at the seams, but it doesn't need to be if you accept that you might have to adjust things on the fly and that the unexpected breathes new life into the staid.
The most important thing you can do to be successful in the face of the unexpected, in my opinion at least, is to always think ahead and build out contingencies when you can. You aren't planning for the exact thing that could go wrong, but you are preparing yourself for the idea of change. You are practicing and building a process where things can evolve with their surroundings to stay fresh and relevant. It might seem counterintuitive, but a good plan always includes the idea of "going with the flow" so that you don't trap yourself in panic when your world rapidly changes.
Nothing fun or important or innovative ever came from staying in your comfort zone, which are easy words to say and exhilarating words to live by.