Beware the second time around


We were stuck at the Gare du Nord with no place to stay.

We had arrived on the Eurostar, fresh from London, with accommodations all arranged. We had booked an apartment near the Champs-Élysées through AirBnb, and everything was set. Our instructions were to contact the owner as soon as we got to Paris.

Now, fast forward through some unfortunate details, like the fact that the two members of our team with smartphones couldn’t get their international plans to work. Our only means of communication was me (!) with my laptop and Skype account. Suffice to say that there I was, with my laptop open and my headset on, calling a Parisian phone number.

This is about where I was standing. Couldn't get signal anywhere else.
This is about where I was standing. Couldn’t get signal anywhere else.

The number went right to voicemail. For hours. And with no way to receive incoming calls, we were effectively stuck without a place to stay. Outside in the dusk, an unseasonable downpour was tying the city up in knots. A person told us that even if we wanted to go anywhere, the average wait for taxis was 90 minutes.

This is not how I wanted things to go on my Mom’s big trip.

I realized then that we were confronted with what I’m terming the Curse of the Second Time Around.

Although it’s not really a curse if you do it to yourself

Have you ever had to plan a recurring situation or event? If so, you may have fallen victim to the Curse of the Second Time Around.

Here’s how it works: For the first in the string of events you’re planning, you’re totally on top of every detail. You’ve got everything figured out, every minutiae. You are a planning machine.

But the second time around, one of two things happens. In one case, you’ve spent so much time planning the first time around that you haven’t prioritized anything past that. In the other case, you get overconfident. “Look how well the first time around worked out! Why do I need to stress myself out?

The first time goes well, and the second time is a disaster.

On tour

Back when I was a musician, I used to plan blocks of shows at a time. They weren’t really “tours” per se; basically, I would just call a bunch of places in the area and set up shows.

I would prepare for the first show to make sure that it was immaculate. Now granted, I was a total perfectionist back then (recovering now), but still, I wanted to cover as many contingencies as possible. If something was going to go wrong, I wanted it to be outside of my control, not an “unforced error” as they say.

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Consequently, the first show of the “tour” always went flawlessly. I mean, it wasn’t Madison Square Garden, but at least I didn’t forget something essential.

For the second show, however, a combination of fatigue and hubris would cause me to not plan as well. And something would always go wrong. Whether it was forgetting an important piece of equipment, or just not preparing my songs well enough in advance, it was never as good as the first time around.

On the road

Last year, on my trip to Scandinavia with my friends, something similar happened with our trip planning. Our first location was Stockholm, where we all shared an AirBnB apartment. The execution was flawless. We knew everything about where we had to be, what we had to do, etc. No part of our trip to Stockholm wasn’t precise and successful.

The same can’t be said of Copenhagen, our next stop. We hadn’t looked for a place to stay until one or two days before we got there, and many of the places we found were full or had some kind of insurmountable problem.

We ended up booking a room at a hostel. Now, normally, I like hostels, but this one was almost engineered to provide as much discomfort as possible. The three-bed room was incredibly small (we all couldn’t be in there unless we were in bed), the main reception area was a total zoo at all hours of the day, and we were right across from a church that thought it would be a great idea to chime every fifteen minutes. All night.

I never learn, apparently

Which brings us to this trip. Our first stop was London, which was clockwork. We got a great apartment from an excellent host, we were prepared for the trip in that we knew where we were and how to get around, and our guidebooks were all sufficiently marked up.

Not so with Paris. Aside from the aforementioned uncommunicative host (who it turns out wasn’t even in Paris), we had much less of an idea of where to go and what to do. Our guidebooks were barely touched.

Were we less excited for Paris than London? Not at all. It was just the Curse of the Second Time Around.

So if you’re planning a series of events, beware. Prioritize more than just the first in the series. Pace yourself, and don’t burn out too quickly. Otherwise you yourself might find yourself contacting AirBnB on a headset on your laptop in the middle of the Gare du Nord at night. Or, you know, something similarly unfortunate.

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But enough about me. Have you ever been caught by the Curse of the Second Time Around?

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