Jordan Peterson’s latest book has had me very focused on the realms of order and chaos. I would argue we live in a naturally chaotic world. Many of us spend our time attempting to impose order on our uncertain surroundings. The only thing that is constant in either state (that of chaos or order) is change.
Our only constant in life is the fluctuation between the states of chaos and order. Therefore it serves us well to learn how to maintain effectiveness while in a state of chaos and order. The world is filled with people and strategies focused on being effective in an orderly world. The entire self help industry is built on helping a-type personalities increase order in already orderly worlds.
Maximizing operational efficiency, cleaning out your inbox, hammering down your morning routine; these are all actions to expand order in an orderly universe. I would argue that the world has gotten very good at imposing order. The very point we stand at in terms of growth and achievement is due to our ability to impose order. This leaves open the door to ask the question, “what about chaos?”
Very few people talk about what skills are needed to thrive in chaos. Yet all of us will exist at one point or another in a very chaotic world. We will be surrounded by demons, flames, and uncertainty and it will envelop us. The question of chaos is not a question of if. It is a question of when. Anyone can thrive in an orderly world. Thriving in chaos is an art very few of us have any training in.
Action sports athletes, elite military personnel, and people treating the mentally unstable are all very familiar with the world of chaos. These are the people I’d argue we can turn to in order to develop our skills. Laird Hamilton attempts to impose order on the chaotic world of big wave surfing. Dropping in on a wave the size of a small mountain can become chaotic very quickly. Hamilton’s strategy follows three steps, commit, submit, escape when dropping in on dangerous surf. I believe this can be a universal strategy.
It is important to note that one of the main elements of chaos is how unique of a situation it can be. It can be difficult for us to impose a pattern of recognition and response in those moments. Due to the dynamic state of chaos we should refrain from attempting to rely on a single strategy or set of tactics a go to in chaotic situations. One universal response I believe we can rely on is composure.
Greg Everett, author of the book “Tough: Building True Mental, Physical, Emotional Toughness for Success and Fulfillment” points out that composure is a universal attribute of “tough” people. Moving in and out of chaotic situations requires composure. Resilient people manage to maintain their composure in the most chaotic times and they are the ones we turn to for hope and leadership. We develop our ability to maintain composure in chaotic situation by frequently embracing chaos. We develop the courage to embrace difficult situation by embracing the benefits derived from difficulty.
In chaos we can find creativity, purpose, and fulfillment. Chaos often requires creative solutions to very unique problems. Being the one to impose order in a chaotic situation gives some of us a necessary sense of purpose. There is a reason we have certain general officers who thrive and rise to the occasion during times of great conflict. Through the purpose of imposing order on chaos we find our life’s fulfillment.
Attempt to engage chaos as often as possible. Accept the unknown, dive into the deep end of an intense situation. Step outside of your mind the next time you are in that situation and examine your actions. It is through this engagement with those things we know so little about that we can learn the most about ourselves. Find chaos, impose order, repeat, feel fulfilled.
John McCarthy is a Father, Son, Husband and former Marine Infantry Officer. He serves his local community and just wants to push people to be better humans. Check out the Tough Talk Podcast and other writings on this website to learn more.