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Today is December 25 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how do you handle the valleys and the hills?” People and organizations who navigate the chaos have figured out a way to handle both the hills and the valleys. Hills are considered the traditional challenges involved with translating an idea into action. Valleys are the unexpected issues that come along when one is least expecting them. Some valleys result in a failure but those who navigate the chaos figure out how to build upon failures.


Filmmaker Michael Cimino had to navigate both hills and valleys in his career. As a brash young filmmaker in the 1970s who co-wrote the Dirty Harry film Magnum Force, Cimino made a name for himself with his 1974 debut, Thunderbolt & Lightfoot, starring Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges. He followed that with The Deer Hunter (1978), a searing portrait of the haunting effects of the Vietnam War on the men and women of a Pennsylvania steel town. The film, which starred Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep, won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor (Christopher Walken).


Cimino followed his golden-boy success with the big-budget western, Heaven’s Gate. As CBS notes following his death in 2016, “Tales of the director’s profligacy seemed to forebode a failure, but no one was prepared for the monumental critical drubbing the four-hour epic received. Heaven’s Gate became synonymous with box office disaster, and its failure brought about the collapse of its studio, United Artists.” Still, the movie has earned a critical reappraisal in recent years, and Cimino went on to film Year of the Dragon.


“I never second-guess myself,” he told Vanity Fair in 2010. “You can’t look back. I don’t believe in defeat. Everybody has bumps, but as Count Basie said, ‘it’s not how you handle the hills, it’s how you handle the valleys.’” Fellow actor Patrick Swayze made a similar sentiment when he said: “I don't know how many hills and valleys I've had, how many times I've had to refocus my world and my life and my career.”


This hills and valleys approach to navigating the chaos offers three tremendous lessons upon reflection. First, virtually everyone who has ever navigated the chaos learned how to climb up the hill and, or trek across the valley. Highs and lows are simply a natural part of the life process. Second, hills and valleys present you with critical viewpoints not otherwise found in your comfort zone. When you are atop a hill you can see more clearly; perhaps new vistas you never knew existed. When you are in a valley you get close to the earth and have an opportunity to learn what life is like down low to the ground. Finally, learning the navigate the hills and valleys builds resilience, grit, and stick-to-itiveness; all traits that will serve you well as you translate one dream after another into reality. Accept the hills and valleys along your life path as you would your next breath. Doing so just might help you increase your self-awareness and provide the level of self-discovery you need to navigate the chaos! Recent research provides additional consideration here.


In a July 15, 2021, Psychology Today article "3 Steps to a Greater Sense of Purpose," Dr. Bortland Dahl noted “research suggests it is not our peak moments that define who we are. It is how we deal with life’s challenges, and how we carry ourselves when no one is watching, in the small moments no one will remember. The reality is that peak moments are few and far between. Challenges are much more common, and far beyond that are the mundane moments of our daily routines.”


To help people navigate the chaos they experience while trying to find a way out of a valley, recent scientific research suggests people can equip themselves to feel a greater sense of purpose and meaning by focusing on their mindset and learning to see the challenges they face as opportunities for self-discovery.


  • How do you handle the valleys and the hills?

  • How often do you reflect upon how you deal with life’s challenges?

  • Do you realize that mundane moments of our daily routines outnumber peaks experienced in a lifetime?

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