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How often do you allow yourself to experience disorientation?

If this is a leap year (2024, 2028, 2032, 2036, 2040, and every four years) then today is February 29, then the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you allow yourself to experience disorientation?”

In the book A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theatre, Anne Bogart wrote “Most of the truly remarkable experiences I've had in theatre have filled me with uncertainty and disorientation.” Navigating the chaos of life often involves experiencing disorientation, either as a result of a life situation, or by intentionally seeking out experiences that support growth through disorientation.


In a June 12, 2023, Psychology Today article Mary C. Lamia commented on how life can sometimes cause disorientation when she wrote “The loss of any self-defining aspect of our lives—a relationship, a job, a place called home, or the death of a loved one—may leave us with a sense of being lost and disconnected. Uncertainty, confusion, vulnerability, and disorientation can arise in response to the permanent, and perhaps unexpected, absence of a familiar person, place, or thing.”

For those who seek out experiences that support growth through disorientation they may travel to unfamiliar places to experience new cultures or engage in activities outside of one's comfort zone, such as rock climbing, improv theater, or learning a new instrument.  


While disorientation may initially evoke discomfort, it possesses transformative potential, pushing individuals out of their comfort zones and into realms of discovery and self-awareness. According to psychologist Dr. Richard P. Keeling and Dr. Richard H. Hersh, authors of "We're Losing Our Minds: Rethinking American Higher Education," embracing uncertainty is crucial for intellectual and personal development. Disorientation disrupts preconceived notions and challenges individuals to question their assumptions, leading to deeper introspection and cognitive growth. When confronted with unfamiliar situations, individuals are compelled to adapt, learn, and develop new strategies, fostering resilience and problem-solving skills.


Additionally, renowned psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in his seminal work "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience," argues that disorientation can stimulate creativity. When individuals find themselves in unfamiliar territories, they are forced to think outside the box, exploring unconventional solutions to navigate through uncertainty. This creative process not only expands cognitive flexibility but also fosters innovation and novel perspectives. Disorientation serves as a fertile ground for creative breakthroughs, leading to personal and professional growth.

Moreover, in their research article titled "The Role of Disorientation in Adult Learning: A Lifelong Learning Perspective," Dr. Leona English and Dr. Arla Day highlight the significance of disorientation in promoting adaptability. By exposing individuals to diverse experiences and perspectives, disorientation cultivates adaptive capacities, enabling individuals to thrive in dynamic environments. The ability to embrace ambiguity and navigate through unfamiliar terrain equips individuals with invaluable skills for personal and professional success, fostering resilience and agility.


For example, the actor Mark Ruffalo auditioned for 10 years, 800 auditions before landing a role. He even quit several times only to return time and again at his mother’s insistence. Ruffalo had to face the disorientation of rejection, failure, and uncertainty for years.

Another example of someone who faced disorientation due to life’s chaos is fellow actor Paul Giamatti whose father, Bart Giamatti, died right after Paul graduated college. “Unsure what to do with his life, his father’s death disoriented the young Giamatti and helped him decide on the direction in which he should go. In an interview Paul said “I was very destabilized by my father so I was like, I got to do something that works. I should do something that I really want to do.” After that decision he chose to pursue acting full time and would go on to become one of the leading actors in recent years.


Unlike Ruffalo and Giamatti who were disoriented by life’s events, Bayard Rustin chose a life of disorientation in order to be true to himself. Rustin was an American political activist and a prominent leader for civil rights, nonviolence, and gay rights. Since he was black and gay, Rustin was often shunned from the public spotlight and in his lifetime seldom given credit for this work on various social movements.

On November 20, 2013, Walter Naegle, a former partner of Rustin’s, accepted the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in honor of Rustin's work of 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In his acceptance speech, Naegle said “Being black, being homosexual, being a political radical, that's a combination that's pretty volatile and it comes along like Halley's Comet. Bayard's life was complex, but at the same time, I think it makes it a lot more interesting.”


  • How often do you experience disorientation?

  • How often do you put yourself in situations to experience disorientation?

  • When a life situation creates a deep sense of disorientation, such as through the loss of a loved one, how often do you remind yourself you have the capacity to navigate the chaos of disorientation?

  • How often do you remind yourself that amidst the chaos of disorientation lies the seeds of profound personal and intellectual growth?


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