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The entire Navigate the Chaos collection of all 365 blog posts is now available in a paperback entitled Navigate the Chaos (795 pages for $24.99). A smaller collection of thoughts from the Navigate the Chaos collection is available in paperback entitled Wonder (94 pages for $4.99)

How often do you contemplate your private battle?

Today is December 16 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you contemplate your private battle?” British statesman William Ewart Gladstone noted “Be inspired with the belief that life is a great and noble calling; not a mean and groveling thing that we are to shuffle through as we can, but an elevated and lofty destiny.” Cartoonist Cathy Guisewite discovered her ‘elevated and lofty destiny’ through chance and in so doing created an endearing cartoon “Cathy.”

Guisewite attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1972. After college, Guisewite followed her father's vocation and began working in advertising and would eventually become a vice president at W.B. Doner & Co. near Detroit in 1976.

To cope with the spectrum of emotions she was feeling at the time Guisewite started to draw funny pictures. These "emotional coping mechanisms" referred to events in her life and work, and she would forward them to her parents. Her mother kept urging her to send them to a publisher, so finally, she did to appease her mother. As Guisewite noted "My entire goal with my submission package was to get my mother off my back. My goal was not to do a comic strip. It was to make Mom quit telling me I could do a comic strip."

Guisewite was flabbergasted when the company sent her a contract to produce a comic strip. Cathy was syndicated to 66 newspapers in 1976 by Universal Press Syndicate. Like so many artists Guisewite maintained her day job and drew her cartoons at night and on the weekends. By 1980, the strip was carried by 150 dailies and she was earning $50,000 per year for Cathy, so she finally quit the advertising business to work on Cathy full-time and moved to Santa Barbara, California. She would continue to work on Cathy for over 30 years.

The comic strip was a "running social commentary" for her confusion. Guisewite explained, "You were a liberated woman, or you were a traditionalist. To even voice vulnerability if you were a feminist was wrong and to voice interest in liberation if you were a more traditional woman was wrong. So, I believe the women I was speaking to in the early years of my strip were women like me, who were at that age in our 20s where we were kind of launched into adulthood with a foot in both worlds and no way to really express it.”

Upon reflection Guisewite noted “each of us wages a private battle each day between the grand fantasies we have for ourselves and what actually happens.” One person who detailed a strategy on how to navigate his private battle was poet Max Ehrmann.

Ehrmann of Terre Haute, Indiana, wrote "Desiderata" (Latin meaning “things desired”) in the early 1920s. In 1933 he distributed the poem in the form of a Christmas card, evidently entitling it “Desiderata.” Due to its limited circulation, the poem was largely unknown in Ehrmann’s lifetime.

After Ehrmann died in 1945, his widow first published the work in 1948 in The Poems of Max Ehrmann. His poem, published in abbreviated form here, remains a source of inspiration for many a century after being penned:

“Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars you have a right to be here. And whether it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”

  • How often are you inspired with the belief that life is a ‘great and noble calling; not a mean and groveling thing that we are to shuffle through as we can, but an elevated and lofty destiny?’

  • As you go about navigating the chaos today, will you remind yourself that ‘each of us wages a private battle each day between the grand fantasies we have for ourselves and what actually happens?’

  • How do you reconcile the grand fantasies you have for yourself with what happens in reality?


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