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  • How often do you rise to the occasion?

    Today is August 11 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you rise to the occasion?” Actor Natalie Portman explained being part of the award winning 2010 film Black Swan helped her rise to the occasion of being an adult and explained she took the role because "I'm trying to find roles that demand more adulthood from me because you can get stuck in a very awful cute cycle as a woman in film, especially being such a small person." Dr. Abigail Brenner, author of several books including Transitions: How Women Embrace Change and Celebrate Life described a variety of elements involved with rising to the occasion. Each element offers additional reflection points for today’s question. First, Brenner wrote "Experiencing a little stress and anxiety now and then is a good thing, too. If all you ever do is strive to stay wrapped up in your little cocoon, keeping warm and cozy, you may be missing out on quite a lot---maybe no new experiences, no challenges, and no risks.” Second, Brenner emphasized the need to “look at the bigger picture of life, if you can’t step out of your comfort zone you may experience difficulty making change or transitioning, growing, and ultimately, transforming; in other words, all those things that define who you are and give your life personal meaning.” How often do you look at the bigger picture of life? How has your life benefited from transitioning, growing, or transforming yourself? Finally, Brenner observed what so many people who navigated the chaos have come to understand “Very simply, what we fear most about challenging ourselves is that we may fail and/or get hurt in the process. But truth be known, most of us have the ability to rise to the occasion, overcome hurdles and obstacles, and actually succeed in accomplishing something new and challenging." Betty Bender echoed similar sentiment and noted “anything I’ve done that was ultimately worthwhile initially scared me to death.” Now, does this mean you should pursue every task that scares you to death? Of course not. It does mean, however, that if the task is related to helping you translate your dream into reality, then yes, you should consider it. In "Rise Up: The Hidden Power of Your Phasic Strengths," a February 2017 article published in Psychology Today by to Dr. Ryan M. Niemiec, a nuanced understanding is required of this strategy involved with navigating the chaos. Niemiec references the distinction made between character strengths that are tonic and those that are phasic. This distinction among strengths is a trait found in positive psychology. Unlike traditional psychology that focuses more on the causes and symptoms of mental illnesses and emotional disturbances, positive psychology emphasizes traits, thinking patterns, behaviors, and experiences that are forward-thinking and can help improve the quality of a person’s day-to-day life. These may include optimism, spirituality, hopefulness, happiness, creativity, perseverance, justice, and the practice of free will. It is an exploration of one’s strengths, rather than one’s weaknesses. The goal of positive psychology is not to replace those traditional forms of therapy that center on negative experiences, but instead to expand and give more balance to the therapeutic process. According to Niemiec, “Tonic strengths are those that we use consistently across contexts and situations. These have come to be better known as signature strengths – those strengths highest in our profile, most energizing to us, and most central to who we are.” Examples of tonic strengths include teamwork, hope, love, gratitude, perseverance, and zest. “Phasic strengths,” Niemiec argued, “have gotten lost in the shuffle. By definition, a phasic strength is a strength that rises, and falls, based on the situation we're in.” In essence, one rises up to the occasion, does what is necessary, and exhibits bravery amidst fear and danger. Saving someone from a car crash, defending a defenseless person, or speaking up against an injustice are typical examples of the phasic strength of bravery an individual can display at a time of crises or challenge. As Andrew McConnell of Forbes wrote: “Rising to the occasion can be fun for daydreaming, but in the real world it rarely plays out with a fairytale ending. We are all capable of so much more than we can ever imagine. To realize these capabilities, however, requires we put in the hard work and practice needed to stretch ourselves.” How often do you find yourself rising to the occasion? How often do you allow yourself to experience stress? Are you aware of your tonic and phasic strengths? Do you strive to stay wrapped up in your little cocoon? When is the last time you stretched yourself to rise to the occasion? Have you considered missed opportunities because you choose to remain in your comfort zone? Has the fear of getting hurt from rising to the occasion stopped you? How often do you remind yourself ‘you are capable of so much more than you could imagine?’ How often do you remind yourself that stretching yourself requires hard work and practice?

  • How often are you brave with your life and believe you are worthy of your dreams?

    Today is August 10 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you brave with your life and believe you are worth of your dreams?” On Friday, August 6, 2021, while participating in the Tokyo Summer Olympics, American track and field champion Allyson Felix wrote an Instagram post “I’m not afraid of losing. I lose much more than I win. That’s life and I think that’s how it’s supposed to be. I’ve found that I learn more from my losses and that I have gained much more value in the journey toward a goal than achieving that goal. I’ll line up, I’ll give my best and I will either win or lose and that doesn’t scare me.” Reflecting on her career on the night before her final individual Olympic final, Felix realized how she let her past performances define her worth. In a moment of clarity, self-care, and self-awareness, she proclaimed “I’ve been afraid that my worth is tied to whether or not I win or lose. But right now, I’ve decided to leave that fear behind. To understand that I am enough.” Felix ended her post by explaining that she entitled her post “Fear” for athletes who define themselves by their medal count, women who base their worth on their marital status or if they have children, and for anyone who thinks the people on TV are somehow different. “I get afraid just like you,” Felix added, “but you are so much more than enough. So, take off the weight of everyone else’s expectations of you. Know that there is freedom on the other side of your fear. Go out there and be brave with your life because you are worthy of your dreams.” As the only female track and field athlete to ever win six Olympic gold medals and the most decorated female Olympian in track and field history, with a total of 11 Olympic medals, Felix has navigated the chaos of being brave with her life and recognizing she is worthy of her dreams. Her life and career, however, also illustrates the necessity of creating new dreams, using one’s voice, and allowing life to unfold in ways previously unimagined. That’s what happened to Felix when she and her husband decided to start a family after her double-gold medal performance at the 2017 World Championships. Her contract with Nike was up at the end of that year, and she was pregnant in the early months of 2018. Negotiations were not going well, with Nike wanting to pay Felix 70 percent of what it had been paying her previously, despite no real decline in her performance. When she asked for pregnancy protections, and also for her pay to stay the same even if her performance wasn't up to her usual standard in the months after childbirth, Felix was told no. In 2018 Felix gave birth to her daughter Camryn, born premature at 32 weeks. After going through a difficult pregnancy and delivery, the Olympic champion started to share her story with other expecting parents to help raise awareness for the signs of pregnancy complications and highlighted how complications can happen to anyone at any time but there are places that you can access support and information. While Felix was adjusting to life as a mother and caring for her premature baby, she was also dealing with her longtime sponsor in Nike. In a May 22, 2019, New York Times op-ed entitled: “Allyson Felix: My Own Nike Pregnancy Story: I’ve been one of Nike’s most widely marketed athletes. If I can’t secure maternity protections, who can?” Felix accused Nike of penalizing her and other pregnant athletes, including World Championships medalist Alysia Montaño and Olympian Kara Goucher, in contract negotiations. The move was fraught. Felix risked losing her primary source of income and could have been blacklisted from major meets. Felix soon left Nike and signed with Athleta, becoming the women-focused apparel brand’s first athlete sponsor. As Felix dedicated her time to raising the profile of pregnancy complications, she was also raising her newborn baby and preparing for the 2021 Olympic games. She’s been open in the past about what she called "the enduring status quo around maternity.” She said that following the birth of her child she felt that she had to choose between a sport that she loves and her family. The publicity surrounding how Nike was treating Felix and other pregnant athletes demonstrated the power of her voice. As Felix recalled in an interview “I never would have thought that using my voice would have led to Nike changing their maternity policy for athletes and I definitely never would have thought it would lead to creating Saysh (@bysaysh), a community-centered lifestyle brand that creates products for, and by, women.” Felix used her voice so that pregnant women “never have to train at 4:30 a.m. while five months pregnant to hide their pregnancy from a sponsor. So that you won’t have to fight someone so much bigger than you for a right that should be basic. I took that on for you, and I didn’t do it alone, but it was for you.” How often are you brave with your life and believe you are worthy of your dreams? Is someone holding you back from feeling worthy of your dreams? Are you preventing yourself from being brave? Do you recognize how even world champions like Felix need to navigate the chaos? What steps can you take, no matter how small, to demonstrate to yourself you are brave, you are strong, and you are worthy of your dreams? Have you stopped dreaming? If so, why is that? Do you have as many dreams as you need two lifetimes to achieve? Has someone helped you find your voice? Have you helped someone find their voice?

  • How often do your endings revolve around beginnings?

    Today is August 9 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do your endings revolve around beginnings?” An inevitable part of traveling our life’s path is the frequency of endings and the potentiality of beginnings. The ending of relationships allows new bonds to form, the closure of one employment position invites a new job, and the death of a loved one allows life to be viewed in a new lens. Those who navigate the chaos come to realize how endings revolve around beginnings. Those who put in the daily grind required to translate their dreams into reality appreciate author Anne Lamott’s observation: “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.” Endings are the dark periods in our lives while beginnings represent hope. The key is to realize the cycle of life while navigating the chaos often includes holding on to the power of hope and beginnings during dark periods, or endings. In The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember, Fred Rogers echoed a similar thought to Lamott and wrote “Often when you think you're at the end of something, you're at the beginning of something else. I've felt that many times. My hope for all of us is that ‘the miles we go before we sleep’ will be filled with all the feelings that come from deep caring - delight, sadness, joy, wisdom - and that in all the endings of our life, we will be able to see the new beginnings.” American playwright, actor, author, screenwriter, and director Sam Shepard understood the value of creating an authentic ending revolving towards another beginning. His body of work spanned over half a century. He won ten Obie Awards for writing and directing, the most won by any writer or director. Shepard wrote 58 plays as well as several books of short stories, essays, and memoirs. Shepard received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 for his play Buried Child and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of pilot Chuck Yeager in the 1983 film The Right Stuff. He received the PEN/Laura Pels Theater Award as a master American dramatist in 2009. New York magazine described Shepard as "the greatest American playwright of his generation." Shepard's plays are chiefly known for their bleak, poetic, often surrealist elements, black humor, and rootless characters living on the outskirts of American society. His style evolved over the years, from the absurdism of his early Off-Off-Broadway work to the realism of Buried Child and Curse of the Starving Class (both 1978). As Dwight Garner noted in a New York Times December 6, 2017, article “Shepard composed his last novel Spy of the First Person while battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, even sometimes dictating passages to family and friends. This novel’s themes are echt Shepard: fathers and sons; shifting identities and competing versions of reality; a sense that there are watchers and there are watchees in this world of dusty gravitas.” On endings and beginnings Shepard wrote “I hate endings. Just detest them. Beginnings are definitely the most exciting, middles are perplexing, and endings are a disaster. The temptation towards resolution, towards wrapping up the package, seems to me a terrible trap. Why not be more honest with the moment? The most authentic endings are the ones which are already revolving towards another beginning. That’s genius.” Major League Baseball Hall of Fame Manager Tommy Lasorda navigated the chaos and learned firsthand how endings revolve around beginnings in his transition from player to manager. The Norristown, Pennsylvania native joined the Dodgers’ coaching staff in 1966 as the manager of the Pocatello Chiefs in the rookie leagues after his brief pitching career ended almost as soon as it started. He continued to coach in the minor leagues until 1973 - a run that was highlighted by three Pioneer League titles from 1966-68 with the Ogden Dodgers and a championship with the AAA Albuquerque Dukes in 1972. Lasorda parlayed his minor league coaching success into an opportunity to serve as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ third-base coach on Hall of Fame manager Walter Alston’s staff. Although Lasorda received opportunities to manage elsewhere, he served as third-base coach for the Dodgers for the better part of four seasons, before taking over the managerial duties when Alston retired on September 29, 1976. During his remarkable career he compiled a 1,599–1,439 record as Dodgers manager, won two World Series championships in (1981 and 1988), four National League pennants, and eight division titles in his 20-year career as the Dodgers manager. If Lasorda had been a better player, if he decided to manager elsewhere, or if he failed to realize that the end of his playing career was the beginning of his coaching career, he would have traveled a completely different path in life. How often do you recognize that an ending revolves around a beginning? How often do you remind yourself hope begins in the dark? How often do you remind yourself not to give up? When you are the end of something, how often do you ask yourself if you are really at the beginning of something else? How often do you work on creating authentic endings where you are already revolving towards another beginning?

  • How often are you engaging in daring ventures from a secure base?

    Today is August 8 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you engaging in daring ventures from a secure base?” Those who navigate the chaos understand the value of engaging in one daring venture after another from a secure base. Such a process allows for one to return safely and re-energize for the next adventure. Since navigating the chaos often takes years, and in some cases, decades, having a secure base is an important strategy to consider. The observation originated from British child psychologist John Bowlby. In his 1988 publication A Secure Base, Bowlby wrote that “life is best organized as a series of daring ventures from a secure base.” The two most common examples of this strategy in motion are the parent-child relationship and the leader-employee connection. In the parent-child relationship, the home serves as a secure base, or safe zone, where the children can always return for renewal and reassurance throughout their developing years, indeed for their whole lives. As these early attachments flourish, a positive foundation is laid for all development that will follow. And this development comes partly because of those "series of daring adventures." For the child to develop they need to move from one stage of experience, behavior, and accomplishment to the next. Traversing from one stage to the next demands children experience discomfort, disequilibrium, and diligence, all of which can be gained through daring ventures from a secure base. In short, the less secure one’s base, the less chance one might have to experience daring ventures. Conversely, the more secure a child feels the more likely they will engage in daring ventures to learn, grow, and develop. As David Brooks wrote in a March 29, 2007, New York Times editorial "people with a secure base are more free to take risks and explore the possibilities of their world." As you navigate the chaos it is important to remind yourself that leveraging your mind, body, and spirit empowers you to create a secure base for those around you. The same strategy of engaging in daring ventures from a secure based can by hypothesized for the leader-employee connection. What good is an employee if they feel as though they will be fired if they make a mistake, miss a day of work, or question their boss? Some leaders like Kimo Kippen, Founder of Aloha Learning Advisors and former CLO at Hilton and Vice President of Learning at Marriott recognize the necessity for employees to feel safe. Kippen noted "This whole level of wholeness is a place where I am able to show up as a full human being with all of my gifts to the table to be a part of this organization. That leads to a great feeling of inclusiveness because what it allows me then to do is to bring this real, authentic self to the table and to really love the work that I do." Sadly, some leaders create a culture where mistakes are discouraged, or worse yet, forbidden, and employees have no security at all. One such example is Volkswagen and its 2015 diesel engine debacle. According to many company executives, former CEO, Martin Winterkorn, was demanding, authoritarian and abhorred failure; he also fostered a climate of fear. A key part of Volkswagen’s aggressive growth strategy was a new diesel engine that would deliver low emissions and high efficiency. The problem was that, as the engine came into production, it failed to meet the goals Winterkorn had publicly stated it would. Too afraid to bring this failure to their boss, the engineers used their collective ingenuity to cover up the problem, leading to billions of dollars in losses and damage to the brand. Winterkorn resigned from Volkswagen on September 23, 2015, several days after an emissions cheating scandal was revealed that concerned the company's diesel cars. He resigned as chairman of Audi on November 11, 2015, after further information associated with the scandal was revealed regarding VW's gasoline-powered engines Winterkorn was criminally indicted over the emissions cheating scandal in the United States on May 3, 2018, on charges of fraud and conspiracy. In April 2019 he was criminally indicted on charges of fraud in Germany. This ‘secure base’ approach to life is similar to the belief by French novelist Gustave Flaubert “Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.” As you put in the daily grind to translate one dream after another, remind yourself of the tremendous potential you have in ‘being violent and original in your work’ if you have a secure base from which to operate. How often do you create a regular and orderly life, or a secure base, so that you can go on daring adventures and be original in your work? Have you created a secured base for your children or loved ones so they may go experience daring ventures and return safely? Can you be regular and orderly in one area of your life and original in another? Has your lack of a secure base held you back from engaging in daring ventures? Have you found a way to pursue a daring adventure without a secure base? What can you do to help either create a secure base or find one to use? How often are you afraid of making or admitting a mistake because you work or live in an environment that discourages them? How often do you allow yourself to be ‘violent and original in your work?’

  • How often do you think about the nuance involved with hard work?

    Today is August 7 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do think about the nuance involved with hard work?” For those learning to leverage their mind, body, and spirit to navigate the chaos and translate one dream after another into reality, reflecting upon the nuance involved with hard work is a strategy often used. Hard work is an absolute necessity to translate your dreams into reality. Working hard at hard work is another strategy people use to navigate the chaos. But like so many other Navigate the Chaos posts, there is a nuance here important to consider. As F. Diane Barth wrote in "The Great Myth of Hard Work" an August 2012 Psychology Today article: “The myth that we can achieve anything we want if we just work hard enough, then, is just that – a myth. The hard work is accepting that everyone and everything has limitations. And finding ways to accept that limitations are just part of being human – not signs of failure.” Myth may be too strong of a word. The better reference with this nuance is that translating your dreams into reality will often take much more than hard work. Jeff Shannon, an executive coach, and author of Hard Work is Not Enough: The Surprising Truth about Being Believable at Work. believes ‘hard work is a good start.’ This is especially true for anyone launching a new career, regardless of age, as hard work can certainly help establish you in your organization or industry. If you desire to move up and grow, however, hard work is not going to be enough. As Shannon noted: “At a certain point you look around and realize, wow, everyone works hard at this level. Expertise and hard work just become the expectation and will not help you up the ladder.” This may seem glaringly obvious if you stop and think about it for a moment since the other 364 Navigate the Chaos posts explain all the different strategies available for anyone willing to leverage their mind, body, and spirit to translate one dream after another into reality. It is clear to anyone who has reflected upon a number of the Navigate the Chaos questions and posts that hard work is indeed not the only strategy required to use to achieve your goals. It certainly is an important avenue to pursue but it is healthy to remember the nuance that hard work alone is often not enough. You will most likely need to combine hard work with any number of other strategies listed in the Navigate the Chaos series. A reporter once asked American professional boxer, activist, and poet Mohamed Ali “How many sit-ups do you do?” Ali responded “I don’t count my sit-ups. I only start counting when it starts hurting. When I feel pain, that’s when I start counting, because that’s when it really counts." In a 2019 speech Arnold Schwarzenegger recalled Ali’s story and said “Now think about it. He doesn’t start counting. That is working hard. And so, you can’t get around the hard work. It doesn’t matter who it is.” This story reminds us to hold two opposing ideas in your mind at the same time. First, you need to work hard and continually discover new limits to what it means to work hard. Afterall, Ali never counted his sit-ups until he started to feel pain and that would change over time. Second, you need to acknowledge that hard work alone is not enough. You should remind yourself what Schwarzenegger said and that is ‘no one gets around the hard work.’ How often have you held these two opposing ideas in your mind simultaneously? Today’s reflection ends on one additional nuance here and that is the difference between working at 99% capacity versus 100% capacity. In an Instagram post from July 2021, Marine, best-selling author, and motivational speaker David Goggins talked about this and said “It’s a very scary situation when you are confronted with trying to find more of yourself. When you believe you have given everything you have, your mind becomes dark. You believe that quitting or failure is imminent. The choices and options you have in front of you start to shrink. This makes it very easy to abandon ship. Before you abandon ship, know this…there is always one more door that you haven’t opened. Behind that door may lie failure and disappointment BUT it may also have success and accomplishment. If you never open that door because you are extremely tired, exhausted, and feeling like you have given everything you have, you will never give yourself the chance to find your true capabilities. In trying to find your true capabilities, it’s inevitable that you will meet failure and disappointment head on. This is the part that deters people from opening that door. The difference between giving 99% and 100% is a lot bigger than what we think. To find just that 1% more requires all of us to open that final door. Never be fooled by a 99% effort!” How often do you think about the nuance involved with hard work? How often do you hold the two opposing ideas (hard work is necessary but not the only thing you need to do) in your mind simultaneously? When do you start counting? How do you respond when the pain starts to kick-in? Can you stay in the darkness long enough that your eyes adjust to the dark? When you believe you have given everything you have, can you push yourself just one step further? Have you ever pushed yourself to a new limitation? How did you respond? Do you believe you have untapped potential yet to be realized? Can you encounter failure yet continue? Have you considered your capacity at 99% compared to 100%?

  • How often do you approach, or pass, the edge?

    Today is August 6 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you approach, or pass, the edge?” In her 2009 novel Handle with Care, American fiction writer Jodi Picoult wrote “I wondered about the explorers who'd sailed their ships to the end of the world. How terrified they must have been when they risked falling over the edge; how amazed to discover, instead, places they had seen only in their dreams.” Challenging themselves to do more than they previously thought possible, the edge remains ever present and beckons those destined to seek it as the lighthouse provides a ray of hope in the darkness. The edge reminds us of our potential. The edge invites anyone willing to look deep inside of themselves. It is important to remember in today’s reflection how the edge will look different for everyone. In some situations, the edge might be having the courage to tell someone you love them when you have been wanting to do so for a long time. For others, the edge might be applying for a job that might be considered out of reach but they do so anyway. The edge is going to make you uncomfortable; it will exhaust you, and it will challenge you to change your assumptions about how the world works. One of the greatest American writers of the last few decades, Hunter S. Thompson, navigated the chaos and explored the edge throughout his writing career. In his critically acclaimed Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga, Thompson wrote “The Edge...There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others-the living-are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later. But the edge is still Out there.” As Patrick Doyle wrote in Rolling Stone “Thompson lived and wrote on the edge in a style that would come to be called Gonzo journalism. That term captured his lifestyle, but it didn’t really do justice to Thompson’s command of language, his fearless reporting, or his fearsome intellect.” Thompson was born in Louisville, Kentucky, served in the Air Force, and worked as a journalist in Puerto Rico before moving to San Francisco, where an article about the Hells Angels turned into a book project. He spent almost two years riding with the outlaw motorcycle gang, and in 1966 he published a bestseller that took readers deep inside a subculture largely inaccessible to the outside world. In 1970, he wrote an unconventional magazine feature titled "The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved" for Scanlan's Monthly, which both raised his profile and established him as a writer with counterculture credibility. It also set him on a path to establishing his own subgenre of New Journalism that he called "Gonzo", which was essentially an ongoing experiment in which the writer becomes a central figure and even a participant in the events of the narrative. Thompson remains best known for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971), a book first serialized in Rolling Stone in which he grapples with the implications of what he considered the failure of the 1960s counterculture movement. In The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, Thompson proclaimed “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’” The concept of living life on the edge, and maybe even going over it ever now and then, often appears in popular culture. One example is from the 1992 film The Bodyguard starring Whitney Houston (as Rachel Marron – a rising pop singer) and Kevin Costner (as Frank Farmer – as her new bodyguard). In one scene late in the film, Marron and Farmer are sitting outside at night, she looks up at the stars and tells him “I didn't get to this place in my life by doing the smart thing every time. (Frank nods) How 'bout you, Frank Farmer? Out there on the edge... did you ever do something that didn't make too much sense, except maybe inside you? In your stomach somewhere? Something that wasn't smart? (She looks at him) I'll bet you have plenty. I'll bet you do. Nobody gets really good without it. And you're good. I know that.” The edge is there. It is waiting patiently. It never moves. The question is, will you go near it? Will you get close to it? Or will you go over it? As with each daily question and strategy for navigating the chaos, approaching, or passing the edge may be better left for others. Today’s strategy is an option; just like the other 364 posts in this Navigate the Chaos series. How often do you ‘risk being terrified of falling over the edge only to discover the place you had only seen in your dreams?’ How often do you remind yourself that the edge is still out there waiting for you? Do you agree with Thompson in that life ‘should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely but rather to skid in totally worn out?’ How often have you thought about your desire to be good at what you do and the need to approach, or pass, the edge in order to get there? Do you know anyone who has taken the risk and gone over the proverbial edge of life?

  • How often do you resemble water?

    Today is August 5 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you resemble water?” American poet Wallace Stevens once noted “Human nature is like water. It takes the shape of its container.” Learning to navigate the chaos and may sometimes require you to take a different shape, be pliable, or remain flexible in order to deal with a life situation. Leveraging your mind, body, and spirit is central to doing so. Such a process, however, like so much of the strategies discussed in this Navigate the Chaos series, is easier said than done. Decades later, Hong Kong American martial artist, actor, director, martial arts instructor, and philosopher Bruce Lee made the following observation “Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. You put water into a cup; it becomes the cup. You put water into a teapot; it becomes the teapot. You put it into a bottle; it becomes the bottle. Now water can flow, or it can crash! Be water, my friend.” Both Stevens and Lee understood the value of applying water’s characteristics to human behavior as a viable strategy to navigate the chaos. They both realized the benefit of being like water and becoming flexible for a given life situation. These and other modern references to water, however, have their origins in the ancient Chinese text the Tao Te Ching written around 400 BC and traditionally credited to the sage Laozi (also spelled Lao Tzu meaning Old Master). Lao Tzu likened an individual’s path through life as being like water. In chapter 8 of the “Tao Te Ching”, he described the ideal character a person should have and wrote “The best character is like water. The water’s goodness is that it benefits the myriad things but does not quarrel, and it willingly goes to where others hate. Thus, it is almost like the Tao.” Laozi in the Tao Te Ching explains that the Tao is not a name for a thing, but the underlying natural order of the Universe. In her 2020 book Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee, his daughter Shannon Lee wrote “The ‘be Water’ quote begins with the prompt ‘Empty your mind.’ This first request is perhaps the most important one in our process because it sets us up for everything that comes next. My father believed that this act – of leaving behind the burdens of one’s preconceived opinions and conclusions – had in itself a liberating power. In fact, if this step is the only one you actively work on for a while, you will expand your life considerably. Emptiness refers to a state of openness and neutrality. When your mind is crowded with thoughts and information about all the things you’ve learned and how you feel about them, there isn’t room for much else. You’ve given up access to new possibilities and points of view; you’ve limited yourself. In order to learn new information, we must first make room to let that information in. This allowance of new information can only occur if we empty our minds. We in the West think of nothingness as a void, a non-existence. In Eastern philosophy and modern physical science, nothingness – no-thingness-is a form of process, ever moving – like water.” To navigate the chaos today’s reflection offers the option of resembling water. What is interesting and unique about today’s post is a daughter’s reflection upon the words, actions, and life of her father. In her introduction to the book Shannon reminded readers that “you don’t need to be Bruce Lee in order to make the most out of your life and Bruce Lee doesn’t want you to be him; he would want you to be the best version of yourself.” Practicing the art of living well certainly involves being the best version of yourself. Unpacking the ‘be like water’ philosophy of Bruce Lee, when coupled with the keen observations of his daughter Shannon, provide the following list of questions to consider for today’s reflection. How often can you empty your mind? Do you find yourself rigid or pliable, formless, and shapeless, like water? Have you considered the impact emptying your mind can have on the rest of your day? Do you feel imprisoned by your thoughts? If so, what have you done lately to liberate yourself from your own thoughts? How often do you leave behind the burdens of one’s preconceived opinions and conclusions? Have you given yourself permission to accept how emptiness refers to a state of openness and neutrality? How often do you find your mind too crowded to take in a new thought? What can you do today to clear your mind and create a state of no-thingness? How often do you remind yourself the difference between nothingness and no-thingness? Are you working towards being the best version of yourself or do you catch yourself mimicking others?

  • How often are you working enough so inspiration can find you?

    Today is August 4 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you working enough so inspiration can find you?” Painter Chuck Close memorably scoffed “Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.” Even though a catastrophic spinal artery collapse in 1988 left him severely paralyzed, he has continued to paint. Despite his injury he shows up and gets to work so inspiration can find him. In her advice to aspiring writers, novelist Isabelle Allende echoed “Show up, show up, show up and after a while the muse shows up, too.” Allende should know all about showing up as she writes on a computer, working Monday through Saturday, 9:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. in the hopes that inspiration finds her. Legendary composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky put it similarly in an 1878 letter to his benefactress: “A self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood.” Despite his many popular successes, Tchaikovsky's life was punctuated by personal crises and depression. Contributory factors included his early separation from his mother for boarding school followed by his mother's early death; the death of his close friend and colleague Nikolai Rubinstein; and the collapse of the one enduring relationship of his adult life, his 13-year association with the wealthy widow Nadezhda von Meck, who was his patron even though they never actually met each other. Amidst one personal crisis after another he continued working so inspiration would find him. Pablo Picasso, one of the greatest and most influential artists of the 20th century, noted “inspiration exists but it has to find you working.” Hungarian photographer Brassaï engaged in a 30-year-long interview series with Picasso and published his collection in Conversations with Picasso. In one of those conversations Brassaï asked whether the painter’s ideas come to him “by chance or by design.” Picasso’s response illustrated his wisdom on cracking creative block: “I don’t have a clue. Ideas are simply starting points. I can rarely set them down as they come to my mind. As soon as I start to work, others well up in my pen. To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing… When I find myself facing a blank page, that’s always going through my head. What I capture in spite of myself interests me more than my own ideas.” There are several critical issues here for those traveling their path and navigating the chaos. First, one of the greatest artists in the last century had no specific process for creating art. Second, once Picasso began to work ideas then started to come to him. And third, what he discovered as he began drawing was of greater interest than his own ideas. The key is to start so inspiration knows to find you working. Amidst personal crisis, health concerns, and external events out of your control, how often do you find your working so inspiration can find you? Have a bias towards action. And remain open to the process of discovery along the way. It is also important to note that his lack of a specific approach allowed him to change his style throughout his life and experiment with different theories, techniques, and ideas. Translating your dreams into reality relies more upon your ability to adapt, change, and evolve more than it does following a script, blueprint, or recipe for success. Give yourself permission to experiment and change as you travel your path of navigating the chaos. Another way of considering today’s reflection is to recall the words of 20th century American artist Jasper Johns who explained his process of creating art by stating: “It's simple, you just take something and do something to it, and then do something else to it. Keep doing this, and pretty soon you've got something.” Born in 1930 in Augusta, Georgia, Johns grew up in rural South Carolina. The paintings of his deceased grandmother, hung in his grandfather's house where he lived until the age of nine, provided his only exposure to art in his childhood. Johns began drawing at a very young age, with a vague intention of wanting to become an artist. After high school, Johns spent three semesters at the University of South Carolina. Urged by his teachers to study in New York, he moved north and spent one semester at the Parsons School of Design in 1948. However, Parsons was not the ideal fit for Johns, and he left the school, rendering him eligible for the draft. In 1951, he was drafted into the army and spent two years in service during the Korean War at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and in Sendai, Japan. After his discharge from the U.S. Army in May 1953, Johns headed to New York. As curator Carolyn Lanchner relays in her 2009 book Jasper Johns, it was time, according to the painter, “to stop becoming and to be an artist.” He destroyed all his previous pieces and held down jobs in the city to fund his progress, shifting as a night clerk at Marboro, a bookstore near Carnegie Hall. Teaming up with fellow artist Robert Rauschenberg, he also designed department store window displays for Tiffany & Co. In 1954, he was hit by one of the most famous inspiration dreams in art history, Flag (1954–55). Over the next six decades he would make extraordinary contributions as an American painter, sculptor and printmaker associated with Abstract expressionism, Neo-Dada, and Pop art. For his achievements, President Obama awarded Johns the Presidential Medal of Freedom in February 2011. · Are you waiting around doing nothing and hoping inspiration strikes you like a bolt of lightning? · How often do you just show up and get to work? · Can you start working and then capture the new ideas as they flow out of you? · How often do you find yourself waiting to start until you have all of the answers? · Can you do something, then do something to that, and then do something to that?

  • How often do you rely on a mentor or serve as one?

    Today is August 3 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you rely on a mentor or serve as one?” Those who leverage their mind, body, and spirit to navigate the chaos often rely on a mentor and serve as one as well. Actor Denzel Washington noted the importance of being a mentor when he said “Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living—if you do it well I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way. A mentor.” The examples of fellow actors Michael Douglas and Meryl Streep illustrate the power of a mentor to those navigating the chaos. In 1972, when he was a young actor at 28 years of age, Michael Douglas starred in the television police drama The Streets of San Francisco. The lead on the show was Karl Malden. According to a 2021 interview by Douglas “Those days, when you were the second banana on a police show, usually you were a stop or two behind the lead because the focus couldn’t hold both actors. Karl was the first guy who said to me, ‘come on up.’ He shared the spotlight, cared about others, said I was the son he never had. A good mentor can save you a lot of pain.” Fellow actor Meryl Streep contributed in her own way to mentoring another. During her 2009 SAG acceptance speech for best actress in Doubt, Streep called out “the gigantically gifted Viola Davis.” Streep raised her arms and shouted, “My God, somebody give her a movie!” Davis only shared one eight-minute scene with Streep in the 2008 film Doubt, but made a lasting impression on her co-stars, moviegoers, and producers; Streep’s call was answered when, three years later, Davis starred in the 2011 film The Help. Davis would eventually go on to win the 2016 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her outstanding performance in the film Fences. When Davis received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in January 2017, Streep was there to honor her fried. In her opening remarks for Davis, Streep delivered this detailed description of Davis’s talent: “Viola Davis is possessed. She is possessed to the blazing, incandescent power. She is arguably the most immediate, responsive artist I have ever worked with,” Streep said. She then went on to describe Davis’s ability to be “so alive she glistens” and to “write paragraphs with her eyes.” Malden did not have to share the spotlight with Douglas and Streep did not have to publicly advocate for Davis. Practicing the art of living well, however, will often provide opportunities for those who ‘made it’ to help those on the way up. The question is, will you take the opportunity to mentor others? If not, why is that? Is your focus on your self so great it shields you from seeing others? If your obsession with success so overwhelming that you refuse to lend a hand to someone who could use it? Serving as a good mentor to someone navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well, can, in the words of Douglas, save someone from a lot of pain. As discussed throughout the Navigate the Chaos series, there are countless individuals who figured out a way through, around, or under their pain in order to reach the other side and succeed, sometimes against all odds. In his January 5, 2022, Harvard Business Review article "The Best Mentorships Help Both People Grow" David Nour noted the importance of mentorship when he coined the term transformational mentoring. According to Nour “Transformational mentoring is a term I use to describe a relationship that offers something powerful to both the mentee and the mentor — and it requires an equal amount of work from both. As a mentee, the trick to fully engaging your mentor lies in finding the right person: someone with whom you can build a relaxed, inspiring camaraderie, driven by curiosity as opposed to the binary instructor-student exchange we normally teach. These mentorships can be formed with people senior to yourself or peers of equal stature, as long there is a mutual desire for personal and professional growth.” Those who navigate the chaos understand that if they want to grow as a professional they will also need to grow as a person. A good mentor will teach you that and if you are an engaged mentor you will remind your mentee of that belief as well. Has someone mentored you? Have you been open to someone mentoring you? Have you missed opportunities to be mentored because you were closed minded? Have you mentored anyone? If so, how was the mentoring experience on your end? And how was it received? Why do you think people do not want to mentor others or refuse to accept guidance from someone who wishes to mentor them? How difficult is it to find someone who is aligned with your desire for personal and professional growth? Have you engaged in transformational mentoring? If so, how did it go? If not, would you be open to it?

  • How often do you commit to a lifetime of creating yourself?

    Today is August 2 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you commit to a lifetime of creating yourself?” Answers for today’s question will generally fall into one of the following five categories: I do not have to create a new self for I am perfect I have already created a new self and am done with that Creating a new self is too much work so I will stay as is for now I am as mature as possible, so this is an insulting question I am committed to a lifetime of creating myself Those who leverage their mind, body, and spirit to navigate the chaos commit to a lifetime of creating their future self and subscribe to the observation of French philosopher Henri Bergson "To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly." Let us unpack the quote for a better understanding and to ask some additional questions. First, “to exist is to change.” Navigating the chaos will require you to travel outside of your comfort zone, think differently, and challenge your own assumptions to change. Change is common and synonymous with development or maturity. Do you agree with the statement “to exist is to change?” How often are you committed to change? Are you striving for the status quo so much that you fail to realize the association between change and maturity? Second, “to change is to mature.” Too often maturity is related to acting one’s age when it should instead emphasize one’s ability to change to exist and continue navigating the chaos. Do you agree with the statement “to change is to mature?” What does maturity mean to you? What does it look like? How often do you reflect upon the relationship between change and maturity? Lastly, “to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” Our ability to navigate the chaos depends upon our maturity, which, in turn, allows us to create our self throughout our entire lives. This endless creation of one’s self, however, requires a steadfast belief that we are not here to live up to other people’s expectations. Psychiatrist Fritz Perls was so concerned about this concept that he created the "Gestalt prayer" a 56-word statement that is taken as a classic expression of Gestalt therapy as way of life model of which Dr. Perls was a founder. The key idea of the statement is the focus on living in response to one's own needs, without projecting onto or taking introjects from others. In psychoanalysis, introjection refers to an unconscious process wherein one takes components of another person's identity, such as feelings, experiences, and cognitive functioning, and transfers them inside themselves, making such experiences part of their new psychic structure. The full prayer reads “I do my thing and you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, And you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you, and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful. If not, it can't be helped.” For those putting in the daily grind of translating their dreams into reality, they understand the importance of being mature enough to ‘do their own thing’ to create one’s self endlessly. Canadian psychoanalyst and organizational consultant Elliott Jaques is one such example. Jacques coined the term “midlife crisis,” in a 1965 paper. Jaques wrote that during this period, individuals come face-to-face with their limitations, their restricted possibilities, and their mortality. In his own midlife and beyond Jaques remained opened to the possibilities of what life had to offer and wrote 12 books in the 38 years between the publication of his paper that coined the term “midlife crisis,” and his death in 2003 at age 86. He also married Kathryn Cason and the coupled founded a consulting company devoted to the dissemination of their ideas. As Carlo Strenger and Arie Ruttenberg reported in a Harvard Business Review post “Elliott Jaques, you might say, lived twice. By the end of his first life, in his mid-forties, he had earned two doctorates, one in medicine and another in psychology. He had gone through psychoanalytic training and had gained a lot of experience as both an organizational consultant and a psychoanalyst. In his second life, Jaques became a truly independent thinker. He greatly expanded the range of organizations with which he worked, and he created the concepts and theories for which he is most famous. He formulated some of his most original ideas in the late 1990s, when he was in his late seventies and early eighties.” How often are you creating your future self? Who or what is holding you back from creating your future self? What small step can you take today to help create your future self?