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- How often do you venture out to meet glory and danger alike?
Today is November 29 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you venture out to meet glory and danger alike?” In The Peloponnesian War, Athenian historian and general Thucydides recalled the words from Pericles' Funeral Oration “The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.” People like William Hart Pitsenbarger often venture out to meet glory and danger alike regardless of the life situation. Pitsenbarger joined the Air Force out of high school. During his basic training in early 1963, he volunteered for Pararescue. Training included the U.S. Army Airborne School, U.S Navy Dive School (SCUBA), survival school, and a rescue and survival medical course. Pitsenbarger was later sent on Temporary Duty (TDY) to Vietnam. Upon completing his first TDY assignment, he volunteered to return and received orders in 1965 to report to Detachment 6, 38th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Bien Hoa Air Base near Saigon. His unit was composed of five aircrews that flew three Kaman HH-43F Huskie helicopters. His commander, Major Maurice Kessler, called him "One of a special breed. Alert and always ready to go on any mission." Pitsenbarger completed more than 250 missions, including one in which he hung from an HH-43's cable to rescue a wounded South Vietnamese soldier from a burning minefield. This action earned him the Airman's Medal and the Republic of Vietnam's Medal of Military Merit and Gallantry Cross with Bronze Palm. On April 11, 1966, the Joint Rescue Center dispatched two Huskies from Detachment 6 to extract a half-dozen or more Army casualties pinned down in a battle near Cam My, 35 miles east of Saigon. Upon reaching the site of the ambush, he was lowered through the trees to the ground where he attended to the wounded before having them lifted to the helicopter by cable. After six wounded men had been flown to an aid station, the two U.S. Air Force helicopters returned for their second load. As one of the helicopters lowered its basket to Pitsenbarger, who had remained on the ground with the 20 infantrymen still alive, it was hit by a burst of enemy small-arms fire. When its engine began to lose power, the pilot realized he needed to move the helicopter away from the area as soon as possible. Instead of climbing into the basket so he could leave with the helicopter, Pitsenbarger elected to remain with the Army troops under enemy attack and he gave a "wave-off" to the helicopter which flew away to safety. With heavy mortar and small-arms fire, the helicopters could not return to rescue Pitsenbarger. For the next hour and a half, Pitsenbarger tended to the wounded soldiers, hacking splints out of snarled vines and building improvised stretchers out of saplings. When the others began running low on ammunition, he gathered ammunition from the dead and distributed it to those still alive. Then, he joined the others with a rifle to hold off the Viet Cong. Pitsenbarger was killed by Viet Cong snipers later that night. When his body was recovered the next day, one hand was still holding a rifle and the other clutched a medical kit. Although Pitsenbarger did not escape alive, 60 other men did. Soon after Pitsenbarger was killed, his Air Force commanders nominated him for the Medal of Honor. An Army general recommended that the award be downgraded to the Air Force Cross, apparently because at the time there was not enough documentation of Pitsenbarger's actions. Pitsenbarger received the Air Force Cross on June 30, 1966. After review and nearly 35 years later, the original award was upgraded. On December 8, 2000, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, the airman's father, William F. Pitsenbarger, and his wife, Alice, accepted the Medal of Honor from Secretary of the Air Force Whit Peters. During the same ceremony he was also posthumously promoted to the rank of Staff sergeant. The audience included battle survivors, hundreds of pararescue airmen, a congressional representative, and the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force. Pitsenbarger’s remarkable life story was told in the 2019 American war drama film The Last Full Measure, written, and directed by Todd Robinson. The story follows the efforts of Pentagon staffer Scott Huffman and many veterans to see the Medal of Honor awarded to Pitsenbarger. The film stars Sebastian Stan, Christopher Plummer, William Hurt, Ed Harris, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Irvine, and Peter Fonda, in his final film role. While today’s reflection involves the greatest of sacrifice, one’s life, venturing out to meet glory and danger alike does not necessarily only apply to warfare. Some days may call you to use your voice, act, or stand up for something or someone you believe in despite the inherit danger in doing so. One does not need to risk their life to be in danger. Sometimes, saying that which needs to be said, doing the right thing, or having a difficult conversation can be dangerous acts in and of themselves. How often do you venture out to meet glory and danger alike? How often do you place others first as you navigate the chaos? How often do you avoid a ‘dangerous’ conversation? What is the bravest act you have ever done? Has anyone demonstrated bravery on your behalf?
- How often are you in over your head?
Today is November 28 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you in over your head?” American writer and comedian Elna Baker wrote “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary.” If you want to navigate the chaos and translate one dream after another into reality you will need to come to an understanding with the word impossible. What is your current relationship with impossible? How often do you even think about your relationship with impossible? Have you often wondered how someone accomplished something you thought impossible? One such strategy people use to achieve the impossible is to be in over your head. Today’s reflection involves three different components of being in over your head: remain fearless, buy time, and pushing yourself further than you ever thought possible. The first example of remaining fearless comes from a woman entrepreneur. In a 2017 interview with Amelia Diamond published in “It’s Never Too Late: 3 Women on Second Chances and Changing Careers,” Polly Rodriguez, Chief Executive Officer, and founder of Unbound said: “Be relentless and fearless about learning as much as you can. To be a successful entrepreneur, you have to enjoy constantly being in over your head. There is this sweet spot between, “I GOT THIS!!!” and “…Holy shit, I’m gonna barf” that you live in every single day. You also have to be obsessed with getting feedback from people who will tell you the truth. For Unbound, I got my friends who had never owned one of our products before to try one. Every single person was obsessed with the products after they used them, and that was how I knew we were onto something. I also think that, sometimes, you can just feel it in your bones. I could so clearly see what Unbound was destined to become and how it could be so much more than just selling products, but really giving women a sense of entitlement to enjoy their bodies.” When you are in over your head and fearless you can move confidently in the direction of your dreams. Sometimes, when you are in over your head it helps to buy time in order to give yourself space to figure out your next step. According to legend, when a king sentenced a man to death the man told the king he could teach a horse to fly in two years’ time. The king granted him permission. Hearing of this the man’s family thought him insane. “Don’t worry,” he told his family. “First, no one has ever tried to teach a horse to fly, and the horse might well learn. Secondly, the king is already old, and he might die. Thirdly, the horse might die and then I will be given another two years to teach the new horse. And even if everything remains exactly as it is, I will still have gained two years of life.” So, yes, telling the king that he could teach a horse to fly placed the man in a situation where he was in over his head. But he relied on a strategy that would allow him to buy time. For some people who navigate the chaos, being constantly in over their head is the preferred way to go through life. The third example of being in over your head involves pushing yourself further than you thought possible. For example, financial planner and author Carl Richards noted in a September 25, 2017, New York Times piece “I’ve learned to prefer being in over my head. It is definitely scary; that never changes. But it also forces me to perform in ways that the shallow end never does. I go from thinking I am capable of ‘X’ to very quickly performing twice or three times that amount — and sometimes even 10x. Think of being in over your head as a little magic box. In one side goes the old you and out the other side comes a 2x or 10x version of yourself. Wouldn’t you buy a box like that if you could? The truth is you don’t have to buy anything. All you have to do is confront your fears and dive in deep.” In an Inc. article Jessica Stillman, noted the value of ambition and the likely inevitability of getting in over your head. According to Stillman “ambition is all about pushing yourself beyond your perceived limits. If you’re not taking on reach goals and slightly terrifying challenges than you’re unlikely to reach your full potential. Which all sounds good in theory, but there’s a little discussed byproduct of this can-do attitude. Sometimes you’re going to get in over your head -- way over.” How often are you in over your head? What is your current relationship with the word impossible? How often do you even think about doing the impossible? Do you know anyone who ever did something you thought impossible? Has it ever occurred to you that you may have accomplished something someone else thought was impossible? Who or what is stopping you from getting in over your head? If you are not getting in over your head, what are you afraid of? How ambitious are you? Are you willing to get ‘in way over your head?’
- How comfortable are you with ambiguity?
Today is November 27 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how comfortable are you with ambiguity?” Learning to deal with uncertainty is an inherent part of being human and navigating the chaos of life. Ambiguity comes in many shapes and sizes from the trivial – like where to go to lunch – to the life-threatening – like a health scare with no clear solution. People who navigate the chaos learn, sometimes the hard way that life is often about not knowing and dealing with the delicious ambiguity of living. American actress Gilda Radner and former professional poker player Annie Duke learned first-hand that life is often about not knowing. Radner wrote “I wanted a perfect ending. Now I have learned, the hard way, that some poems do not rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment, and making the best of it, without knowing what is going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.” Born on June 28, 1946, in Detroit, Michigan, Gilda Radner went on to star with close friend John Belushi on NBC's Saturday Night Live. Some of her most memorable characters were Roseanne Roseannadanna and Baba Wawa, and she won an Emmy Award for her work in 1978. Radner married fellow comedian Gene Wilder, whom she met on the set of the film Hanky Panky. She died of ovarian cancer in 1989, at 43 years of age. Former professional poker player Annie Duke understands today’s strategy of navigating the chaos by getting comfortable not knowing where life will take you. Duke was one month away from defending her doctoral dissertation when she decided she no longer wished to pursue academia and left school to play professional poker. She holds a World Series of Poker (WSOP) gold bracelet from 2004 and used to be the leading money winner among women in WSOP history. Duke won the 2004 World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions and the National Heads-Up Poker Championship in 2010. She has written a number of instructional books for poker players, including Decide to Play Great Poker and The Middle Zone, and she published her autobiography, How I Raised, Folded, Bluffed, Flirted, Cursed, and Won Millions at the World Series of Poker, in 2005. As Duke said “In life you never know where you’ll end up. You have to be comfortable not knowing where life is going. All we can do is learn how to make the best decisions in front of us and trust that over time the odds will be in our favor.” In his October 21, 2020, Psychology Today article "How Well Do You Deal With Ambiguity?" Leon F. Seltzer commented on ambiguity and noted “What worked in the past may not work now, so past solutions may need to be reevaluated. Moreover, most problems have more than a single solution, so if one’s best judgment is to be available, it’s necessary not merely to remain flexible but calm, unshaken, and open as well (i.e., your thinking isn’t controlled by your anxiety). And, too, it’s possible that before you can even act on your chosen solution the situation, which you’ve been closely monitoring, has changed. Even beyond these considerations, those comfortable with uncertainty realize how convoluted reality can be—as in good persons sometimes act badly (and the reverse also being true).” Leaders who are able to deal with ambiguity can effectively cope with change, shift gears comfortably, decide and act without having the total picture, and are able to navigate risk and uncertainty. Those with a strong ability to deal with ambiguity are often described as adaptable, flexible, and comfortable with uncertainty. They can operate with confidence to make decisions or move forward, even without all the information, because they have built their understanding How often are you focused on wanting a perfect ending? Since your life has probably not been as perfect as you would have hoped for, what does that tell you about embracing ambiguity? Can you accept the fact that ‘some poems do not rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end?’ How often do you remind yourself that ‘life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment, and making the best of it, without knowing what is going to happen next?’ How often do you challenge yourself to be comfortable not knowing where life is going? How often do you ‘learn how to make the best decisions in front of you and trust that over time the odds will be in your favor?’ How often do you change gears when dealing with the ambiguity of life? How often can you move forward amidst the ambiguity? How often do you accept the realization that ‘what worked in the past may not work now so past solutions need to be reevaluated?’ How often do you remind yourself there is often more than a single solution to any one problem? How often do you remind yourself how convoluted reality is?
- How often do you remind yourself no one knows?
Today is November 26 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you remind yourself no one knows?” While navigating the chaos it is common to look at those who have achieved some level of success and assume their fortunes are related to their ability to have some secret, path, or recipe. The advent of social media and its subsequent growth around the globe has only amplified this perception. The truth is quite the opposite. Most people who successfully navigated the chaos made it up as they went along. As difficult as such an observation may be, there is plenty of evidence to suggest it is so. In his May 10, 2019, Wall Street Journal column “Graduates, Are You Ready for the Most Important Secret in the Whole Wide World?” Jason Gay wrote “Nobody really knows what they’re doing. Life is a series of leaps and educated guesses. Sometimes, uneducated guesses. We can practice, prepare, and read all the instruction manuals, but we are really all making this up as we go along. Even the people who seem like they know what they’re doing—they don’t know what they’re doing all the time.” In his December 7, 2022, New York Times column on the state of Hollywood and movies A.O. Scott echoed similar sentiment and wrote “The screenwriter William Goldman’s axiom that “nobody knows anything” in Hollywood remains a good rule of thumb. Anyone who predicts the future of movies is either bluffing, guessing or indulging in wishful thinking.” This entire series of daily Navigate the Chaos blog posts is filled with people who leaped, guessed, and prepared. There is simply no right way to succeed. There is no app for success. There is no one path to follow. There is no one strategy to navigate the chaos. The Navigate the Chaos daily question blog serves as a reminder, as Gay wrote “Nobody has life figured out. And the charlatans who claim they do have life figured out—they have it less figured out than anyone.” This is one of the reasons why Navigate the Chaos poses questions. Too many people are telling you what to do. Far too many people have the secret, the way, or the key. There is no secret. There is no way. And there is no key. Everyone’s path in life is different. The more you search for the secret, way, or key, the more time you are wasting. One of the important things to remember with today’s reflection is that what worked for one person may not necessarily work for you. You can, however, remain open to learning throughout your entire life. As musician Tom Petty wrote "You will never be told when the next bit of education is coming or where it's coming from or who the teacher will be. That information will only reveal itself after the fact. All that you can do is leave a little room there for the next lesson to come through. Someone will be carrying it. You just leave the door open a crack.” In 1904 American poet and novelist Carl Sandburg wrote Incidentals and noted “Yesterday is done. Tomorrow never comes. Today is here. If you do not know what to do, sit still and listen. You may hear something. Nobody knows. We may pull apart the petals of a rose or make chemical analysis of its perfume, but the mystic beauty of its form and odor is still a secret, locked in to where we have no keys.” The only person who should tell you what to do is yourself. Learning to ask yourself questions can provide the necessary self-awareness required to help you better understand your life situation. How often do you remind yourself no one knows? Asking yourself that question might just help you navigate the chaos. As Fast Company noted in a July 24, 2006, editorial “You can stop pretending you know what you’re doing. I know you’re making everything up as you go (hoping nobody notices). It’s OK though – that’s not where your problems are coming from. Rather, your problems are coming from the fact that you think other people know what they’re doing. It’s an illusion that’s wreaking havoc in your life. It’s causing you to doubt yourself. It’s causing you to hide your challenges from others. It’s even paralyzing you at times. No one else knows what they’re doing either. They’re making everything up too. Relax into your ignorance. Open up. Experiment.” As you navigate the chaos of life today, and put in the daily grind required to translate one dream after another into reality, remind yourself no one knows. Doing so just may help you more than you ever thought possible. How often do you remind yourself nobody really knows what they’re doing? How often do you remind yourself life is a series of leaps and educated guesses? How comfortable are you making things up as you go along? How does it make you feel knowing that most people who navigate the chaos only know what they are doing some of the time? Do you find yourself not pursuing employment opportunities because you feel as though you are not qualified and assume only people who know what they are doing would apply? How often can you relax into ignorance? How often do you experiment and venture into something unknown?
- How often do you listen to the whisper of your dreams?
Today is November 25 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you listen to the whisper of your dreams?” Those who navigate the chaos listen to the whisper of their dreams. The word listen has an interesting etymology. It stems from Old English hlysnan (Northumbrian lysna) "to listen, hear; attend to, obey" which has as its root source the Sanskrit word srnoti "hears," and srosati "hears, obeys.” So, another way of asking today’s question is ”how often do you obey your own voice?” Listening to yourself is a critical strategy available for anyone navigating the chaos. It is only through listening can we hear what American filmmaker Steven Spielberg called the whisper of our dreams: “When you have a dream, it often doesn’t come at you screaming in your face. Sometimes a dream almost whispers. And I have always said to my kids: the hardest thing to listen to — your instincts, your human personal intuition — always whispers; it never shouts and is hard to hear. So, you have to every day of your lives, be ready to hear what whispers in your ear. It very rarely shouts. And if you can listen to the whisper, and if it tickles your heart, and it’s something you think you want to do for the rest of your life, then that is going to be what you do for the rest of your life, and we will benefit from everything you do.” The need to listen to your whisper is great. Author Charles Bukowski challenged readers to answer the question: “Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be?” If you are unable to remember who you were, perhaps it is time to go to a quiet place and listen to the whisper of your dreams. Doing so can help you remember who you wanted to be before the voices of others drowned out the whisper of your dreams. In September 2010, researchers from the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) provided academic research in support of today’s strategy of listening to your whisper. Published in the journal Acta Psychologica, the research demonstrated how using one’s inner voice plays an important role in controlling impulsive behaviour. According to lead author Dr. Alexa Tullett "We give ourselves messages all the time with the intent of controlling ourselves -- whether that's telling ourselves to keep running when we're tired, to stop eating even though we want one more slice of cake, or to refrain from blowing up on someone in an argument. We wanted to find out whether talking to ourselves in this 'inner voice' actually helps." Tullett and Associate Psychology Professor Michael Inzlicht, both at UTSC, performed a series of self-control tests on participants. Upon assessing the results of the tests Inzlicht noted "Through a series of tests, we found that people acted more impulsively when they couldn't use their inner voice or talk themselves through the tasks. Without being able to verbalize messages to themselves, they were not able to exercise the same amount of self-control as when they could talk themselves through the process." Commenting on the conversations people have with themselves, Tullett concluded "It's always been known that people have internal dialogues with themselves, but until now, we've never known what an important function they serve. This study shows that talking to ourselves in this 'inner voice' actually helps us exercise self-control and prevents us from making impulsive decisions." Listening to this inner voice, however, requires quiet to listen, stillness to reflect, and self-awareness to accept the situation. As Dr. Stephen Joseph wrote in his March 13, 2018 "Listen to Your Inner Voice of Wisdom" article in Psychology Today “It is all too easy in the rush of everyday life not to give ourselves the time, solitude, and stillness to pay attention to what is genuinely going on inside ourselves; to make sense of the confusion of thoughts, feelings and sensations. The key to learning to pay attention to what is going on inside ourselves emotionally and psychologically is self-acceptance. Carl Rogers, the renowned humanistic psychologist, said ‘The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.’” Those who navigate the chaos put in the hard work and reflect on their self-awareness so they can nurture self-love in order to listen to the whisper of their dreams. How often do you listen to your whisper? How often are you quiet to listen? How often do you remain still to reflect? How often do you practice the self-awareness required to accept the life situation in which you find yourself listening to your whisper? When is the last time you listened to your whisper? How often do you remind yourself of the curious paradox ‘that when you accept yourself just as you are you can then change?’ How often do you remind yourself of who you should be before the ‘world told you who you would be?’
- How often do you enjoy every sandwich?
Today is November 24 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you enjoy every sandwich?” It is far too easy to allow the chaos to drown out the memories of those who have gone before us; and it is equally simply to rush through each meal as you put in the daily grind. Those who navigate the chaos, however, will often remind you to do both: keep those who have gone before you in your heart and remember to enjoy every sandwich. One such person was musician Warren Zevon. Shortly after being diagnosed with mesothelioma Warren Zevon was featured on the October 30, 2002, episode of the Late Show with David Letterman. Letterman requested that Zevon be the only guest for the entire hour. The band played "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" as his introduction. Zevon performed several songs and spoke at length about his illness. Zevon had been a frequent guest and occasional substitute bandleader on Letterman's television shows since Late Night was first broadcast in 1982. Zevon noted, "I might have made a tactical error in not going to a physician for 20 years." It was during this broadcast that, when asked by Letterman if he knew something more about life and death now, he first offered his oft-quoted insight on dying: "Enjoy every sandwich." He also thanked Letterman for his years of support, calling him "the best friend my music's ever had". For his final song of the evening, and his final public performance, Zevon performed "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" at Letterman's request. In the green room after the show, Zevon presented Letterman with the guitar that he always used on the show, with a single request: "Here, I want you to have this, take good care of it." Zevon died of mesothelioma on September 7, 2003, aged 56, at his home in Los Angeles. His body was cremated, and his ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean near Los Angeles. "Keep Me in Your Heart" is the last track of Warren Zevon's final album The Wind, released in 2003. Zevon intended the song to be his final farewell. He told VH1 that "I don’t think anybody knows quite what to do when they get the diagnosis. I picked up the guitar and found myself writing this kind of farewell. Instantly I realized I’d found what to do with myself. On reflection it might be a little bit of a ‘woe is me’ song, but it made me realize what I was going to do with the rest of the time. It may be the last song on the album, but it was the first song I wrote." Here are the lyrics to “Keep Me In Your Heart For A While:” Shadows are fallin' and I'm runnin' out of breath Keep me in your heart for a while If I leave you it doesn't mean I love you any less Keep me in your heart for a while When you get up in the mornin' and you see that crazy sun Keep me in your heart for a while There's a train leavin' nightly called "When All is Said and Done" Keep me in your heart for a while Sometimes when you're doin' simple things around the house Maybe you'll think of me and smile You know I'm tied to you like the buttons on your blouse Keep me in your heart for a while Hold me in your thoughts Take me to your dreams Touch me as I fall into view When the winter comes Keep the fires lit And I will be right next to you Engine driver's headed north up to Pleasant Stream These wheels keep turnin' but they're runnin' out of steam Keep me in your heart for a while In the 1986 British historical drama The Mission, about the experiences of a Jesuit missionary in 18th century South America directed by Roland Joffe and starring Robert De Niro and Liam Neeson, the last line of the movie is “the spirit of the dead will survive in the memory of the living.” As Zevon would write "keep me in your heart for a while." How often do you enjoy each sandwich? Do you find yourself so caught up in the chaos that you forget to enjoy life? How often do you remind yourself to keep those who have gone before you in your heart? What small step can you take today to enjoy life and remind yourself of those who are no longer with us? How often do you remind yourself that ‘the spirit of those who have died will survive in your memory?’
- How often are you honest with yourself?
Today is November 23 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you honest with yourself?” American author Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better for worse as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.” Arriving at this conviction Emerson is referring to requires an honesty with one’s self. Accepting that ‘envy is ignorance, imitation is suicide, and that one must till the ground upon which they are given” requires a deep awareness of one’s self. For today’s reflection, consider asking yourself the following series of questions stemming from Emerson’s observation. Have you arrived at the conviction that envy is ignorance? Do you understand that imitation is suicide? Do you take yourself for better and worse? How often do you remind yourself that you are solely responsible for tilling the ground underneath your feet? How often do you remind yourself that you will not fully realize the power within yourself until you have tried and tried again to translate your dreams into reality? One such example comes from baseball legend Stan Musial. Towards the end of his career, Musial, one of the greatest baseball players ever, had his worst season as a professional, hitting seventy-six points below his career average. Musial then went to the general manager of his team and asked for a twenty-per-cent pay cut from his salary of a hundred thousand dollars. When prompted as to why he did that Musial simply responded: “There wasn’t anything noble about it. I had a lousy year. I didn’t deserve the money.” This theme of being honest with yourself is found throughout history by those who figured out a way to navigate the chaos. For example, Nelson Mandala said: “As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself. Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.” But being honest with yourself is hard work. As George R.R. Martin, author of A Game of Thrones noted: “Most men would rather deny a hard truth than face it.” If that is true for you then perhaps another question to ask in today’s reflection is ‘why do you find it difficult to be honest with yourself?’ Ludwig Wittgenstein spent a lifetime working on facing the truth and being honest with himself. Regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century, Wittgenstein, according to Jonathan Beale in "Wittgenstein's Confession," a New York Times article from September 18, 2018, “was by most accounts a deeply sincere and unsparingly self-critical man who spent much of his life in a struggle with self-transformation.” Echoing sentiment that others before and after proclaimed, Wittgenstein wrote in 1938 “Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself.” Beale wrote that Wittgenstein’s “vision of the authentic self is perhaps always beyond reach, like the exemplars of authenticity with which he was familiar through the writings of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. Authenticity throughout the history of philosophy is often conceived of as an ideal to which we should aspire, but that doesn’t prevent it being a useful means for self-improvement.” How often do you reflect upon your life situation and ask if you are truly being honest? When you are searching for an honest response from yourself, are you allowing yourself the space and time to consider the answer? Are you allowing others to influence your answer? If so, why? Have you connected your life situation with your level of honesty? What can you do today to assess your level of honesty? Do you realize your assessment of what reality is and how honest you are can change over time? How often are you deceiving yourself? Do you believe ‘the vision of the authentic self is beyond reach?’ If so, why is that? What does being authentic mean to you?
- How often are you in love with life?
Today is November 22 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you in love with life?” The strategy of loving life may seem contrite as a way to navigate the chaos. After reviewing thousands of stories, events, and news items for this series, it is safe to conclude that many people do in fact not fall in love with life. As such, asking yourself how often you are in love with life is indeed a relevant strategy to consider. Are you in love with life today? Keith Allen Haring (May 4, 1958 – February 16, 1990) was an American artist who understood who to love life and in so doing left a tremendous imprint on those around him and on society at large. Haring created pop art and graffiti-like work in New York City during the 1980s with much of his work focusing on the intersection of AIDS awareness and social activism. Haring's work grew to popularity from his spontaneous drawings in New York City subways—chalk outlines of figures, dogs, and other stylized images on blank black advertising-space backgrounds. He also painted his figures on the lower part of the subway walls sitting on the floor. After public recognition he created larger scale works, such as colorful murals, many of them commissioned. His imagery has "become a widely recognized visual language". His later work often addressed political and societal themes—especially homosexuality and AIDS—through his own iconography. Haring died on February 16, 1990, of AIDS-related complications and in 2014 became one of the inaugural honorees in the Rainbow Honor Walk, a walk of fame in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood noting LGBTQ people who have "made significant contributions in their fields." In June 2019, Haring was one of the inaugural fifty American "pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes" inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument (SNM) in New York City's Stonewall Inn. Although he died barely into his 30s Haring left behind an insightful, poignant, and penetrating look into his spirit with his diary, posthumously published as the quiet, symphonic wonder Keith Haring Journals. Below are two observations by Haring: the first on the intersection of having confidence in being one’s self and the other on being in love with life. “If I always seek to pattern my life after another, mine is being wasted re-doing things for my own empty acceptance. But, if I live my life my way and only let the other [artists] influence me as a reference, a starting point, I can build an even higher awareness instead of staying dormant… I only wish that I could have more confidence and try to forget all my silly preconceptions, misconceptions, and just live. Just live. Just. Live. Just live till I die. I think it is important to be in love with life. I have met people who are in their 70s and 80s who love life so much that, behind their aged bodies, the numbers disappear. Life is very fragile and always elusive. As soon as we think we ‘understand,’ there is another mystery. I do not understand anything. That is, I think, the key to understand everything.” American poet and educator Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published his 1838 “A Psalm of Life” poem to remind us, as Haring’s life did, to fall in love with life. ----- Tell me not, in mournful numbers, Life is but an empty dream! For the soul is dead that slumbers, And things are not what they seem. Life is real! Life is earnest! And the grave is not its goal; Dust thou art, to dust returnest, Was not spoken of the soul. Not enjoyment, and not sorrow, Is our destined end or way; But to act, that each to-morrow Find us farther than to-day. Art is long, and Time is fleeting, And our hearts, though stout and brave, Still, like muffled drums, are beating Funeral marches to the grave. In the world’s broad field of battle, In the bivouac of Life, Be not like dumb, driven cattle! Be a hero in the strife! Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant! Let the dead Past bury its dead! Act,—act in the living Present! Heart within, and God o’erhead! Lives of great men all remind us We can make our lives sublime, And, departing, leave behind us Footprints on the sands of time; Footprints, that perhaps another, Sailing o’er life’s solemn main, A forlorn and shipwrecked brother, Seeing, shall take heart again. Let us, then, be up and doing, With a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait. ----- As you labor and navigate the chaos, how often do you catch yourself in love with life? What is the pattern in which you live your life? What can you do to alter the pattern in which you live your life in order to love life even more than you do? How often can you forget all of the preconceptions and misconceptions that others place upon you? If you are not in love with life, why do you think that is? Can you accept the fact that you do not understand anything? What small step can you take today to remind yourself to love life?
- How often do you make your soul grow?
Today is November 21 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you make your soul grow?” Those who navigate the chaos understand the value of making their soul grow as often as possible. This is akin to traveling outside of your comfort zone, experiencing cognitive dissonance, or thinking differently. Making your soul grow, however, goes beyond those necessary tools for personal growth. Making your soul grow is perhaps the greatest challenge you can give yourself because it forces you, far more than the other tools, to look within yourself and proclaim what makes your soul blossom. Nurturing your soul to grow is difficult in the best of life situations. During times of stress, loss, or uncertainty, helping your soul to grow often takes a back seat to the anxiety induced current life situation. Navigating the chaos though, happens when the life situation before you presents itself in a positive light, just as much as it does during the negative moments. Those who navigate the chaos put the work in to nurture the self-awareness required to know when it is time to make their soul grow. In the December 2006 alumni newsletter of Xavier High School in New York, President Reverend, Daniel J. Gatti reflected upon a recent development earlier in the year with one of the teachers. As Rev. Gatti wrote: “During the first semester, one of our English teachers, Ms. Lockwood (using her own imagination, I might add), gave an assignment that had her students writing to famous authors. An exponent of the fantastic in literature, and known for his uses of science fiction, the now 84-year-old Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse-Five, 1969) wrote back! He expressed his gratitude for the friendly letters he received and went on to give some advice.” Here is Vonnegut’s letter to the students: “Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta: I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances anymore because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana. What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow. Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood and give it to her. Dance home after school and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you are Count Dracula. Here is an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six-line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But do not tell anybody what you’re doing. Do not show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK? Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals [sic]. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what is inside you, and you have made your soul grow. God bless you all! Kurt Vonnegut” Vonnegut once wrote “I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center.” Making your soul grow is one way to stand as close to the edge without going over. How often do you make your soul grow? Are you afraid of making your soul grow? If so, why? Who can help you make your soul grow? How have you made your soul grow? What else would you like to do to make your soul grow? Do you think you should stop making your soul grow after a certain age? How often do you stand as close to the edge without going over? How does your vision change at the edge compared to further back?
- How often do you remind yourself that what you do is not who you are?
Today is November 20 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you remind yourself that what you do is not who you are?” The many dimensions of Jon Bon Jovi include singer-songwriter, record producer, philanthropist, and actor. He is best known as the founder and front man of the Grammy Award-winning rock band Bon Jovi, formed in 1983, that released 14 studio albums and sold over 130 million albums. Bon Jovi has also released two solo albums. In the 1990s, Bon Jovi started an acting career, starring in the films Moonlight and Valentino and U-571 and appearing on television in Sex and the City, Ally McBeal, and The West Wing. As a songwriter, Bon Jovi was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2009. In 2012, Bon Jovi ranked number 50 on the list of Billboard Magazine's "Power 100", a ranking of "The Most Powerful and Influential People in The Music Business". In 1996, People Magazine named him one of the "50 Most Beautiful People in The World". In 2000, People awarded him the title "Sexiest Rock Star". Bon Jovi was a founder and former majority owner of the Arena Football League team, the Philadelphia Soul, and in 2006 established the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation. In an October 5, 2020, interview on the Armchair Expert podcast with Dax Shepard, Jon Bon Jovi said “It's what I do. It’s not who I am. Right. There has always been so much more for me, although there are days when I think about: am I lying to myself or not? I always said when I am on the 'where are they now? tour' I am out." Bon Jovi’s reference to the ‘where are they now tour’ refers to musicians who used to be at the top of their profession but slowly fell into obscurity. This falling into irrelevance happens when someone at the top of their profession fails to understand when to quit. One such reason why that happens is because they have difficulty separating who they are from what they do. Today’s reflection requires one to have an understanding that what they do is not who they are. In his biography of D. H. Lawrence, Out of Sheer Rage, author Deoff Dyer recalls an observation by his subject who made the following astute comment about work and life. According to Lawrence: “I don’t think that to work is to live. Work is alright in proportion: but one wants to have a certain richness and satisfaction in oneself, which is more than anything produced. One wants to be.” One such person who ‘wanted to be’ was Tim Hetherington. In her May 9, 2013, article "What You Do Is Not (Necessarily) Who You Are,” Elizabeth Spiers observed “There’s a danger in conflating work with self, even if work has consumed everything we do.” Spiers goes on to reference Sebastian Junger’s documentary Which Way to the Front Line? that told the story of the late photographer and documentary filmmaker Tim Hetherington. “Junger chronicles Hetherington’s work in West Africa, Afghanistan, and Misrata, Libya, where he was eventually killed. Hetherington did extremely important work, and in his documentary, Diary, he explores the tension between his life at home and his life in the field. Just before he left for Libya, he expressed reservations about continuing to work in conflict zones. It had cannibalized other parts of his life. He wanted to pursue a long-term relationship with his girlfriend. He wanted a family. He wanted to explore doing different kinds of work. But he decided to go back into the field one last time and didn’t come back.” As with so many people who navigate the chaos, Spiers recognized that “it would be disingenuous to argue that Hetherington’s work wasn’t part of who he was, but as Junger’s documentary so beautifully illustrates, it wasn’t all there was of Tim Hetherington.” In an article following Hetherington’s tragic death, his life partner Idil Ibrahim remembered him as so much more than a photographer and documentary filmmaker. According to Ibrahim: “Tim was much more than a brilliant conflict photographer. He was an artist. He experimented with multimedia, wrote, and created provocative and gut-wrenching films such as Restrepo [an award-winning documentary about a US platoon in Afghanistan]. Incredibly well read, he was always thinking very creatively about different ways to approach his work. He was tender and nurturing to those around him too. I remember a time when he was exhausted from weeks of travel for Restrepo and barely had time to eat or sleep. One day he had back-to-back interviews; however, he also promised to have a Skype call with a young photography student from Birmingham and agreed to participate in an interview for an online magazine. Tim worked his entire schedule so that he could fulfil both obligations.” As you reflect upon today’s question “is what you do who you are,” recall the concluding thought by Spiers “There’s nothing wrong with asking someone what they do, and certainly no harm in answering the question. But don’t assume the answer means everything.” Are you solely defined by what you do? How often do you realize you are far more than your work? How often do you realize others are far more than their work? Are you afraid of being more than the sum of your work? If so, why?
- How often do you ask others what they think?
Today is November 19 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you ask others what they think?” This question assumes three things. The first assumption is that you have people around you who you respect, admire, or care about on either a personal or professional level. Second, this question assumes you have a growth mindset and remain open to hearing the opinions of others, even if those thoughts run counter to your own. Finally, today’s question mandates that you set yourself aside and place others before your own self. These three tasks are not for the weak but they are important and can help you implement today’s strategy available as you navigate the chaos. People who navigate the chaos like Bill Marriott Jr., the son of Alice and J. Willard Marriott, the founder of Marriott International, has emphasized the value of asking others what they think throughout his career. Marriott attended St. Albans School in Washington, DC, and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in finance from the University of Utah, where he became a member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity. He served on an aircraft carrier as an officer in the United States Navy Supply Corps. Marriott has described how he learned a lifelong management lesson from an offhand remark made by President Dwight D. Eisenhower when he and his wife, Mamie, were guests at the house of Marriott's father in 1954. According to Marriott’s blog post: “Back in 1954, I came home from the U.S. Navy Supply Corps School for Christmas. My father was a good friend of Ezra Taft Benson who was at that time the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Somehow, they finagled to get President Eisenhower to come down to our family farm in Virginia. It was a cold winter day; it was about the 22nd of December – wind was blowing, it was 20 degrees outside. The staff had put a lot of quail and pheasants out there for Ike to shoot because they knew he loved to shoot birds. And they said 'Mr. President, what do you want to do? It is awful cold out there. Do you want to go out and shoot birds or do you want to stay in by the fire?' And I was standing behind him and he turned all the way around, looked me in the eye, and he said: 'What do you think, Bill?' And I thought, 'Oh my goodness!' I said, 'Mr. President, it’s awful cold, let’s stay in the by the fire.' He said: 'Good Idea!' So, we stayed in by the fire.” Reflecting upon this story that happened when he was 22-years old, Marriott concluded those words “What do you think?” are central for those leaders who want to demonstrate the highest levels of interest in their people. For Marriott “Those words show that your boss is interested in you, interested in your opinion and that he or she is willing to pursue what you are thinking about. I think that’s how Eisenhower got along with all those people he had to deal with during the Second World War as a general. He had to deal with Patton, Stalin, and Roosevelt, and with Marshall, Churchill, De Gaulle, and crazy Montgomery. They were a real bunch of characters. Ike got through it all and led us to victory. Because I am sure a lot of times, he asked that question ‘What do you think?’ He did not necessarily do what they told him to do but they knew he was interested in what they had to say.” Marriott used these four words as the basis for his management of his family’s hotel business. According to Marriott, "So I tried to adopt that style of management as I progressed in life. The four most important words in the English language are, 'What do you think?’ And that is why I would visit over 200 hotels a year to meet with our associates. You can talk about all the technology, distribution and other things that are taking place. If you take good care of your associates, they will take good care of the customers and the customers will come back. We are in the people business. We do not manufacture anything. We just take care of our guests.” As you go about today, how often do you ask others “what do you think?” Today’s reflection is linked to the May 16 Navigate the Chaos post and its question “how often do you build an open network?” While ‘what do you think?’ may indeed be the four most important words in the English language when it comes to management and leadership, the answers will vary in proportion to the size and type of your network. For example, if you have a closed network of 100 people, their answer to the question ‘what do you think?’ may have a high degree of similarity. If, however, you have an open network of over 100 people, their varied backgrounds might result in a wider spectrum of answers to the question ‘what do you think?’ How often do you ask the question ‘what do you think?’ Do you listen with intention or do you ignore the answers? Do you find yourself asking the question to the same people over time? Who else should you be asking the question to? Is there someone who should be asking you what you think but they are not? If so, how does that make you feel? How do you think asking such a question can help you navigate the chaos of life or work?
- How often do you reflect upon the level of effort you give every project?
Today is November 18 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you reflect upon the level of effort you give every project?” People like Canadian-born American architect Frank Owen Gehry know the value of putting his heart and soul into a project, no matter how small. Gehry noted “In my fourth year at the University of Southern California, the teacher from my professional practice class came up to me in the courtyard one day and said, ‘Frank, I've been watching you, and I think you're a talented guy who's going to go somewhere. I just want to give you one word of advice: No matter how small a project you work on, and no matter what it is, put your heart and soul and sense of responsibility into it, and don't dismiss anything.’ He said it very clearly and lovingly, and I never forgot it and I've lived by it.” Several of his buildings, including his private residence, have become world-renowned attractions. His works are cited as being among the most important works of contemporary architecture in the 2010 World Architecture Survey, which led Vanity Fair to label him as "the most important architect of our age". But his start in architecture took a while. Like so many people who navigated the chaos, he traveled down one path after another before realizing where he belonged. Gehry was born Frank Owen Goldberg on February 28, 1929, in Toronto, Ontario and in 1947, his family immigrated to the United States, settling in California. A creative child, he was encouraged by his grandmother, Leah Caplan, with whom he would build little cities out of scraps of wood. With these scraps from her husband's hardware store, she entertained him for hours, building imaginary houses and futuristic cities on the living room floor. He would spend time drawing with his father, while his mother introduced him to the world of art. Reflecting back upon this time Gehry said "The creative genes were there but my father thought I was a dreamer. I was not going to amount to anything. It was my mother who thought I was just reticent to do things. She would push me." After immigrating to California Gehry held a series of odd jobs as he continued to figure out his path in life. According to Gehry, "I was a truck driver in L.A., going to City College, and I tried radio announcing, which I was not good at. I tried chemical engineering, which I was not good at and did not like, and then I remembered. You know, somehow, I just started wracking my brain about, 'What do I like?' Where was I? What made me excited? And I remembered art, that I loved going to museums and I loved looking at paintings, loved listening to music. Those things came from my mother, who took me to concerts and museums. I remembered Grandma and the blocks, and just on a hunch, I tried some architecture classes." Gehry graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture degree from USC in 1954 and then spent time away from the field of architecture in numerous other jobs, including service in the United States Army. In the fall of 1956, he moved his family to Cambridge, where he studied city planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He left before completing the program, disheartened and underwhelmed. Gehry returned to Los Angeles to work for Victor Gruen Associates, to whom he had been apprenticed while at the USC School of Architecture. In 1957 he was given the chance to design his first private residence at the age of 28. In 1961, he moved to Paris, where he worked for architect Andre Remondet. In 1962, Gehry established a practice in Los Angeles, which became Frank Gehry and Associates in 1967 and then Gehry Partners in 2001. Legendary basketball coach John Wooden noted “What you do in practice is going to determine your level of success. I used to tell my players, 'You have to give 100 percent every day. Whatever you don't give, you can't make up for tomorrow. If you give only 75 percent today, you can't give 125 percent tomorrow to make up for it.' Throughout his career Gehry learned to put his heart and soul into each project. What level of effort do you give every project? Who or what is holding you back from giving more effort with each project? Do you realize the importance of giving your best to each project, regardless of how small it is? Do you understand that if you give 75% today you are unable to make it up the following day? If you are not putting your heart and soul into each project, why do you think that is? If your work is unfulfilling, what can you do on your own time that would allow you to give your heart and soul?