5 Ways to Get More Comfortable With Chaos

“Chaos should be regarded as extremely good news.”

–Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

I don’t know anyone who enjoys chaos. Most of us don’t go seeking it out, we aren’t thrilled to encounter it. Even for those of us who have a track record of shaking things up (or who want very much to shake things up one way or another), chaos can be a deeply uncomfortable thing. Still, we know it’s inevitable sometimes and often essential to any real meaningful change and growth.

One of my favorite “power tools” in No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Must Change the Way We Think About Power is “Carpe the Chaos.” I love this principle because it’s very difficult to put into practice, but—I imagine because she has the longview of history after many years of activism—Gloria Feldt approaches this idea with playfulness… with a carpe and an exclamation point! and a very real challenge to women to not only trust that chaos can be good, but watch our own response so we can keep learning how to work with it more effectively… with more ease and less struggle.

In this spirit, here are five ways I’ve learned to carpe the chaos, either when I stir things up myself or stumble upon it in a system:

Learn how to surf. Some of the best advice I ever received about work was, “Listen, you just have to learn how to surf.” You might think, for example, you’re supposed to stay on the straight path in your career or in a particular situation, but you actually need to take a hard left. When this happens, you can fight fight fight, or you can stretch yourself and go with the current. Who cares if you don’t know the outcome! It will almost always be better than not listening to the water around you, insisting you know a better way, or giving in to fear. Learning how to surf is especially important when it comes to movement building. The waters run deep, there are plenty of storms, there are so many different actors all trying to work together (or not work together) at once.

Use your voice. In my work with groups and organizations, and in my own life, I try to use a simple practice: Offer what you can, ask for what you need. The beauty of this is that it’s contagious. In any area of your life if you go around doing this, people tend to respond in kind. So many women leaders tell young women Use your voice! but it isn’t easy to do in many of the environments we find ourselves in. As Gloria Feldt says, “Women are more likely to engage, or be engaged by, not screeching vehicular feats of daring, but rather equally intense though too often silent tests of their personal agency.” Asking for what you need and offering what you can provides a light structure to this vague idea of using one’s voice.

Find your community. Whether it’s thinking more deeply about where our food comes from and organizing farmers markets, or starting local entrepreneurship chapters to support each other in building new businesses that pay a living wage, or creating new platforms for connection online, I am convinced that we are relearning how to do community all over again. Community and connection have always been crucial to movements for social progress throughout history and will continue to be essential to the movement for parity by 2025.

Run some experiments. When things feel chaotic, many of us get quiet, do nothing, and wait for the storm to pass. Sometimes this is wise, other times it gets us into more trouble because it reinforces a pattern we don’t want to reinforce. In the midst of chaos is opportunity. When we don’t know what to do next, we have a chance to try something new and introduce new patterns. Of course it takes courage, but courage is another one of those beautiful words worth putting into practice.

Play. As Ellen Lempereur Greaves from the Life is good Kids Foundation reminded me recently, play is not just about being “positive” all of the time. Like any good actor, musician, or artist will tell you, it’s much more about creating space for new learning than keeping everybody happy. How are you rigid in your approach to change-making? How might you be more playful? Also, dancing is generally a good idea.

How do you carpe the chaos in your work and life?

About the Author

Lex Schroeder is a writer and speaker on gender equity, systems change, and the future of work. She is a Leadership Ambassador with Take The Lead and is based in NYC. She can be reached at lexschroeder@taketheleadwomen.com. Follow her on Twitter @lexschroeder.