Rob Levit | January 2014

Exploiting Chaos – Thriving When You Think You’re Failing

I love the book title Exploiting Chaos because it’s so contrarian. We often think of chaos as negative, harmful and confusing and we often think, feel and live like our lives are chaotic. Yet, we all know educators who seem to exude equanimity, grace under pressure and almost superhuman organizational skills. Well, let me fess up: I’m not one of them, at least some of the time. However, I would like to share a few things I have learned to “exploiting chaos” aka “thriving in chaos” when things get discombobulated. So if you are a “frequent flier” in the exploiting chaos department, here are some ideas to get you back on track:

  • It’s OK to be a total mess from time to time. If you are like me, you have high standards for what a day should be. Everything should run smoothly. Appointments are on schedule. You are all prepared for class. Supplies are laid out neatly. Not! I have finally begun to realize that the world is messy and not as subject to “Rob’s Rules” as I once believed. I zone out on appointments, classes and preparation and you know what? It’s OK! Life is going to be a total mess from time to time. The key to reducing the mess? Uncover why things are a mess. All exploiting chaos in our lives usually reduces down to this concept: Life is a series of relationships not transactions. When you expect a relationship to be a transaction, that’s where the mess begins.
  • Know that things take a lot more time than planned for because people are involved. A lot more time, especially when you don’t want them to. Kids need extra help, traffic is awful and the line in the grocery store two miles deep – all on the same day! Isn’t that the norm? Then why do we get so out of sorts when things like this happen?
  • When in exploiting chaos, scale back your expectations of what’s going to get done. Stop forcing the issue. Can we really force our day to go more smoothly?
  • Mistakes are bound to happen. The more perfect you expect your day to be, the more chaos is being invited so stay open and flexible to what happens. More people are going to need you than you expect so be prepared to readjust, be a bit disappointed and let down. Don’t expect those feelings, just recognize they are a possibility so when they do arise it’s not a nasty surprise. “What you resist persists.”
  • Give yourself permission to be out of sorts, off kilter and disorganized from time to time. We are human beings, not robots and we have hearts and emotions that don’t always match what’s going on around us. Your set point becomes “I am off kilter, life is chaotic and though I don’t feel like doing much, here’s what I can do to get through it.” Take one proactive step to derail the exploiting chaos – pull off to the side of the road and breathe, skip the grocery store and get take out, ask a teacher for a few minutes to chat confidentially.
  • Recognize when your “chaos patterns” and short circuit them before they happen. Go into “time out” as soon as possible. Interrupt your exploiting chaos patterns before they interrupt you. Dare to prepare!
  • Admit situational failure and blame no one. Recently I had a residency at a middle school with a math team. I thought it went great! The teachers thought differently. Very rapidly I started to blame myself and then getting angry, started to blame the teachers. That wasn’t productive and made me feel undervalued and misunderstood. Then I realized a different way to come to grips with the chaos: Understand the situation and take the emotion out of it. Where could I have been more prepared? Where could I have been a more effective communicator? When I asked those questions about the situation, I shifted from an overly emotional perspective to a productive one. Take a proactive stance, learn the lesson, apply it to the next situation and blame no one for what happens.
  • Do what the Army does and engage in an AAR. AAR means “After Action Review” and is a simple technique that I use frequently to figure out where, why and how chaos entered the picture. It consists of four parts:
  1. What happened?
  2. What actually happened? (This may be the greatest question of all time!)
  3. What went well and what went poorly?
  4. What can we learn and how can things work differently next time?

Good luck “Exploiting Chaos.” It’s bound to happen, so let’s embrace it, work with it and learn from it.

About the Author

Rob Levit, an acclaimed musician and artist and 2013 Innovator of the Year from the Maryland Daily Record, has created award-winning innovative "Life-Skills Through The Arts" programs for adults with mental illness, the homeless, adults in drug and alcohol recovery, youth in domestic/sexual abuse counseling, foster children, hospital patients, veterans and many more. He is currently Executive Director of Creating Communities and was the first Artist-In-Residence at Hospice of the Chesapeake, where he created and infused healing activities for the well-being of staff, families and patients. Email Rob.