How do you feel about chaos?

At the age of 30 I was properly introduced to the concept of chaos when I had my first baby.  Until then, or at least through my ’18 and over’ life, things had been fairly un-chaotic. That’s not to say they were uneventful but any surprising or unexpected events were mostly fun and things I wanted to be part of.  As I went from 25 to 30 we bought our first house, did it up and purchased much from Ikea (other household shopping outlets are available).  During that time we settled into the rhythm of grown up working and home-owning life.

In those days the cushions on the sofa were always plumped and neat.

You see, I have quite a strong need to control, which is ironic when my favourite work is coaching where I have very little of that.  But it’s true.  I remember my siblings laughing at me when we went for a weekend at my brother’s uni and I was straight into planning where we’d eat, what time we’d need to leave, etc, etc…. yawn!

Fuzzy lights

So when I was pregnant I went into my usual academic pattern of learning from books, in preparation for being in control of applying the ‘successful parenting’ formula to the new little person.  But much like leadership, the books don’t give you all the answers.  What I hadn’t accounted for was that – wait for it – all babies are different!!  Seems like such an obvious thing now.  And not only are they all different to each other, but they’re different in themselves from one day to the next!  I struggled massively with the fact I couldn’t follow the same pattern or habits as the day before to get the same results.  I had no control!  Add to that the fact hubby had a horribly long-hours job at the time, I had undiagnosed anaemia, then full on mastitis, and possibly a touch of PND too.  All in all quite a lot of horrible chaos!

However I also look back on that time as the stage of the greatest personal development I ever had.  Learning how to stay calm when there’s wee / poo / vomit in various combinations in places it shouldn’t be.  Learning how to ask for help when I had no idea what I was doing / whether it was the right thing to do.  Learning that in fact there is rarely ever one “right way” to do things.

Learning to not worry about the cushions being wonky on the sofa.

And when baby no. 2 appeared, life continued in that vain with the definition of chaos stepping up another notch.  Two small people with wee / poo / vomit stuff going on – and so often at the same time!

Now there are less of the bodily fluids, instead it’s more of the sibling rivalry which results in much verbal and physical combat, and calls for “muuuuuum, he/she’s just……” – an alternative version of parenting chaos.

These days the cushions on the sofa are weapons that are left strewn on the floor for days.

And so familiar are the parallels with the world today.  The VUCA clickbait is all around us.  This crazy, fast, always-on world that we’ve chosen to create is now the thing that many want to stop.  Occasionally there’s a call for a different choice – I especially like this piece from Simon Heath suggesting a choice which is calmer and more serene.

I like the sound of that and I also don’t believe it’s possible.

Us human beings, we’re so complex and ever-changing.  Although on the surface we’re more predictable and habitual than a newborn, something (large or small) is changing within or around us all the time, every single day, and that influences our feelings and behaviour.  And then add to this that we’re all so different.  This was really evident to me when I saw some soon-to-be-published PhD research which showed absolutely no correlation between the individuals in the research and certain learning activities – they are all unique individuals with unique learning needs.


When you collect together a world’s worth of people with differing needs who are in this constant state of flux, and who can communicate with each other across continents at the drop of a hat, chaotic stuff is going to happen.  No book is going to have a perfect 2-by-2 model or 5-steps-to-success process that’s going to solve it all and we need to be OK with that.  Especially as leaders when our natural human need to control and minimise chaos results in disempowerment and disengagement of the team.

I’m starting to read and learn more about Gestalt.  I know bits and pieces, including going on a course this year about Polarity Thinking, which originated from Gestalt and which has echoes of Yin and Yang.  It centres on the belief that to be happy and satisfied in life we need to maximise both ends of a spectrum – both the chaos and the calm.  This is what I believe in and am starting to practice.  That sometimes life is serene and that’s great.  Sometimes it’s chaotic – and that’s great too.  Our natural reaction to chaos is to shut it out, to get away from it, to get angry that it’s there.  The uncomfortable feelings it generates in us are the kind that make us want it to stop or go away.  And yet with my first baby, where the only option was to carry on and do the best I could, I gained more than I could possibly have imagined.

It might not be easy but the rewards are great.

And the more chaos there is, the more it needs to be balanced with choosing to make space for calm.

I’m reminding myself of this every time a new favourite celebrity from childhood passes away.  I’m reminding myself of this as we look ahead with questions over what happens next with us and the EU.  I’m reminding myself of this every time I’m in the middle of cooking tea and a new war breaks out in the front room – this one is the hardest though!

My goal: leave the cushions on the floor for a few days and see what happens.

Embrace the chaos, maximise the calm, and it might work out even more than just OK.

3 thoughts on “How do you feel about chaos?

  1. Lovely piece Helen. I have also had the historic traits of being uber organised and everything pretty in its place, however my trigger to embrace more chaos and to actively find ‘turn work off, more me time,’ was a divorce rather than kids. My ‘role’ then was to work and travel as much as was needed to keep the routine and life that the ex had become accustomed too. It was not always bad of course, but it was always fixed and predictable.

    My biggest learning since then has been that we, as humans, may be unable to control as much as we would like, but we have a lot more choices (many not always easy) than we like to admit as it is easier to hide behind “This or that is stopping me doing xx” – fixed mindset. I too was a lot more fixed mindset in my previous marriage.

    Today, having found my absolute soulmate (and fiancé) having exposure to her lovely children and embracing the opportunity to learn something new or different, every single day, is a happy and positive change, bourne out of a more chaotic life quite honestly.

    In summary, choas is actually quite good fun as long as you have the ability to ensure some personal down time, alone and/or with those close to you.

    Reflection to me = learning and we MUST find time to do more of both. Chaos and VUCA are here to stay so lets embrace it and make it work for us, rather than fear it. Mindset is key.

  2. A fab piece Helen, I so enjoyed reading it and I can completely relate to your experiences. I too have had to do a LOT of ’embracing chaos’ in my life since becoming a Mum and I have learnt more about myself in the last two/ three years than I did in the previous ten. I’m a self confessed control freak, but there are some things you cannot control and you would drive yourself mad trying to do so. Chaos is a good thing as it helps us appreciate and know when there is calm! Thanks again.

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