Order And Chaos

Mike Whalen

At the beginning of the pandemic, I believed that chaos was good. Since it didn’t matter when I started work (as long as I clocked eight hours), I could start whenever the mood suited me! When I couldn’t sleep, I’d start working at 3 a.m. Other times, when the coffee didn’t start flowing until late morning, I clocked in much later. My thinking was if I engaged in my professional duties when the optimal mood struck, I could extract more elegant and creative work products. Have you ever tried to will yourself to work, when the motivation wasn’t there? The results are underwhelming. 

On a professional level, while deadlines became moveable targets for me, my bosses saw it differently. On a personal level, starting late meant a downstream effect of late nights. Dinner plans and carefully choreographed date nights became collateral damage. As time went on, the chaos I had invited into my life began to poison everything. I spent so much time allowing for the creative output of chaos, I hadn’t noticed the havoc, disorganization and mayhem, chaos had left in its wake. 

James Clear’s “Atomic Habits” discusses the transformational power of consistent and small-scale habits: “All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision.” If I wanted to change my trajectory, with unhappy bosses and an unimpressed spouse, I needed to change my chaotic ways. I decided to start small. I began waking up at the same time every day. After a few weeks of alarm clock consistency, I moved on to breakfast. After all, “habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.”

Before long, I had evolved into an agent of Order. Spontaneous midweek ice cream runs were not tolerated. Ordering off-menu was heresy, and watching TV outside of scheduled hours became sacrilegious! My life became so routine, I started to become the very thing I sought to avoid through chaos. Average. Normal. Boring. 

Imagine a road trip without a plan. Do you head left or right? Drive towards the Atlantic or Pacific? Now, imagine a road trip, so meticulously planned, that detouring for the World’s Largest Ball of Yarn is inconceivable. Neither extreme sounds pleasant. 

Life isn’t all or nothing; black or white; order or chaos. Rather, life is a blend of the two. Billy Joel sang “shades of gray wherever I go, the more I find out, the less that I know.” If we only allow for chaos, we lose the discipline and structure that order provides. Alternatively, if we become myopically engrained in order, the whimsical elements of chaos that add color and excitement to life, become muted and dull. The key is to find balance between the two.

Going Solo is an advice column by Michael Whalen, MBA, for entrepreneurs or corporate employees working remotely out of their homes.

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