Calm in Sea of Chaos


What determines how we respond to difficult situations in our professional and personal lives?

We often see our best strengths at work when uncontrollable chaos arises. Often times, these situations are created by other people or events that are beyond our doing. This is when our “true colors” are shown and when our reactions are judged by others.

I thought about my reactions to the situation and chaos that occurred in my personal life last week. I was on way driving from Austin to Dallas when my Dad called my cell phone. As he and my Mom were walking into the hospital for an appointment with a surgeon, my Mom fell and broke her hip. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer just two weeks before and they were meeting with the surgeon to talk about next steps for the procedure. Instead of seeing that surgeon, my parents found themselves talking to an orthopedic surgeon about operating to repair the fracture in her left hip.

I was driving to Irving (a Dallas suburb) to work with the Chamber the next two days. I was to facilitate meetings with twelve committees and one with the staff to align the resources for the new strategic planning. So much preparation had gone into scheduling the meetings and coordinating all the volunteers to come together over these two days. What was I to do? Should I turn around and head back to Austin or do I fulfill my contract with the Chamber?

I called my son, who lives in Austin, and asked him to provide support for his grandfather. I sent a text to my three siblings in Hawaii to let them know what happened. I asked my Dad what he needed me to do. He assured me that my Mom was in good care at the hospital and that he would keep me apprised of updates. I posted on my Facebook page and asked for prayers for my Mom and Dad (and over 100 friends responded).

The next morning, I told the Irving Chamber president about the situation and let her know that if things became worse, I would need to return to Austin. She asked if I was okay and whether I preferred to leave and attend to my family. I told her that we should continue as planned for now and I would touch base with my Dad during the breaks between meetings. And I found myself saying, “I focus on what I can control and have to let go of what I can’t.” And she gave me a hug.

Later that day, I found myself judging my reactions and wondering how I could be so calm when there was so much chaos around me. Perhaps others would be judging me as well. Why is that I am not an emotional wreck? How can I continue to execute on my work plan when my personal life has its own distractions?

I used the following questions to guide my actions:

  • Although I made this professional commitment, is it possible that I could reschedule or have someone else be there in my place?
  • Could family members or friends help in this situation and how?
  • Am I being emotionally resilient or am I simply allowing my emotions to overwhelm me?

I’m not alone in managing the conflicting priorities in my personal and professional life. I know that you have your chaotic episodes and can relate to situations like this as well. So tell me, how do you manage your chaos?