“Thus I have assumed that organization is always a reorganization brought about by disorganization, that change and learning are continual and continuous, characterizing the very ‘nature’ of social life.”
~Susan Stewart, Nonsense: Aspects of Intertextuality in Folklore and Literature
Organization. It is the word that I optimistically adopt every December 31st when making my resolutions for the New Year, and it is the word that inevitably slips out of my vocabulary come New Year’s Day. Because, as much as we can strategize, plan, and arrange…life happens. And life is messy.
How do we deal with this unexpected mess that throws all of our well-intentioned plans out the window?
Well, if you are like me, you might find yourself uttering words like “overwhelmed” and “stressed.”
These words keep me seeking that “organized” destination, where the messiness of life won’t knock me for a loop.
And yet, the more I try to control the uncontrollable, the more upset I make myself. The more I stop thinking life is the mess and start thinking I am the mess.
It is at this point that alarm bells start ringing in my head.
Because, deep down, I know that this kind of thinking is definitely not productive. These thoughts drain me of my motivation, creativity, and focus. They distract me from solution-oriented thinking and send me in a downward spiral of negativity.
And negativity stinks. If there’s one thing worse than a mess, it’s a stinky mess.
And it’s when we find ourselves wallowing in the stinky mess of negative thinking that a new perspective is definitely in order.
I find one in this quote by Susan Stewart: “Thus I have assumed that organization is always a reorganization brought about by disorganization, that change and learning are continual and continuous, characterizing the very ‘nature’ of social life” (p.vii).
What would happen if we changed the way we looked at the word organization?
What if we started viewing it through the lens of disorganization?
Suddenly, the mess we are in is transformed from a limitation into a possibility.
The unexpected chaos we encounter in our lives becomes an agent of growth.
Instead of viewing organized people as people who have everything under control, we may start viewing them as people who are flexible enough to alter their plans when life gets out of control. Instead of idealizing routine and efficiency, we might recognize the lessons to be learned from disruptions and disorder.
Our lives will always be lived in response to the unexpected circumstances in which we find ourselves. The dialogues in our heads will determine whether we recognize the potential in the messiness or merely its stench.
Perhaps the best way to live an organized life is to plan for the disorganization that inevitably makes it possible. To orient our thinking so that we embrace the creative possibilities to be found in the unexpected messes that occur on the way to achieving our goals.
Imperfect progress, after all, is still progress. And the last time I checked, nobody’s perfect.
What does this insight mean for those of us who have lost our New Year resolutions in the messiness of life?
Well, it means that New Year resolutions are only lived out on a New Day, New Hour, New Minute basis. They are made with the recognition that their path to fulfillment will inevitably be a messy one, as all journeys of learning and change inevitably are. Starting over is inevitable.
But each time we do start over, it is important to recognize that we are not starting from the same place as before. Our imperfect progress is teaching us the important lesson of embracing the disorganization of life. We are becoming more flexible, and, whether we realize it or not, we are becoming more organized.
We are seeing the beauty in the mess, and, in the process, the beauty in ourselves.
So, whatever kind of day you are having today, I hope you find encouragement in knowing that all of us are organized messes, who, like yourself, are navigating the bumpy road of imperfect progress. Keep up the good work!