David Whitesock

Social Entrepreneur | 2015 Bush Fellow

Squaring Chaos and Uncertainty

One of the greatest gifts of the Bush Foundation Fellowship is the ever present opportunity to grow as a leader and as a person. At times, this comes in the form of attending events or conferences, or engaging in dialogue with other leaders, or it may also come in the quiet moments of reflection throughout the day. 

As Fellows, we are assigned a leadership coach and we meet quarterly. My first coaching session was this past month. Frankly, expectations were mixed. I did not know much about the person who was assigned to me, but an impressive resume built up many hopes.

It's fair to say that neither of us expected to have the conversation we ended up having. That turned out to be a good thing. The conversation we had allowed us to get to know one another and to build trust. We were able to draw parallels or connections in our lives that could establish reference points for future conversations.

The gift of this particular conversation was a return to a couple concepts that in the last couple years I haven't given much thought -- the notions of chaos and uncertainty in our lives.

For a long time, my life was very chaotic and uncertain, but circumstances warranted little worry for the uncertainty in my life.

Then the chaos ended. Uncertainty, however remained.

After a little time of settling into new routines and a way of living life, chaos crept back in ... but for me, chaos is oddly calming. To be more precise, one can do very well with ordered chaos. In other words, we can introduce a multitude of responsibilities, demands, and desires into our life, but so long as we do so with intention, what might look like chaos from the outside world, is really very orchestrated.

The problem comes when a symbol, if you will, crashes to the floor and our order becomes disorder. Actually, this is only a problem if you are not prepared for disruptions. You cannot fully prepare for specific disruptions, but you can train yourself to be responsive in those moments when the unexpected occurs.

This takes practice, of course. So does learning how to deal with uncertainty... which is slightly different than the occasional unexpected happening that disrupts your ordered chaos. It was around the notion of uncertainty where I needed a tune-up and got it with my Fellowship coach.

The great thing about life is that there only so much we can make certain. If we knew everything that would happen at every second of every day, how boring would life be? But it is when we want to look beyond the day, or the month, or the year that we have to learn how to embrace what we cannot know. Some things are simply not in our control. Yes, we, through our intentional actions can have impact on an uncertain future, but that impact, generally, may be very small.

Of course, the serenity prayer is very helpful in this area, especially on a personal level. But what about at a leadership level?

That was the unexpected place the conversation with my Fellowship coach took me. Leaders have to constantly be surveying risk and uncertainty, but at what point is too much energy put into that exercise? 

This writing wasn't so much an attempt to answer that question today, but to identify it as an area for more inspection, learning, and application. And certainly, your wisdom and input is always warranted.