Photo: Mike Engel
“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” Those words were coined by a man named Sun Tzu, a Chinese general who lived from 544 to 496 BC and is credited as the author of “The Art of War.”
Although when Sun Tzu spoke those words, he likely did so in a military reference, his words struck a chord with me because, as an editor, my job is to make order of chaos. That’s not to say all writing is chaotic; it certainly isn’t. But grammatical errors and misspellings can sometimes be construed as chaos, and can leave a reader befuddled. Yet in that seeming chaos, there is opportunity. A confusing sentence could have a variety of possible meanings.
“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.”
In chaotic events in our lives, there is also opportunity. When a woman receives a breast cancer diagnosis, she can take on a victim mentality and feel sorry for herself, or she can choose to be positive and fight the cancer with all of her might.
When you lose a loved one, there is opportunity to keep that person’s memory alive by sharing his or her story, furthering a cause that was near and dear to his or her heart, and/or pouring into the lives of his or her immediate family members.
When you find yourself stuck in a traffic jam, there is opportunity to listen to a podcast or an audio book, or to sing at the top of your lungs to your favorite playlist.
When it feels like your world is caving in around you, there is opportunity to be a light to others who are experiencing a similar situation.
When you’re a parent of multiple young children, it can feel pretty chaotic. Yet there is opportunity to invest in the lives of those little ones, knowing their youth is temporary. Someday you’ll look back and wish you could relive some of those times.
No matter what you’re dealing with or going through, there is opportunity in it, if you’ll just look for it.
The Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary defines opportunity as “a combination of circumstances, time, and place suitable or favorable for a particular activity or action; an advantageous circumstance or combination of circumstances especially when affecting security, wealth, or freedom: a time, place, or condition favoring advancement or progress.”
More often than not, we think of times of chaos in a negative light. Maybe we just need to change our mindset, realizing those times actually favor advancement or progress.
“Leave a little sparkle wherever you go.” That’s how the vice president of marketing at my workplace ended an inspirational message to the marketing team. And it stuck with me.
When I think about sparkles, I think of glitter and sequins. Shiny things that shimmer in light. Personally, I find glitter quite annoying because it’s hard to get rid of. But it leaves an undeniable sparkle wherever it lands. When light hits even a small speck of it just right, the glitter glistens and gains the attention of anyone who sees it.
“Leave a little sparkle wherever you go.”
Similarly, your life touches lots of lives every day, and you leave your mark on those lives. Whether in person, over the phone, or online, the way you carry yourself can make a difference in someone’s day for better or worse. You have the power to leave a sparkle, a bright spot in another’s life — just as you have the power and opportunity to leave a dark spot. Either way, you’ll be remembered.
Why not be remembered for good?
Think about the lives that have touched yours and left a positive impact. You likely still smile when you think about those encounters. I know I do. We’re blessed with the capacity to carry memories with us. Even just a brief encounter can have a lasting impact, like the stranger I met who told me she appreciated me.
I had the privilege of speaking to a breast cancer support group recently. The ladies there said they found me inspirational and enjoyed my presentation. I guess you could say I left a sparkle with them. But I really enjoyed meeting them and getting to share an hour of my day with them too. They inspired me and left a sparkle with me.
And that’s the beauty about leaving a little sparkle wherever we go: It’s reciprocal. Two sparkle carriers can’t help but leave a positive impact.
What kind of impression are you making on those around you?
Photo: Somchit Nandee
“I can’t control my reactions,” I once told my husband. How else could I explain my furrowed brow, wrinkled nose, and rolled eyes after something he said? It’s not like those responses were voluntary. Were they?
If I disagreed with something he said, it showed on my face. And that indicated to him that I had stopped listening to what he was saying, closed to any idea that might actually be worth hearing.
But if I’m not responsible for my reactions, who is? Can someone else’s words have that much power over me? Should they?
Mind Over Matter
I have since learned (and really knew all along) that I can control my reactions. It’s a choice. No one’s holding me at gunpoint saying, “You must show a look of disgust.” Although that look may be the easiest response, I can make myself keep a straight face and try to be open-minded. It just takes more effort on my part.
Our minds are more powerful than we may realize, capable of retraining our brains to react in positive ways. People have overcome suicide, depression, and fears of heights and other things by changing their thought patterns. I’ve seen co-workers and friends take a deep breath and come up with just the right words in a subdued response to keep a conversation from escalating.
Saying I have no control over my emotions is a cop-out. Like my friends and co-workers, I can have a measured response that will avert anger. In light of that, I have since had to tell my husband three words I’ve grown better at saying over the years: I was wrong. But I also had to say three words he’s grown to love: You were right.
What about you? How can you react better today?
Christian, wife, mother of 5, breast cancer survivor, marathon finisher, writer and editor, author of "Help! I'm a Science Project"