Yes, chaos. And, comfort.
How to create a fulfilling balance of structure and spontaneity in your life.
Open my planner to any day in this month and you’re likely to find either an entirely blank page because I never got around to filling it in, or a messy bulleted list of items to get done (of which 80% are checked off, the others crossed out with an arrow to the next week, or the occasional item that was simply abandoned). Open my calendar and you’ll see why every three days or so I’m sleeping in a different place, look at my car’s odometer and you’ll notice I’ve put close to 6,000 miles on those tires in the last five weeks, ask me how my life is going right now and I’m almost guaranteed to use the word “chaotic” to describe it.
I think most of us at any given time feel like our lives are either too chaotic or too comfortable. If you’re like me and you like having a plan for nearly every moment of your life, you probably avoid the chaos. Or perhaps you’re also like me, but in the sense of getting bored easily; a comfortable routine can feel dull and meaningless. I’ve found myself struggling internally with these contradictory ideas, because while I can be hyper-organized and I love structure (I keep both an online calendar and a paper planner and I usually have three to-do lists going at any given time; it’s almost embarrassing), I simply can’t just do the same thing every day for weeks at a time, either. I find peace in the comfort of routine, but I come alive through the stress of chaos. The difficulty for me, and perhaps for you, too, is knowing how to keep a healthy balance to avoid whiplash between the two.
This season of mild chaos in my life has been deeply meaningful. I’ve written about it in prior weeks, but as I near a new semester and a new routine, I’m looking for ways to let both the structured and the free-spirited side of my personality thrive. As much as I love being in a different state every week or two, it’s not something I can keep up for an extended period of time and still thrive in it; this is one of the several patterns I’ve been noticing over the last few years and I’m working to better leverage these ideas.
Establish stability even in chaotic times
A regular morning routine that always looks the same is simply impossible when you’re sleeping on a friend’s couch one night and driving to another state the next day and logging on to a work meeting from a coffeeshop the next. Finding stability throughout those days, though, is vital. This stability can come in a myriad of ways. I have a couple people I call every day or every week, and they keep me grounded in who I am and what’s important to me. I spend time in some type of Bible study or reading plan and am reminded of the way I’m called to live in relation to the people around me.
My mother has mastered this idea of stability even in the very volatile lifestyle of a farmer. Since marrying my father and moving to the farm, she’s developed an extraordinary ability to remain unshaken by the unexpected. Cows busting through fences, an abrupt rainstorm altering harvesting plans, grandkids suddenly needing babysitting so my brother can care for a sick sheep, a neighbor needing support… the list goes on, events both large and small, yet she continues to calmly handle all of it without even appearing stressed. How does she do it? I’m still not entirely sure, but she tells me (and I can see) it’s largely from a deep undercurrent of peace in her life due to her faith that the Lord’s purpose will always prevail. That’s how she finds stability in chaos, and I’m learning to do the same.
Regardless of where you find your stability, it keeps the chaos less, well, chaotic. It might be the belief system you hold, the people you surround yourself with, or the habits you keep, or a combination of all three, but it’s critical to identify those things. Find what helps you thrive, what keeps your sanity in the insanity, and don’t be bothered if it’s not the same for you as everyone else.
Change before you’re ready to change
My high school band teacher would always tell us the best concerts are the ones where the performers play just enough songs to leave the audience wanting more. I’ve found this to be true in most areas of life. If you’re hanging out with your friends and you wait until you’re tired of them to leave, you’ve stayed too long. If you work a temporary job and realize you’re going to hate it if you keep doing it, don’t wait until you actually hate it to move on. I’m not advocating for a lack of commitment here; being reliable is important, and often there’s a hill to be climbed before work becomes even more meaningful because it got difficult for a period. But, when it comes to things like routines and shorter-term commitments, knowing when to switch it up is a good way to balance chaos and comfort.
I’ve found I love periods of time where I’m living out of a suitcase and driving hundreds of miles in a day, but if I did it all the time, I would hate it. I did it for a year after high school with state FFA office, and I thrived. Then I slowed down for a bit in my first year of college. When the pandemic hit, I found myself thriving in a simple routine of homework, farm work, and I picked up my running habit again. Yet, before I got tired of that routine, I moved to another state for a summer, took a long road trip before moving to school and running for national FFA office. Now, while the thing I’m looking forward to most about going back to college is a routine, I’m already making plans to throw a little chaos into the mix partway through the semester.
If you have a routine you love, find a way to spice it up before you get bored. If you’re thriving in a season of chaos, look for a way to bring some routine into it before you get burnt out. Don’t wait until you’re overwhelmed by one lifestyle before you gravitate to another. The last thing you want to do is end up with a bitter taste in your mouth because the band played one too many songs and you got tired of the sound.
Purpose, purpose, purpose.
Creating some type of stability and knowing when to change up a routine are two of the patterns I’ve noticed help bring balance to chaos and comfort, but at a more foundational level, simply understanding your purpose will bring more clarity than anything else. Why do I love chaos? It keeps my mindset fresh, reminds me I don’t have to be in control of every moment of my day (which we never are, anyway, so we might as well embrace it), and brings spontaneous fun which brightens my life so I can brighten others’ lives, too. But the comfort creates structure for me to live out my calling, gives me time to relax and recharge, and reduces the amount of decisions I have to make in a day because I’ve already created a routine that repeats, day after day. Maybe your purposes are the same, or perhaps they’re different; regardless, knowing the “why” behind the balance of chaos and comfort will bring the most stability.