One of the big insurance companies had an advertising campaign with “Mayhem” as a character. In the first commercial, Mayhem was a teenage girl who is driving and texting. Her best friend kissed a boy that she liked, and she loses control of the car, hitting a parked car. The campaign went on to show other ways that things happen in life (and, of course, how this insurance company protects you). The ads were memorable and so they did the job.
The truth is chaos happens. We get into situations where things fly out of control and chaos erupts; to paraphrase Marvel baddie Thanos, “it is inevitable.” The important thing to remember about chaos is not that it happens, rather how we remain calm and handle the situation.
Back in the day I was a restaurant worker. Starting as a dishwasher and busboy, I became a waiter, floor supervisor, kitchen manager, assistant manger and then Manager of Dining Room Operations, and I was still a kid. Most chain restaurants experience rushes during the course of the day and sitting in one of the largest malls in the USA, we had our rushes. I would help up front getting people seated as soon as possible, while helping the service staff attend to the customers. However, early on, I was a maniac. I would come up front, see the line of customers, see the seating chart and run around trying to help. From my perspective, I was trying to efficiently seat everyone and get them food. From customer’s perceptions, I was a nut job. My actions were viewed as panicked.
A colleague took me to the side and gave me some advice. He knew my passion was in the right place, but my actions were haphazard and chaotic. I took this advice to heart, slowed down, and started to create a sense of calm during the storm. Now I am able to handle all kinds of chaotic surroundings with a sense of calm (and as a pastor, there are plenty of chaotic circumstances).
Emergency responders regularly operate in states of chaos, yet they always seem to be in control. Everyone knows their part, everyone knows what to do, even if that means taking a moment to assess situations rather than run forward into the fire. We can do the same thing in any chaotic situation.
Do not just jump in, rather assess, consider options, look at the tools around you (especially co-workers) and then calmly proceed. The world will not end if you take a moment to center yourself, the situation will not grow worse if you make a conscious decision to be calm.
But this takes practice. We all need to take moments away from the work to breathe, meditate and be still. Practice this during the calm times, make it a practice to stand up every 45 minutes, stretch, walk around and, if possible, go outside. Do some deep breathing and then return to work. You will find yourself calming down almost immediately. Then, when chaos comes, you will be ready, just do the same thing.