Choosing to Evolve Through Chaos
Our greatest growth often emerges from our most difficult life experiences.
“All great changes are preceded by chaos.” -Deepak Chopra
The last year and a half has been one of the most transformational periods of my life. I wish I could say that’s because I experienced a long list of fun events that inspired me and filled me with joy! Unfortunately, that’s not really the case. As is true for all of us, personal growth and evolution rarely comes from times of peace—it comes from times of chaos.
In fact, it’s been one of the most difficult periods of my life. In early 2020, I put my mom into hospice at her home in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her health was declining from a terminal illness that I knew would take her soon. As her only child, her care fell to me to organize. I spent many days sitting next to her hospital bed, holding her hand. I talked to her. Listened to her favorite music. Tried to distract her from the pain I knew she was feeling and the heavy reality that she didn’t have much time left. As she lost her ability to see and speak, I smiled through tears and tried to focus on the immense gratitude I felt for the time we had. It was hard. Some days, it was almost unbearable.
Of course, I was doing this while we were all living through the global coronavirus pandemic. Early on, I was afraid of the unknown risks of the illness and trying to keep my family and community safe. In between washing food and disinfecting packages before bringing them inside, I was clumsily helping my kids log into Zoom meetings and turn in homework assignments online. At work, mental health issues were snowballing all around me—anxiety, depression, eating issues, drinking, addictions, domestic violence—everything we struggle with as humans seemed to be escalating. And, in May, George Floyd was killed less than 10 miles from my mom’s house. This vaulted Minneapolis and the entire country into heated conversations about police reform, racial discrimination, and issues of multicultural competency. Practically and philosophically, my world was in chaos.
Looking back, there were times that I wasn’t sure how I’d get through it. I felt overwhelmed by responsibility. Afraid of the state of our country. Helpless to save my mom. Incompetent at being a parent. Suffocated by the lack of time and space to process the changes that were occurring all over my life.
And, I was also confronted with the fundamental crux of the human condition: Choice. For in times of chaos, we have to answer one fundamental question that will dramatically determine our experience moving forward: How am I going to respond to this? Am I going to let it break me and crumble into a ball of despair? Crawl into a bottle? Become bitter and angry at the injustices and unfair realities that surround me? Or, am I going to choose to respond with what I see as the best of humanity—with grace, gratitude, kindness, compassion, endurance, and empathy for myself and everyone around me? To see this as a learning experience, ripe with gifts for growth if I embrace them? I choose the latter.
This isn’t to say that I always responded well. I had many moments that I would like to take back—believe me! And grieving losses is part of the journey of transformation. But, intention matters. Taking steps to do the right thing matters. Choosing to exemplify the best of humanity in the face of adversity matters. And I hope we all strive for it.
I’m sharing some of my personal story with you not because I’m an exception. Far from it—I’m quite sure that each of you have your own stories of chaos in recent times. The last couple of years have been full of stress for most Americans. I’m sharing with you because it’s precisely these times of chaos that can lead us all to our next great life adventure. For when we lose things that are familiar, that felt safe, that seemed secure, that we loved, that throw us off our routine, we’re confronted with a choice: How are we going to respond?
The Naked Truth is This:
We’re most likely to change during times of chaos because it’s precisely in those times that we can’t afford to stay the same. As I emerge from this deeply transformative period of my life, I hope you know that if you’re struggling, you’re not alone. And that it’s never too late to turn difficult life experiences into your greatest strengths—for through the chaos, you can choose to transform yourself and your life into something new. No matter how hard things seem at any given moment, don’t let it break you. Don’t let it seduce you into becoming a lesser version of yourself. Instead, see it as an opportunity to evolve into the next phase of your life. To do that, ask yourself: What have I learned about myself through this experience? What matters the most to me? What is fulfilling to me? What am I most compelled by? Let your answers to those questions guide your behavior.
One thing that’s become abundantly clear to me in the last couple of months is that I’m still passionate about using psychology to help people live more fulfilling lives. So, I’ve revised my website to make it more user-friendly to non-academic audiences (DrCortney.com), am writing a self-help book on breakups (more on that to come!), and will be giving more workshops for the public teaching skills to change (the first will be the Human Behavior Conference in March, 2022). I hope these resources inspire others to evolve through their own life chaos.
Copyright Cortney S. Warren, PhD ABPP
Note: I cannot respond to personal requests for advice over the internet. Best on your continued journey.
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