Order and Chaos – One of my favorite movies is “Six Degrees of Separation,” a 1993 comedy/drama starring Stockard Channing, Will Smith, and Donald Sutherland. I watched it again recently, and found myself paying attention to the scene where the trio of actors discuss a two-sided painting by Wassily Kandinsky, a Russian painter credited as the pioneer of abstract art. On one side, the Kandinsky had a wild and vivid depiction while the other side contained a somber and geometric scene. Sutherland gleefully spins the painting around while Channing recites “Chaos, control, chaos, control…” based on which side is showing. This duality of order and chaos, and their impact on us, is central to every major religion’s teachings about the complexities of humanity and the universe.
The next day I realized that I create my own version of this “Kandinsky” each morning as I enter the shower. An early morning shower to me is magical; the shower stall is a warm cocoon, and although I am naked and vulnerable, inside it I feel safe. In those moments I am transported to a world that exists only inside my brain: a non-reality that allows me to unlock an extremely creative side of myself. In the shower I am eternally young and energetic, leading great battles or arguing monumentally important legal cases. I also become a world-renowned singer, remembering every word and hitting every note of any song I’ve ever heard. In the shower, I am exuberant and immortal, and completely in control.
It doesn’t take long, however, for that bubble to burst. While the shower acts as my Yin, the mirrored wall that awaits me as I exit acts as my Yang. Ugh. There I stand, faced with the fact that I am no longer the young Marine or marathon runner I once was. Now I’m haunted by the extra pounds that never seem to go away. I hate that damn mirror. Even as I rush to throw on a robe to mitigate the shock, it’s too late. My bubble has burst, and my creative mental paradise disappears, transforming instead into a checklist of to-dos and meetings that lie ahead. Enter chaos.
Control, chaos, repeat. It’s an endless loop: retreating to our own private bubbles (whether they’re lined with bath tiles, beach chairs, a golf course, or whatever defines your personal bliss) where we are inspired, relaxed, and the ideal versions of ourselves – only to quickly face the harsh reality that we must enter the realm of chaos to remain productive. Finding that balance is our eternal and divine quest. Too much order and we risk wasting time thinking and not doing (and/or becoming a total bore); too much chaos and we risk losing our creativity and our empathy.
This is particularly true in today’s world of non-stop social media and news stories, which are slowly dehumanizing us. America’s current state of chaos is not due to any one person or political party, but exists because we individually refuse to regularly unplug, recharge, and regain order in our lives. As kids, the pace of society was dictated by set schedules and limited access to alternative distractions: school from 7-3 (no cellphones), home to watch a little TV (“The Great Space Coaster” or “Inspector Gadget” were my go-tos), then television off and homework (with only one radio station or cassette playing), dinner (no phones or TV), and then a little more TV before bed (we all knew the weekly lineup for the three major stations, and there was no ability to easily flip to other shows or binge-watch Netflix).
This pace allowed for productivity as well as quiet time and – dare I say – the chance to get a little bored. It was this boredom that inspired us to build tree forts, play hockey and tennis in the street, and form sandlot football and baseball teams. Boredom allowed us the time to collect baseball cards and comics, do paint-by-numbers, or just sit around and goof off with our friends. I miss being bored, or – more accurately – I miss having the opportunity to be bored. Modern technology has ensured that every waking moment I have can now be filled with something, productive or not.
Technology, however, is not the culprit; we are. We have allowed the healthy lines between order and chaos to completely disappear and now allow ourselves to get totally consumed with useless information. We have created a new strain of anxiety which leads us to believe that if we do not immediately respond to an email or a text message, our careers and friendships will be over. We have forgotten not only how to set boundaries for ourselves, but why boundaries are needed in the first place – namely, to make sure that there is an appropriate mix in our lives between order and chaos.
We must regain control over this equation and restore appropriate boundaries before it destroys us. If we continue at the current level of chaos, which is facilitated and exacerbated by technology, our world will become completely dehumanized because we will be perpetually playing a video game rather than interacting with real human beings with feelings. Wars will continue to be fought on video screens, with no checks or balances on our souls from seeing the real human impact of combat. The extreme anxiety social media causes, particularly in teens and adolescents, will only continue to compound their paranoia and neuroses, leading to higher rates of suicide and school-related violence. We must do better before there is no turning back.
The first step to solving any problem is the admission that a problem exists, and it is time we admit that we have a crisis. We must force ourselves out of this state of chaos by demanding more order in our lives so that this delicate balance can be restored. To do so, we must detach from the incessant beating pulse of Facebook and Instagram and allow ourselves to once again have direct human interaction and experience the world for what it is, rather than what it looks like in a picture. We must stop obsessing over junk news snippets and force ourselves to do deep dives into critical issues, so our thinking can be balanced and mature. We must allow ourselves to once again feel the soil in our hands, the sun on our faces, the sand on our feet, and be bored.
Our future depends on it.
WINE OF THE WEEK
2012 Bloomer Creek, Gewurztraminer ($23.99) – This is a delicious find from the Finger Lakes region of New York. For those who have never tried a “Gewurz” this is a must-have as an introduction to this most delicious grape. For those who have enjoyed this varietal before, you will be impressed with the complexity it has to offer. Served ice cold, this white wine is brimming with pear and apricot. We enjoyed it with spicy tilapia and will be reordering this one for sure.
Find Your Inner Marine – A big thank you to my friend Jim Aspromonti of Marcum for inviting me to present “Leading Your Business the Marine Corps Way” to his colleagues last month – in the middle of tax season, no less! I enjoyed sharing strategies about how to adopt the Marine Corps playbook to develop leadership skills and empower even the unlikeliest future leaders in your organization. Turns out everyone has an inner Marine, even accountants! Thank you also to Carolyn Mazzenga and her team for the warm welcome.
There’s No “I” in Team – To celebrate CMM’s anniversary, we get together for Team Day every March. Now that we have team members across three different offices, this year it was more important than ever to get everyone together for leadership training, food, and fun. New this year was a CMM trivia game – answer a question correctly for the chance to spin the wheel for prizes including a free PTO day, free lunch, and more! Then we gathered at La Villetta II to enjoy a delicious meal and each other’s company. Everyone was engaged and shared great ideas, and I think it may have been our best Team Day yet.
Savvy Business Owner – CMM Academy hosted our first “Savvy Business Owner” panel in our training room last month, welcoming friends and clients Joe Camberato of National Business Capital and Services and Jeff Weiner of HKM Associates to share strategies to gain traction in your business by cutting costs, improving cash flow, and increasing profitability. I enjoyed moderating the conversation and look forward to hosting more impactful panels like this one in the future. Shout-out to Mitch York for sponsoring and providing copies of one of my favorite leadership books, Traction, to all attendees.
Hauppauge Industrial Park: The Next Generation – At the HIA-LI board meeting held in CMM’s training room last month, James Lima and his team from James Lima Planning + Development shared the results of their analysis for the next phase of the Hauppauge Industrial Park project. Folks, you don’t want to miss this – please join us on April 24 for breakfast and a panel discussion, where the results will be shared with the business community. There’s so much economic opportunity here. I’m excited to moderate the panel and I hope to see you there!
East End Breakfast – We had a terrific crowd at our recent Business Breakfast in Southampton, where I shared my personal leadership lessons from my experience in the Marine Corps with the East End business community. It was a pleasure to partner with the Stony Brook Alumni Association for this terrific event – many thanks to Teachers Federal Credit Union (TFCU) and Hampton Pest Management for sponsoring.
Entrepreneurs Edge – I returned to my interviewer’s chair for this year’s Entrepreneurs Edge at the Stony Brook College of Business, where I had the pleasure of interviewing Dawn Zier, President and COO of Tivity Health (of which Nutrisystem is a part). I spoke with the Long Island native and Stony Brook alum about her leadership journey and advice for future leaders. Her comment that leaders need two qualities – the ability to influence and the ability to negotiate – really resonated with me. We had a terrific conversation (and it turned out her brother was one of my closest childhood friends!) and I appreciated the opportunity to learn from her experience.
So much winning – We had another fantastic crowd for CMM Academy’s second breakfast focusing on Winning – the leadership lessons of Jack Welch. Over 50 attendees enjoyed hot breakfast, networking, and leadership training based on my take on Welch’s business bible. I appreciate HKM Associates and Sexy Salad for sponsoring. Stay tuned for details of our next leadership workshop this June.
Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday weekend!