Chaos or Calm: Make it a Choice, not an Excuse

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I had 15 free minutes today to write and I decided to take full advantage of it.  If you were to see my surroundings  you might ask how could anything meaningful come out of the situation I’m sitting in.  I’m at our Davidson Masterworks School of the Arts location this afternoon.  We teach music, art, theater, and dance, and all of them are going on right now at the same time.  I hear a blend of sounds coming from every direction – Bach, Beethoven on the  pianos….Cat Stevens, Irving Berlin  from the vocal studios…. a scale from a beginning trumpet student which really sounds great for a second lesson!  I can count at least five  different musical styles wafting through the walls at once.  Then there is the visual of what I am seeing through my large glass observation window – two parents signing up their children for art classes….two students from Theater Company quickly rehearsing  a duet for this year’s production of  White Christmas ….. and students laughing and catching up after a week of activities since last week’s rehearsals.  It’s chaos at it’s best!!!  Strangely, it doesn’t shut me down.  Instead it fuels me.  I love what I see and hear because it means there is life and activity at Masterworks.  This is EXACTLY  what I pictured in my mind before the school ever began.  I work really well in the midst of chaos!  It’s my happy place!

Now, contrast that with what I saw this very early morning as I passed my wife’s office door and saw the familiar sight of her methodically working over her long yellow legal pad.  She has Mary Kay people all over the United States she likes to  communicate with on a consistent basis.  I watched her working strategically on a list of negotiable ideas she had to convey in a group communication.  Her computer was shut, her phone was in another room, and the household stereo which she loves to have on was completely silent.  She loves the serenity and calm of the early morning to have time to plan and focus and keep everything on track.  I might add – our laundry room is off to the side of her office.  She already had a load in the washer and one in the dryer by 7:00 a.m.  She already was crossing off her to-do list….one by one, methodically.

Two different people – two different styles.  I thought for years that one was more productive and effective than the other.  Confession – I thought chaos is the straight up winner (my wife is laughing as she reads that statement…) But as I look back over the years I realize neither is better than the other – Chaos or Calm – it really is not the X factor for the entrepreneur.  I have heard many entrepreneurs “blame” their situation or their lack of progress on their circumstances.   I have heard those who claim to thrive on chaos complain that their is nothing going on around them -that  they need activity  and people around them to get inspired and feel like they can work.  No chaos – no progress.  They need synergy, a team, something to be a part of.

Those who need quiet say that with the chaos of a crazy schedule they just can’t get “it” done.  They just have too much chaos in their lives to bring their dreams and plans to reality.

The truth is  each has its place and time.  While our circumstances can often affect our success, I don’t believe it is the central factor that determines our forward momentum.  Too often we make excuses and these are two of the biggest I hear – chaos or calm.   But in honesty,  I believe  neither is really the determining factor of success.  It really is a choice but it’s not the “reason” you succeed or fail, and it really can’t be your excuse either.

After several decades of dealing with entrepreneurs I believe that the magic formula, the one overriding X factor that leads to accomplishment – the determining factor in whether you are celebrating accomplishment or licking your wounds in defeat,  sits right in front of me each day on a small card.   I look at it every time I sit down.  The X factor is:  FOCUS!


FOCUS – that’s the key !  I know there are other words I have added on my card but they flow out of focus.  Ever had your eyes dilated?  When the drops go in and everything becomes out of focus.  Even the simple tasks of life are clumsy, inefficient and just a plain pain in the neck to do.  It doesn’t matter how hard we try – everything we try to do is just a little out of whack.  I hate it when my doctor does it.

I have noticed among people who are achievers and those who are not, focus is a common factor.  Ask them what is important…ask them what the next goal is….ask them why they got out of bed this morning.  The answers usually come quickly and without hesitation.  Focus is the ability to see the finish line clearly;  and order and prioritize the days events and activities.

By the same token, talk to someone who is struggling to pull it all together and what do you get.  Lots  of random thoughts that are in six different directions and each screaming for time and attention.

Just like the words on my shelf, the highest priorities of my life sit on a visual shelf in my mind. Sometimes there are two or more finish lines that I have to deal with at the same time.   I know what they are, I know how they rank and daily, sometimes hourly, I bring them to mind.  There are other things on my radar and other things that distract me, but what determines how I spend the next hour is determined by my focus.  In fact that brings up another important truth that I believe in – having clear focus will help keep momentum going and without momentum nothing gets done.

I am amazed by the people who get all excited about starting something only to see their dreams derailed.  As I look for common denominators, I usually see that  there is no consistent motion in the direction of the goal.  They stop and start, get distracted (often by someone else’s goals) …stop and start and stop and start again.  Regaining momentum after you have sat down or been distracted seems to take twice as long to restart.  And note to self:  trying to regain momentum after you have sat down is like pushing a boulder uphill. Trying to get things going again always seems to take twice as long and be twice as hard as it was the first time.

For the entrepreneur there is often no boss standing over your shoulder demanding you finish a task.  Instead your boss is your own  focus.  Let that sink in for a moment.

So what happens – two,  three days of unfocused inactivity turn into two or three weeks of inactivity which leads to unfulfilled dreams and goals.  Which in turn leads to starting over and over again.

Now  one word of caution – focus can be  the X factor but it can also be our undoing. Your focus  becomes your reality.  When you mistakenly focus on the possibility or probability of failure, you continually question if something will happen,  that’s where you will  end up.

So today, and this week,  keep the focus tight.  There are going to be periods of calm and periods of chaos – accept that fact but don’t let the situation be your excuse or reason.   Keep your vision right in front of you.  The finish line is not as far away as you think.  Let your focus encourage you to keep your priorities straight and your activity consistent.  Your FOCUS will pull you  forward towards your dream.

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