Bursts of Joy in the Middle of Chaos

As I write this note today, the wind is howling, airlines are canceling flights, trees are falling on power lines and the temperature is plummeting. Christmas is two days away, and the weather is going to add challenges to everything from travel to taking the dog out for a potty break. I’m not traveling – but I have a lot of potty breaks in front of me over the next few days with our new puppy Piper!

The weather is going to cause all kinds of problems and challenges for people over the next few days. The question is “What do we do with our problems and challenges?” One of the most freeing thoughts we can have is to recognize that problems and challenges are part of life. They are not going away. There’s nothing we can do to change the weather. However, we can dress for it. The same is true for all the “impediments” that come along.

In fact, I’m going to argue that inside of every impediment is a burst of joy.

This week, I had two projects that gave me a chance to experience the possibility to turn complications into personal growth.

The first one involved framing a picture. It’s something I’ve done hundreds of times. So, when I decided to do it, I allocated 30 minutes start to finish. Looking at it now, I just laugh. This simple task turned into a problem-solving playground. I just had to remember to play along by treating problem solving as one of my Tools instead of, well, problems. The first hurdle came when I decided to convert a stand-up frame to hanging frame. I was easily able to remove the backing that held the stand. However, once that was done, I realized that the backing also acted as the tunnel to hold the picture and mat in place. No problem. Next problem to solve was how to cut away only the stand, leaving the rest of the backing in place. No problem. Next, I had to re-glue the backing to frame. No problem. Next, I covered the whole thing with framing paper. It looked beautiful and professional. I admired my work, recognizing that I had one more step and the project was complete. Good thing, because I had about 5 more minutes until I needed to move on to other commitments.

Except the one more step had many smaller steps within.

I gathered my framing wire, brackets, screws and a screwdriver to set the frame up for hanging. This typically takes about 5 minutes. I didn’t bother to get my power screwdriver for such a small job. I measured and started to install the screws on the first bracket. No matter how hard I held it down, the backing pulled away from the frame. After trying several different angles, I had to move on to my next project. In the meantime, I had the question in my mind “Is this the right frame for this project?”

As I moved through this whole process, what struck me most was how much I enjoyed the problems as much as the successes. Being able to set aside the inner critic standing on the sidelines trying to tell me what a bad job I was doing was huge. So was being able to work each step in the moment and treat every problem as an opportunity. All of this came out of my quest to get back on the horse. What I thought were riding lessons were really lessons in how to raise my pressure threshold. It’s turned out to be a priceless side benefit.

The next day, I came back to the framing project, resolved to finish with this frame and then evaluate the end result to see if it lined up with the picture I had in my mind. From there, I would decide whether to stick with this frame or get another one. However, the choice would be taken from me.

I still had not figured out how to solve the problem with the backing, so I brought out my power drill. First, I reglued the backing and replaced the framing paper. Then I drilled small holes for the screws to follow. Finally, I used the power drill to turn the screws. Success! The first bracket went on beautifully. I set the second bracket in place and repeated the same process as before. This time, I heard a big crack. My heart sunk. When I turned the frame over, I expected to see broken glass. My first quick thought was “I have lots of glass. I can replace it.” What I saw blew away that notion. The frame itself had cracked. Now I had my answer. This was definitely NOT the right frame.

I ended up picking up a whole different frame while running errands later in the week. It was the ideal frame for the job, and indeed, the whole framing process only took about 10 minutes. The picture ended up looking great.

However, it wasn’t the end goal that gave me a burst of joy. It was taking myself through every problem-solving step, without letting the end goal define me. Every successful mini-step gave me a burst of joy.

The second project looked at the outset like it would be a big deal. One of my rugs had a thread come loose. I knew immediately not to cut it, but instead, to pull it through from front to back. All I needed was a small enough crochet needle. Way back in the 70’s, I did crochet. Did my hoarding tendencies cause me to keep all those needles I used to have? And if so, would I be able to find them? It turns out, the answer was yes and yes. I quickly found the bag of needles, pulled out the smallest one, pushed it through the rug, captured the wayward thread, pulled it back through and returned the needle to its place in about 2 minutes. A project I had expected to be full of problems turned out to flow as smooth as silk. Again, it was the process, not the end goal that gave me a burst of joy.

These lessons are especially important as we go about training our new puppy Piper. She’s learning very fast. While she has all the important puppy commands down in our home, where there’s low pressure, she sometimes falls apart when we are out with other people and dogs.

I have to remember not to let the end goal of “perfect dog” define me, but rather take joy in breaking her training down into smaller and smaller steps. In so doing, not only will she learn, but I too will raise my pressure threshold.

As we go through the season of joy, how can you find moments of peace in the middle of chaos and challenges? How can you break seemingly large and difficult tasks into smaller, joyful steps? In what ways can you choose your outlook and thoughts? How can you see your mistakes and failures as the catalysts to your personal growth?

If you are interested in understanding more about raising your pressure threshold and finding joy in the middle of things not going according to plan, my book Dancing the Tightrope dives deep into these ideas. You can get it here on Amazon.