Finding joy in the mess

Life gets messy. Well, life is usually messy.

I am uncomfortable with messes both of the literal and figurative variety. I like things in order. I am a ENFJ and have Arranger in my top 5. My Outlook calendar is color coordinated. A cluttered desk gives me anxiety. Leaving an issue unaddressed causes me to toss and turn throughout the night.

None of this compares to being the dad of a growing, running, get-into-everything, toddler. If you think life is messy, wait until you have a kid.

Last night after a particularly challenging messy few days at work I was home feeding my daughter her dinner. On the menu: pasta. I know what you’re thinking. Yes, it was messy. Dinner usually is. Sippy cups being hurled across the room, vegetables being dropped on the dog, and thoughts of “how the hell did sauce get all the way over here?” set the scene. I stand ready, armed with paper towels, eager to wipe away the first glimpse of sauce. This is our usual routine.

Thinking my 17 month old can and will understand her dad’s appreciation of order in this chaos, I grab her spoon. I attempt to feed her the pasta, so to make less of a mess. If there is one thing toddlers like more than flinging food around, it is a sense of independence. My wanting to feed her was no match for her desire to now play with the spoon. The spoon transformed into a comb, something to poke dad with, and a paint brush (to add color to her clothes). Then, like a child genius experimenting with physics, she learned how to use the spoon to launch her food in a new and fun way. Once in a while, she would attempt to use the spoon as intended, but that was short-lived. She would go right back to using this simple utensil in other fun ways. I suppose there is a lesson in that, too.

Through my obvious and visual frustration, there came a moment; a special and important one which I will never forget. As I am wiping up the floor, moving everything out of the way so it does not get covered in sauce, I look up in defeat and anguish at my daughter. Seemingly out of nowhere, she laughs. This wasn’t a giggle or a chuckle, but a full on toddler belly laugh. You probably know the kind. The kind that could put a smile on the face of anyone. After a few seconds, I join her. Eventually, the two of us sit there laughing, playing with her food, and enjoying the mess.

While this may never be something she remembers, it is one of those parenting moments I will cherish forever. This night taught me something important; to find joy in the mess. Like trying to feed a toddler, life’s messes are impossible to avoid. They happen. We don’t get to choose our messes or when and why they happen to us. What we do get to choose is how we respond to them. We can feverishly try to clean them up, frustratingly so when it doesn’t happen as quickly as we would like. Or, we could pause, take a breath, laugh, and enjoy the mess with those around us.

At the end of the day, the furniture was still its original color, the immediate sauce splash zone cleaned, and the toddler restored back to her normal skin color from the orange-red tone the sauce gave her. The mess was eventually cleaned. Unlike other messes, however, this one provided a memory because we found the joy.


Photo taken during last night’s mess. 


A Little Positivity Goes a Long Way

I was struck by something very clearly this weekend while working with a team of students and staff to welcome over 420 accepted students and their families to campus: genuine positivity is contagious.

Let me share a story to highlight this. A student leader came up to me at the end of the day and asked me this question (I paraphrase): How can you remain so calm, cool, and upbeat while all of (series of challenges out of our control) was going on? I responded by asking her what would happen if I didn’t. What would happen if I was flustered, mad, annoyed (at least visibly)? She thought some and came to the realization that it would trickle down. It would impact she and her fellow leaders. From them, it would pass down to the Orientation Leaders they supervise and eventually to our guests; accepted students and their families.

We may not have all the answers, things will go wrong, and we certainly are not perfect. However, if you approach these imperfections and challenges with a positive attitude, you will prevail and others around you will follow. Positivity multiplies, and it does so quickly.

Positivity is my top strength according to StrengthsQuest. Until very recently, I have taken this for granted. What I mean by this is that I never considered my positivity as a strength, rather a personality trait. I now notice more how positivity from a leader or supervisor can motivate, encourage, and empower those he or she is leading.

As contagious as positivity is, negativity is more so. One negative person in a meeting can dampen a mood. One negative encounter with a person during a day filled with many positive interactions can stand out and, in many cases, ruin an otherwise fantastic day. This is why it is vital that leaders lead with positivity. This of course is not easy, but will benefit the organization in the long run. I know at least for me, the happier I am, the better and harder I work.

What do you do to bring positivity into your day and for others around you?