If insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results, what is thinking the same thing over and over despite evidence to the contrary? I refer to my chronic illusion that some day I Will Get Everything Under Control. In my mind, it’s soon, just not now: after my daughter’s basketball season ends, after the guests go home, after I write this piece. It’s such a part of my thinking that the only reason I noticed it is that I caught myself in a conversation with my friend Barb, saying the exact same thing I had told her last year and the year before: “I’m crazy busy now, but after this year, things should calm down.” Barb was gracious enough not to say, “Yeah, right,” but I could sure hear her thinking it.

I’m not alone. It seems as though most of us believe in a mythic place of peace and prosperity, when we will finally have all our papers sorted, our emails answered, and our towels perfectly rolled in the linen closet. All we have to do is (take your pick) read a book on time management; finally get organized; wait until our toddler is out of the pulling-everything-out-of-the-closets phase. Then we do those things and something else pops up as the fly in the ointment. Or we don’t because we’re too darn busy with the forty other issues that came out of nowhere in the meantime.

In reality, we can never get our lives totally under control because so many factors that influence them are not under our command. No matter how organized he or she is, I don’t know one person who has gotten to the end of their to-do list. And there’s relief in that: the more we give up our illusion that we could have it all together if only we were doing everything right, the more we can relax into the reality of our lives as they are—with all their chipped teeth, blown schedules, and jam on the walls.

The best way I’ve found to think about it is that there’s a dance between me and life. Sometimes I’m leading, sometimes I’m following, but the beauty and grace comes from responding to my partner rather than insisting that it must be my way. I’m constantly being asked to learn new steps and somehow I figure out how to do them. And if that means the twenty-two inch high pile of files has to stay on top of my filing cabinet for another three years, so be it.

Come back next time for my top tips for dancing with the messiness of life.

Author's Bio: 

A member of Professional Thinking Partners who is recognized as a leading expert in change, M.J. Ryan specializes in coaching high performance executives, entrepreneurs, individuals, and leadership teams around the world to maximize performance and fulfillment. Her clients include Microsoft, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, Hewitt Associates, and Frito Lay. Her work is based on a combination of positive psychology, strengths-based coaching, the wisdom traditions, and cutting edge brain research. Her new book, titled “AdaptAbility: How to Survive Change You Didn't Ask For” was recently released published by Random House’s Broadway Books. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and daughter.