May 31, 2012 Philip J.W. Smith & Co.

From Chaos to Calm

I had the privilege to be one of the weekly presenters for Good Works – a Toronto-based group established to serve, support and encourage the transitioning, employed, unemployed, re-entering the workforce, as well as retirees and those soon to be retired.

When Carol Roberts – the workshop creator – showed me the list of potential topics on which I could speak, the only one that truly stuck me was this: From Chaos to Calm.

It struck me because it has been the journey of my life over the past several years. To be able to look at that topic on a sheet of paper and suddenly realize that it was a tangible reality for me, made it much easier for me to share on such a vulnerable topic.

I was, at the same time, both humbled and overwhelmed by the response I received from those who attended Good Works the evening I spoke. So much so, that I thought others might be able to glean personal insights and encouragement from my own story.

I think the person who may best understand the series of chaotic events that have occurred in my life over the past fifteen years would be James Yorke – the creator of the Chaos Theory, better known as The Butterfly Effect.

The story of the butterfly effect can be used to better explain chaos theory and the idea that an act that is small, distant, and seemingly random can have colossal life-changing consequences. The most insignificant of daily choices can adversely affect the future or trigger a chain reaction of serendipity. (Medill Reports, Chicago Northwestern University)

James Yorke is also the one who made this statement: “The most successful people are those who are good at plan B.”

How many of us have had to switch to Plan B at some point in our lifetimes? For some of us Plan F is even familiar territory!

For me, Plan B or Plan F (…even Plan Q…!) always seem to result from a lifemine. Consider your own journey. Have you ever stepped on a lifemine?

You already have a visual, don’t you?!

Walking through the routine, heading down the same path as you have 1000 times before, and then suddenly your foot hits the trigger buried just slightly underneath the surface of your life and – KABLOOEY!!!   It’s like Ridley Scott has directed that moment of your life and the rest of the world is lined up for a ticket to this blockbuster event! You have hit a lifemine!

Facebook has what they call Timeline. They randomly switched me over to Timeline last month, without asking me of course (this isn’t the time or place to vent, Phil), but as I looked back through the Timeline of my Facebook existence, what that did was cause me to reflect on years prior to my Facebook existence. I was immediately taken back through the timeline of my real existence and I continually found myself coming face-to-face with the landmines of my life.

June 1997: Fired first time in my life. Lifemine!!! How do I feed my 3 month old son? Chaos!

Sept 1998: Changed careers paths completely after 14 months of looking for a role. Calm.

Feb 2000: Management change. Fired a second time. Lifemine!!! How do I pay the mortgage? Chaos!

Mar 2000: Picked up by a competitor. Better salary and spilt! Calm!

Feb 2001: After 4 years of trying to make it work, she’s had enough. Lifemine!!!  How do I tell my kids? CHAOS!

May 2003: My father has a massive stroke. Three weeks later – lifemine!!! How do I care for Mom? CHAOS!!

January 2004: Random morning and Amber appears in my life. Calm seems possible again.

Dec 18, 2004: Mom’s gone now too. ATOMIC lifemine!!! How will I replace that love? CHA-OS!!!

Oct 2005: New professional partnership. First time in control. Calm on the horizon.

Nov 25, 2005: Amber commits in public ceremony and can’t get away now! Calm builds a home. Sigh….!

Jan 2012: Three offices nation-wide, 8 associates, great fiscal year! Calm has taken root.

March 01, 2012: Announce I am dissolving the business partnership. Self-inflicted lifemine!! Chaos?! Yes, but it’s good!

March 02, 2012: Philip J.W. Smith & Co. is born. Calm is all around me.


“The most successful people are those who are good at Plan B.”


I have become a master of Plan B!

What did I do when faced with lifemines that lead to chaos in my life?

1. I found a point of strength within myself. Something that drove me forward no matter what.

For me that was my children.

In fact, when I look at every lifemine in my life, my kids have been that one constant that has proven to be the motivation to keep moving forward. My kids are my point of strength, and I am sure if you were to take time to itemize your life, you too, would able to find that point that motivates you more than any other.

2. I found a point of strength outside of myself. Something that I could hold on to no matter what.

In all of the situations that have been lifemines in my journey, in all of those moments that have lead to incredible chaos, the one thing that I personally have seen as a constant are my principles, which have shielded me from so much of the debris that lifemines create.

Find something that is unshakable for you – and hold on to it. Tight.

3. I never focused solely on the destruction. I created a plan for what was to come.

If all I had ever done in the aftermath of these moments that have made up my life is look backward and see all the carnage and destruction that these lifemines had brought with them, I would have been catatonic and never would have been able to move forward, never would have been able to plan for what’s to come.

“I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.” 

Thomas Paine

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Comments (2)

  1. Brian

    Thanks for being vulnerable Phil and encouraging us others as we keep working on Plan . . .

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