The most common way of dealing with uncertainty is to close our minds and limit our options and behaviors. The trouble is that the world and the people in it are uncertain, and our typical response to that risks us not exploring that world or ourselves. If you believe the world is flat and that you could fall off the edge of it, then it makes sense never to explore too close to the edge.
In effect, limiting our options and closing our minds means failing to acknowledge, appreciate or explore who we really authentically are. We know ourselves a little less if we choose to stick to the one path, think only in black or white – either/or terms or stick rigidly to well worn routines. The only challenge we pose for ourselves in doing this is to be persistent in stubbornly refusing to be deflected from these self-limited patterns. We are limiting are own systems to operate in predictable and controllable ways. We try to avoid the challenge of the novel, new or different, and live in ignorance of how novelty or difference might alter our lives and therefore we miss out on understanding our hidden potential (and weaknesses). We lose out on insight and growth.
Within the Chaos Theory of Careers, there are 4 Attractors that describe different states of imposed limitation on how our systems operate. The first is called the Point Attractor, which is seen to operate when people try to direct all of their behavior and thoughts toward a single point or goal. The second is called the Pendulum Attractor which is in operation when people seek to reduce all situations and thinking to an either or choice. The third Attractor is called the Torus Attractor and is in operation when people try to limit their lives by following a highly predictable repeating routine, or choose to live completely within a set of limited rules.
It should be obvious that if people are successful in imposing these Attractors on their behavior, everything becomes highly predictable and controllable. They are all closed-systems for closed minds. There is no room for growth, novelty, uncertainty or creativity.
While acting in these ways can be useful or even necessary from time to time, in the longer term, behaving as though the world can be tamed into a narrow goal, a simple binary choice or a set of rules or routines is going to be confounded by the complexity and chaos of the world (and the people in it). The goal posts will shift, the either or decision suddenly has more (or less!) choices, and exceptions to the rule emerge.
Nonetheless living within these Attractors is attractive for many people, because you do not typically need the courage of embracing uncertainty to live within such self-limiting approaches.
The fourth Attractor which is the hallmark of Chaos is called the Strange Attractor. It describes people as the genuinely are – a dynamic mixture of stability and predictability laced with continual change and with the potential for dramatic and unpredictable change as well. Over time, the Strange Attractor leaves its mark with an emergent pattern of behavior that shows a complex mix of self-similar trait-like behavior in the context of continual variation and change – we call such Patterns Fractals and they are the unit of analysis in the Chaos Theory of Careers.
Within the Strange Attractor is a place called the edge of Chaos – this is the point where you (the system) is sufficiently closed to permit some stability and continuity, but also sufficiently open to new ideas, ways of doing things, new experiences etc, that there is the potential for quite radical transformation. The edge of chaos is an exciting but uncertain place to be, and it is a place from where all change comes. It is a place that requires courage to live there.
The forces of complexity and hence change will affect us whether we like it or not. Our attempts at making ourselves closed off will over time break down. For those who doggedly pursue closed approaches to their lives, they will be unprepared for change, and may even try to deny its presence. Those who have the courage to live on the Edge of Chaos are continually learning about and adding to their own resilience and learning more about who they are as a person.
Brene Brown talks persuasively about having the courage to be authentic (link) and acknowledging our vulnerability. I see this in Chaos Theory of Careers terms as living on the Edge of Chaos – by being an open system we are acknowledging that we are vulnerable and subject to unpredictable change. It takes courage as Brene so eloquently expresses to live like that. Ironically, the more we attempt to deny our vulnerability by trying to live within the closed system Point, Pendulum and Torus attractors, the more vulnerable we really are when that change comes.
Finding the courage to live on the edge of chaos provides us with a way to be who we really are, to explore our potentials, to take chances, to be open to change and to recognize our vulnerability.