Finding Order In Chaos

Around midnight, on December 16, chaos erupted in Toulon, France. It was 1793. Napoleon Bonaparte led an untrained and undisciplined force to try to end the Siege of Toulon. For over three months the British Royal Navy controlled the harbor with not only their warships but also their occupation of several forts that overlooked the water.

Napoleon’s plan showed not only his ability to think, but also how important it is to maintain order amidst chaos.

In leading up to the nighttime assault, he demonstrated great resourcefulness.

By blending with the local populace, he and his men observed the routines of the British soldiers.

The Frenchmen gathered scrap artillery from the surrounding countryside. In order to free the harbor from the siege, they needed to capture and control the forts.

By attacking the British at night, Napoleon took the enemy by surprise. But more importantly, he used the artillery in the forts to destroy the British ships in the harbor.

“The Society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.” – Thucydides The History of the Peloponnesian War

Chaos exists all around us. It would be foolish to try to eliminate chaos. But even in chaos, there is opportunity. There is opportunity to create order. There is opportunity to use whatever resources you can muster. There is opportunity to develop belief. But first you must be willing to think and to fight.

Epictetus reminds us the importance of being steadfast.

“But one person with right judgment is superior to ten without.” – Epictetus, Discourses

Too often we get stuck in thinking that bigger is better. More resources, more labor, more ideas are needed to succeed. But history is a great teacher. History teaches us that small forces defeat large armies. History teaches us that action overcomes ideas. History teaches us that chaos is inevitable, but order is a choice.

The belief that anything is possible is also a choice.

It is a story you can tell yourself, no matter your situation.

Modern work and life can be chaotic.

But our ability to plan, to think, to act is what has made humans unstoppable for thousands of years.

What sort of planning do you do at work?

How do you think about risk?

When do you stop planning and start acting?

How do you use any and all resources to your advantage?

Your title is not required to lead. You don’t need permission, you need action. You need to tell yourself a better story. You need to find ways to improve your judgment.

“Most people, in fact, will not take trouble in finding out the truth, but are much more inclined to accept the first story they hear.” – Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War

The truth we tell ourselves is a result of many inputs. It could be our thoughts, our words, our actions. It could be the news, our friends, our family, or our co-workers. It could be our lack of discipline, our lack of rest, our lack of focus, our lack of physicality.

The irony is that you have more control than you think. Remember in the chaos you can find order. You can find courage.

“for there is no doubt that courage is the foundation of victory” – Plutarch, On Themistocles

Once you find courage, you will find a way to win.

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