According to Ann Curzan, a dean at the University of Michigan, learning how to “Recombobulate” is the secret to tacking any challenge. Dean Curzan reflected in a much overdue (2 year Covid delayed) commencement address that over the past few years we were all discombobulated in one way or another. It was a time of fear. Many of us were worried about who we could see, where we could go. We were busy washing vegetables and hunting for toilet paper. School and work radically changed along with political unrest, racism, etc.

People were dying from COVID, and we saw an unprecedented rise in mental health issues along with a sadly steady increase in substance abuse and suicide. Along the way, Curzan posited that we must “Recombobulate.” In other words, put things back together so we can face a new challenge.

The word, Recombobulate itself is relatively new. With all the flying I do (I am writing this while flying) I had never heard of it thou it must be because I guess like many of you, have never flown thru the Milwaukee airport where the word was coined as the place you go after you go through security “The Recombobulation Area” is where you put your shoes and belt back on, or sweaters, or jackets, etc, get your laptop all together after belongings have been checked. You know the drill. We have all been there done that. We put things back together though in a new order after things have been taken apart.

According to Curzan, “quality recombobulation” is a key skill in life. It acknowledges that life can kick us around and leave us in disarray, and that we can get back up and recombobulate knowing we will have to do it all again. I thought about that and realized that big word speaks to what we do personally and professionally.

When our clients come to us, they are in disarray; they are discombobulated, their hearts are hurting, and they are worried about themselves and their loved ones. How often do we hear we want our son, husband, father, brother, partner or daughter, sister, wife back? We yearn for a flat terrain, a return to the way things never were, yet when we seek help we are climbing a mountain and in the aftermath we climb new mountains which change the trajectory of our lives and those we care about.

Yes, life is ultimately full of challenges which we cannot always control and yet we can look at these as opportunities. How often do we hear parents say, for example, their child’s addiction gives them the gift of looking at themselves and changing their behaviors?

Edvard Munch - The Scream - Google Art ProjectYesterday I was in Norway, Oslo, to be exact. If any of you have ever been there, then you know Oslo has many magnificent architectural structures, amongst them The Munch Museum, and the Oprah House.

Inside the Munch Museum, you see the agony of Munch. His heart cries out in his famous painting “The Scream” which he painted following a visit to his sister who was locked inside an insane asylum. As he visited the inmates, the walls reverberated with screams so much that he felt compelled to paint the anguish of his tortured sister.

Other works show the deep disarray he felt, reflecting his bouts with alcoholism, other drugs and his relationship to other women and his own demons that tortured him. Yet he could recombobulate, and complete massive works of The Sunlight and the creation of the earth clearly show the mountains he climbed and how each mountain gave him new opportunity.

Oslo Opera House (Den Norske Opera)On the other hand, the Oprah House is full of cultural abundance. It houses the ballet, the opera and the orchestra and is a hub of grace, though not without its own mountains when one thinks of the dedication the artists have and the many mountains, they must climb to fulfill their dreams.

Symbolically, Oslo’s Opera House invites you in with its melodious sound and beckons you to climb to the top. The Oprah house is a magnificent concrete mountain with a somewhat gentle though steady slope not for the faint of heart that allows you to walk to the top and walk back down, increasing your own melody. I must have climbed this mountain at least 5 times in two days, searching for a way to recombobulate so that I could face the next challenge that awaited me. Each time I climbed the mountain showed be a different facet and while I may have taken a different path it got easier while the real-life challenges I had remained the same. I just became more prepared to climb the mountain and discovered delight in traversing in new ways.

I liked to believe as Cruzan posited in her commencement speech, climbing each mountain “makes us stronger” more resilient and better prepared for the next one, for life is a series of mountains. So I ask you, colleagues, my friends, how do you recombobulate? How do you help the beautiful individuals and families that we serve?