Those two little words release cortisol (that ugly stress hormone) into my (Carol’s) bloodstream. Lord knows I have plenty of that already. For anyone who knows me well, this won’t come as much of a surprise: I like things tidy and neat. My shoes are kept in boxes with photos of each shoe on the outside. Ironing is one of my favorite chores (sheer nirvana when the wrinkles disappear). A broom is a the most fabulous invention, no?

Yet, I’ve been reflecting on the value of “messiness” in many corners of my life lately. And what I’ve been realizing is that while I adore order and ultimate structure in so many aspects of my life, I embrace and actually encourage messiness in so many others. I even work hard to create it because (gulp) it has value. It’s true.

Example: One of my pet teaching strategies (we call them “pedagogies”) is service-learning, also known as community-based learning. In service-learning you meet a course objective (like helping students become better intercultural communicators) by having them help meet a community need (like partnering with local immigrant students who desire English language practice). I’ve chosen to use community-based learning in almost all of my classes for over 13 years. And strangely enough, the best service-learning is always messy. Argh! I don’t get to control the learning in the traditional way. I don’t get to structure it like I do most days in class. I have to embrace and expect messiness. And, oddly enough, I LOVE it! True, I probably love it most when the messiness morphs – which it always does – into learning. But still, a mess is necessary and good to get us to that great place of valuable growth.

And then there are relationships. I’m often heard lecturing about theories and principles of healthy relationships. Many of those “theories” are simply the reality that relationships are messy. They’re not linear, predictable, neat, orderly systems. Rather, our relationships – especially the healthy ones – are messy. Unpredictable. Up and down. And seriously, who would really want it any other way? Out of the mess emerges something more “real.” Real interesting. At times really challenging. But that’s what relationships are: Growing, changing, adapting, transformative systems. Beautiful idea, isn’t it? Just think how boring our lives might be if everything were neat and tidy. Ho hum.

I’m think I’m writing this blog to encourage all of us (okay, saying something out loud is the best form of self-persuasion!) to believe a mess might be a great thing. Where are some of the messes in your life and relationships? Might they be leading to additional clarity? More creativity? Elevated motivation? Greater growth?

Try embracing and accepting the messiness in at least one aspect of your life and see what happens. What is the result when when you work with the mess instead of against it?

Do tell!

For now, I’m feeling an urge to go iron a shirt or two.