There is a sign at the General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee that I love very much.
It’s visible right after you go through security and are collecting your shoes, belt, wallet, phone, keys, rubber duckie, ping pong paddle, and other essentials. It simply says, “Recombobulation Area.” The fact that it’s printed in a plain, bold, official-looking font makes me love it all the more. (Comic sans would just ruin it.)
Now, “recombobulation” is not technically a word, but what else do you call it when you’re trying to regroup yourself after feeling discombobulated thanks to the TSA screening process?
Barry Bateman is the former airport director who coined the word and suggested the signage, understanding that traveling can be stressful and hoped to put a smile on people’s faces.
I love this for two reasons. First, it’s a great example of how just about everything can benefit from a little whimsy, even one as serious – and important! – as a security checkpoint. Secondly, it makes me think that we should be a little bit more mindful of creating recombobulation areas in our own lives.
Because you know what else can be stressful? Life!
One of the most challenging snippets of time – security lines aside – is that moment when you are transitioning from one role to another. For example, when you go from “work mode” to “home mode” at the end of a long day. You’re still processing the events from the office, and the minute you open the door at home, you are bombarded by the demands, questions, and conversations of your kids, partner, or chatty roommate. Even though you are happy to see each other, the abrupt switch can be mentally taxing.
Enter the recombobulation area.
It’s imperative that we set these areas up in our own lives, in places that make the most sense for us. For example, in a recent discussion in the Escape Adulthood League about secret hideouts, member Sarah M. said this:
“My car is my secret hideout, in those precious few minutes that exist between pulling in the garage, and being discovered that I am home. I read my social media, emails, and listen to my favorite tunes in my closed off confined, temperature controlled world. Not to mention, sometimes I have coffee or snacks left from my lunch box to nibble on🤪 I start to dream and relax and am better prepared to create when I walk in. Sometimes at work, after a long morning, I will go out and sit in my car and recharge. It’s my go to space😂”
Sounds like a pretty effective recombobulation area, no? Giving yourself a few moments to mentally shift gears like this goes a long way toward lowering stress levels. It could be in garage, or in the shower after a workout, or a quick walk around the block before heading inside. It doesn’t really matter WHERE it is, the most important factor is deciding to do it.
Another variation comes from my friend Chris, who suggests this simple idea: on your commute home from work, identify a landmark about halfway between the two, and designate it as the spot where you will consciously switch your mindset. From the time you leave your workplace until the moment you reach the landmark – a certain gas station, for example – you are allowed to think about work and process the day’s events. Once you pass it, work mode switches off, and you start thinking about the next phase of your day. Ready yourself for what lies ahead, whether it’s preparing dinner, or some pressing chore on the to-do list, and envision a peaceful transition.
When I return home from a speaking engagement, I am excited to see Kim and the kids. But she has helped me to protect an important “re-entry” routine in which I have a little space to unpack my bags, put my stuff away, and ease into life at home. These few minutes allow me to be more present to my family, who want to share the adventures they had while I was away.
Recombobulation may not be a real word, but it should be.
And designating an area for it in your life should definitely be something you add to your Adultitis-fighting toolbox.
[ UPDATE: My dad told me he really liked the idea of splitting up your commute and suggested this addition: “Reverse that process and think the same way to work. Spend 1/2 your time reflecting on home and the blessings you have, and the the second half focusing on work knowing that you go to work to provide for who/what you were thinking about during the first half of your commute.” ]