How Much or Little Can You Control?

There’s a lot in my life I can control. I can control what I eat, and often when I eat it. I can control when I go to bed at night, even if I can’t control my occasional insomnia. I can control what I choose to do with my time: which projects to start and finish, the clients I take, the books I read and write.

Things I can’t control: my vertigo. Other people’s reactions to me or to my work. They control their reactions—I can’t.

I don’t think of this as stoicism, although I guess it has some elements in common with it.

I consider this reality. Really—how much of your daily life can you control? Your actions. Your reactions.

Does that mean I don’t yell at the tv when I hear what I consider idiocy in our elected officials? Of course, I do. I’m human. I yell. And, I might even ask my poor suffering husband an unanswerable question, such as, “Why do they think that will work?” (He shrugs and smiles. There is no answer to those questions.)

But, I don’t allow the opinions of others to change the course of my life. I don’t let other people become the puppet master of my thoughts or emotions.

That’s why I don’t mind if some people don’t like what I say or what I write. I don’t receive feedback early enough to change. And, even if I did, I might not change what I say or how I say it.

I was on a call with a potential client this morning, discussing a workshop based on one of my books. “Oh,” he said, “It has mostly five-star reviews.”

I said, “It does? I don’t look at reviews.”

The more I write, the less I look at reviews. I like knowing that people find my work valuable. I like knowing they took the time to write a review. And, I sometimes ask people to write reviews because I know other people want to read reviews. (If you’ve written a review for one of my books, thank you very much.) But, I can’t manage the content of those reviews. I can’t do anything about them.

The client was a little surprised by my response.

I suspect that feeling of “no control” for how other people react to what you might say or write deters many of you from extending yourself in some way: speaking up at work, public speaking or writing, or some other form of creative self-expression, known as “art.”

You can control the effort you invest in preparing for a discussion, talk or workshop. You can control the effort in writing a blog post, article, or book. You can invest in making your art the best it can be.

Then, you let it out into the world. You free it from your grasp and see if it lands somewhere. It’s out of your control.

Just as managers can’t really control the people they manage, those of us who create can’t control what people do with our product once we’re done.

I kind of like that. Just imagine if I had to babysit my books! I’d never write another one.

That’s the question this week: How much or how little can you control?

2 thoughts on “How Much or Little Can You Control?

  1. Jim Grey

    I like to tell my teams they have three spheres: the sphere of control, the sphere of influence, and the sphere of “suck it up, buttercup” (aka, the sphere of acceptance). Control the things you can, influence the things that matter. The rest — if you can accept it, do; if you can’t, perhaps it’s time to find another employer.

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