You can’t have it all (under control)

The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails. ~William Arthur Ward

One of the reasons I started my own business was to have more control over what I was doing, and when I was doing it. I also preferred trusting in my own ability to make a living — rather than having someone else decide how much I was worth.

crownFor the most part, that has worked out. In my office, I am King. Being in that context feels great. I have my chair, my computer, my phone, the music I like. It’s all the way I like it.

This control can be intoxicating. In a world where so much is changing — technology, culture, media, my family, my community — it’s nice to have a refuge.

But this control is an illusion.

So many things are outside of my control. I can’t control my clients; sometimes I do great work for them and they don’t appreciate it. I can’t control my employees; sometimes their work stinks and they don’t realize it. I can’t control changes in laws and regulations that can add complication and cost to what I do. The list goes on … teenagers, fiscal cliffs, aging parents, my own health…

When that illusion of control gets pierced, when the real world rears its ugly head, it can be disturbing; if you stack up a dozen of these in a week, it feels like the whole world is unraveling.

A loyal team member resigns and I feel blind sided. Who else is leaving? Is it the beginning of a mass exodus?

A client fires me — I know we did great work; but they didn’t see the value. Is our work valuable? Or are we just fooling ourselves (and all of our other clients)?

These are the rabbit holes my brain starts to run down. And they are rabbit holes! Looking at them now in the cold light of day, they are some crazy part of my brain that desperately wants… Wants what? Control, I guess. I want to be the one breaking up with people (not the one being broken up with). I want to know that I have good resources to assign work to. I want people to like me.

I’m afraid. Scared that I don’t have those things. That people don’t like me.

Some days that fear drives me a little crazy. I really don’t like to feel afraid and so I can get kind of manic to get back in control; to drive that fear away. I work harder, later into the night, or longer on the weekends. Double, triple checking….

But on other days I have more clarity.

On those days the fear makes me stop and look around, and realize that no amount of scrambling is going to prevent clients from leaving or employees from finding another job. I work hard enough, and deliver an excellent value. When a client leaves, it doesn’t mean it’s all coming down around me. It doesn’t mean that I’m worth less (or worthless). It means that I need to find another client or another employee — I need to move on!

You see, clients change. Employees depart. Our business ebbs and flows. None of those things are necessarily about me. What if instead of trying to restore control I decided to embrace the change? What if I face the fact that things are changing and choose instead to say, “What does this make possible?

I guess I’m starting to feel like the cost of maintaining that control is getting too high. I want to invest that energy into adjusting the sails instead of trying to redirect the wind.

How do you adjust when your life and business get buffeted about? Have you had bouts of resting change and battling to restore control? How do you get out of them?


  1. Oh yes, I have so been there! You nailed it when you pointed out that fear really is at the root of it. We resist change because of fear – fear of the unknown, fear we’re not good enough, fear it’s all going to fall apart, etc. I have gotten better (but still learning) about keeping it moving. I am realizing that my rabbit brain and reality will sometimes be temporarily out of sync, so I acknowledge the fear and move with the change anyway. In the past I’d try to control to get rid of the fear but I was still scared and even more stressed. I now realize that it’s a natural reaction to get a little queasy when things shift; it does not have to be a roadblock or a stress point but simply a marker that alerts me that I’m growing again.

    • Karen;

      I like that; “it’s a marker that alerts me that I’m growing again.” We all want to grow, right? And if we aren’t growing then we’re dead (and we don’t want that). So why is the growth so scary?

      My theory is that it’s a sign of success (or age) when I was young I had nothing to lose — so change wasn’t such a threat. But now I’ve worked so hard…

      Thanks for your comment – look forward to seeing you here more often!

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