The problem with control is that we really don’t have it. I’m convinced that much of our unhappiness stems from the intersection of our desire for control and our sense of feeling out of control. Fear, doubt, and uncertainty are normal parts of our existence. When we feel that we are completely at their mercy, that we have no control, then we feel vulnerable and that life is acting upon us. Ultimately, control is about making the world around us reflect our expectations, our desires. The disconnect between reality and our desires leads to disappointment and unhappiness.
Circle of Influence
What can we do about it? In last year’s post, I referenced Stephen Covey’s Circle of Influence and Circle of Concern. This is a good place to start. In 1991, I started my first job selling IBM computers. At one point in my first year, I began to get really frustrated with my lack of success. Why wasn’t anyone buying? Why did I feel like I was failing? This thing called a quota was sitting heavily on my shoulders and being newly married with a baby on the way, I was feeling the pressure acutely. My boss pulled me into his office and introduced me to the Circle of Influence and the Circle of Concern. He asked me what I could exert influence upon and what was clearly beyond my control. He gave me a sense of control by giving me a place to focus: on my actions, on my attitude, on my effort, on my education, etc. It completely shifted my perspective. I realized that my span of control really stopped at myself.
Step 1: Focus on your Circle of Influence. Keep in mind that it is not called a Circle of Control.
You Don’t Need Control
The title of this post tells us we don’t need to be in control. Once we realize that we are really only in control of a few things around our immediate person, then our focus shifts to finding a way. Finding a way through, past, over, or around the challenges we face on a day to day basis. Finding a way to cope with the unknown and uncertain. Finding a way to deal with the doubt and adversity that return daily no matter what stage of life we are currently passing through. We don’t need to be in control, we need to find a way.
There are many possible approaches for “finding a way.” For the purposes of this post, we’re going to focus on two key attributes to us as pathfinders: Resilience and Resolve. Resilience refers to our ability to endure the bumps of life. Resolve refers to our ability to keep moving forward in spite of those bumps. Resilience is how we cope. Resolve is what takes us through.
I recently finished a biography on Elon Musk. Prior to reading the book, I had vague notions of the man from snippets of articles and interviews. As most wildly successful people, he has been described in a very wide array of adjectives: genius, huckster, tyrant, visionary, and on and on. For the purposes of this post, only one matters: resilient. No matter what you think about Elon Musk, you have to acknowledge that he has taken his lumps. From a rough South African childhood to the loss of a child and on through the incredible uncertainties of building three multi-billion dollar companies, he has repeatedly taken shots that would bring most of us to our knees.
As I consider Musk’s resilience, I’m reminded of some other famous players who inspire me: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Winston Churchill, John D. Rockefeller. Each demonstrated incredible resilience. Washington’s high tension war of survival with the British with its persistent existence on the edge of failure during the years of the Revolution. Hamilton’s battles for the Constitution and the US Central Bank amid brutal attacks over long periods of time. For Churchill, enduring the failure of Gallipoli and his “years in the wilderness” of British politics leading up to World War II. Rockefeller endured a lifetime of attacks for his single-minded domination of U.S. oil production and distribution in the late 1800’s including endless assaults by writers, politicians, business opponents, and those seeking pieces of his fortune. These are men of fortitude. Individuals who endured loss and adversity at incredibly high levels on their way to success.
Step 2: Remind yourself that you are bigger than your challenges. You CAN endure.
If we acknowledge that we are not in control and we believe that we have the resilience to face our challenges, what ultimately helps us find a way? The last piece is our resolve. Our spirit to move on and press forward. The men mentioned above were incredibly resilient. History provides many, many examples of resilient people. I chose the group above because they didn’t just survive their ordeals. They turned them into major success stories. It is their resolve that carried them on to success.
Finding a way requires that we have an end in mind and that we have the resolve to see ourselves through to that objective. Although we may not always end up where we thought, it is the will, the resolve to push through to it that matters. The apparent dichotomy fascinates me: on one hand I’m telling you that you do not have control and on the other I’m challenging you to push through to your goal. Am I suggesting opposites? No, the beauty is that they exist together. Because you can’t control it all, you need the resilience to endure the setbacks along with the resolve to keep going. Realizing you aren’t in control is not giving up or throwing yourself to the wind; it is accepting that you can only do so much, that you have to endure the surprises, and that your ultimate success depends on your ability to stay in the game. Keeping your eye on the end goal is a huge part of what reinforces your resolve. Stay with your mission.
Consider Churchill’s performance over the course of World War II. His resolve held an entire country together. He resolved that England would survive. He resolved that England would not quit. He resolved that England would not negotiate with Hitler. There were so many things beyond his control. There were so many things going against his country. There were so many ways that he might fail. In the end, it was his resolve, and his ability to instill that resolve within his countrymen, that carried the day.
Step 3: Resolve to achieve your objectives in spite of the fact that it will be difficult, that you will not have control, and that they will likely change along the way.
We don’t need control, we need to find a way. All we can control is our actions and our attitudes. After that, we are simply influencers upon a small part of the world. Our best strategy is to anticipate the difficulties, determine to be resilient, and resolve to overcome them. Every single time they appear. Quit lamenting the fact that you are not in control and savor the fact that you have what you need to find a way. Then, get started.