control

A/A+.

As in, I am type.

I really, really like to be in control of the elements of my life. I like goals. I like to set nearly out-of-reach goals for myself, and then achieve them by assiduously applying myself to a strategic checklist I make. There is nothing that cannot be accomplished–no outcome that can’t be controlled–through hard enough work.

Almost.

The thing you can’t control with any guarantee of success, no matter how hard you try, is other people around you: their proclivities, their foibles, their unpredictabilities. For example, you can put in 80 or 100 hours a week at a job you’re good at and love, but if your boss doesn’t like you for some metaphysical reason there is absolutely nothing you or your hard work can do to control that relationship. This reminds me of the adage “Look at all your failed relationships. The only thing they have in common is you.” You thought you were out of control, but in fact you were the control. Hm.

Yesterday, Karissa was trying to coach me on the only way to be happy–accepting that we are, basically, not in control of our lives. If you try to control your life, you will always fail. If you accept that almost everything is out of your control, at least you’ll enjoy the ride.

While her mouth was moving, my brain was creating a checklist for how I would demonstrate to her that I was in control of my life, at least. Or it was creating a checklist until I stopped it. See? I’m in control of my brain.

I’ve had a lot of changes this last year. Almost all of them have been unmitigatedly good changes. But the very notion of change is that of going from a known, controllable circumstance to a new, probably unknown, possibly uncontrollable circumstance. A recipe for excitement–and anxiety. For me, they are two sides of the same coin.

Easier said than done, but it’s time for a grand new Experiment: in letting go. It’s a world of variables. The only real control in your life is you. For the rest, collect the data diligently and arrive at the hypothesis later, inductively.

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23 Responses to control

  1. Karissa says:

    My mom always tells me — you can’t change other people, you can only change yourself. In other words, you have no control over a situation except in how you react in it.

    It isn’t that you shouldn’t have a plan and be an intentional person — but also understand that in any given situation, you’ve done all you can do. Recognize that you are only one of many variables. And be okay with that.

    The thing is, the point is to enjoy life. Have a plan so you can mitigate unforeseen circumstances that might make you more miserable, but if you aren’t enjoying the very things you’re trying to control because you’re too busy trying to control… isn’t that kind of beyond the point?

    This is coming from an A-type. Another J. We’re awesome because we have dreams and we know how to achieve those dreams. But it’s no fun if you can’t enjoy the process of getting there. Or the dream itself, when you finally arrive.

  2. Alexis says:

    I agree with Karissa. I am also a J.

    I enjoy making check lists…. I especially enjoy making check lists for other people, but you knew that already 🙂

  3. cindy says:

    i don’t think i’m A type? not sure.
    but yes, letting go of control is a very
    very hard thing. huge lesson once i became
    published, too.

    • heh. you’ve heard the story about how publishing a novel is like packing all your most sacred belongings in a suitcase and then leaving it open in the middle of a busy street and walking away?

      you may have a point re: why i’ve been struggling with writing lately.

  4. JES says:

    You sometimes hear a formulation like, “Expect the best. Plan for the worst.” Personally, I think planning is overrated — for exactly the reasons you hint at here. You can’t anticipate (or control) everything. And trying to do so almost guarantees that you’ll overlook something else roaring down the pike in your direction. Small comfort to crow, like, “Wow, I’m hot stuff — I dodged all those cars and that schoolbus and the train!” if you’re crowing it while plastered face-first against the grille of an 18-wheeler.

    Which, alas, isn’t to say I’m free of my “control issues.” But at least I’m always struggling to control them, ha.

  5. Briony says:

    I’m the opposite – I gave up on planning because I’ve never had a plan work out once. Some times the end result was the same but through circumstances that I had nothing to do with, so all that energy I wasted on planning was kind of pointless.

    That being said, there’s a lot of things I have control over that I didn’t think I did.

  6. I can’t really add to this because, as you know, I constantly struggle with the same issue. I just wanted to wave hello and say this was a great post, maybe your best yet! And at least I can enjoy the upheaval and excitement in your life, even if I haven’t quite figure out how to enjoy my own.

  7. kyle says:

    You guys haven’t mentioned competitiveness or hostility, one of the key traits of type A personality. You can’t be type a without this key trait. I think there is evidence that the competitiveness aspect is linked with most of the bad health and mental health outcomes (depression, heart disease), so it’s a good think if you’re not type A.

    • sigh. it’s true. i am competitive and hostile. although i’m trying to be less of the latter.

      • JES says:

        A few weeks back, you mentioned in your Twitter feed a comment from a colleague that just cracked me up. I don’t remember it exactly, but it was along these competitive/hostile/plain-old-intense lines. Something along the lines of “You’re the __________ of _______s.” Do you remember what it was?

  8. JES–it wasn’t the one where I crowdsourced whether I was more of a Maureen or a Joann?

  9. Oooooorrr was it where my coworker called me the adult version of Hermione Granger?

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