Last week a client asked me which feels more daunting: climbing Mt. Rainier or helping our only child get ready to start college next month. To me, Mt. Rainier feels way easier. Perhaps it has more to do with the fact that I’ve reached the summit eight times. It’s familiar, predictable, and finite. Launching a college student is a once-in-a-lifetime milestone we will never experience again. It’s had its ups and downs over the past eighteen years, and we never found the parenting user’s manual. So many things can — and probably will — still go wrong. As my roles as an author, coach, and parent collide in spinning turmoil, my role is to let go of the need to control.
Who Has a Need to Control?
As I ponder my various roles, I ask myself: which one has a need to control? The answer: all of them. But knowing that, I can work to change it.
Authors need to design every aspect of their story. In a way, they’re playing God, throwing rocks at their protagonist and giving them increasingly difficult challenges. They may have control over their characters and the worlds they create. But as soon as they look for an editor, agent, and publishing house, everything changes. They have control over one thing: the process of creating. But ultimately, the one in control of reading what’s published is the reader.
Coaches try to help their clients by providing detailed workouts, guidance, and moral support. We introduce clients to helpful resources and effective strategies for getting to their goals. But when clients miss a workout, get sick or injured, become overworked, or lose interest, we realize the truth: coaches are not in control; the client is. Coaches only have control over what they bring to the relationship.
Parents try to ensure that no harm comes to their offspring, sometimes stepping in when they should let their child struggle. I’ve been asking myself, “What challenges will she face? Have we prepared her well enough to handle them? How often will she have to fall flat on her face before she is independent?” (The answer, if I sit still long enough to listen to inner wisdom, is “As often as it takes.”) Our role is changing from provider and protector to collaborator and advisor. We are no longer in control of her choices; she is. And really, hasn’t it been that way for some time now?
The Illusion of Control
Dr. Seuss said, “Only you can control your future.” By that, I think he meant we are the only ones who can take strides in whatever we feel is the right direction at the time. Others suggest that control is an illusion. And Napoleon Hill is quoted as saying, “You either control your mind or it controls you.” How do we wrap our heads around the fact that so much is out of our control?
By focusing on those few aspects we do — like our thoughts, our behaviors, our actions — and minimizing the impact of those we don’t, such as weather, what others think of us, and other people’s actions.
Whenever I feel the overwhelming need to control some aspect of my writing, my clients’ workouts, or my daughter’s life, I take deep breaths and remind myself that I’m doing the best I can with the tools available to me. And I erase the need to be perfect.
I keep reminding myself of my resolution post on kisage (Keep It Simple And Good Enough) from January. We have done enough, and anywhere we haven’t, she’ll learn more quickly than if we do it for her. I’ve added the catchy phrase, “Let go, let it be good.” (For the second phrase, I’ve replaced the popular “let God” with what works for me.)
Instead of trying to control everything, I like to remind myself of tips from the following posts on CourtSchurmanGo.com:
- Befriending our inner critic through journaling
- Understanding, managing, and overcoming fear
- Being true to ourselves to avoid self-sabotage
- Keeping it simple and good enough
- Letting go
Fear is a normal aspect of life, but we don’t need to let it RULE our lives. We can prepare ourselves, our clients, our families, and our colleagues the best we can. A year ago I posted about letting go of my daughter; by being self-compassionate today I can recognize that this process will likely take several more years. We can be curious about what our inner critic teaches us without letting it dominate. And we can stick to our own moral compass, so we can do the very best we can. Then let go, and let it be good.