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The Myth of Control

We don’t control a lot. We can’t. We think we can, and there are definitely people in the world that suffer from the delusion that they are “in control,” but they aren’t. You may have power, influence, wealth… but you are never, EVER, going to have total control. Right now in the US we have a president with enough money to make Solomon blush and control over most of the government – but yeah, even he can’t get the stuff he says he wants done finished. So if THAT guy, in THAT position, who cares so little about what people think can’t get it done, what makes you think you can? He’s “free” of needing money, free of a need of friends, apparently free of his wife’s influence if adult actresses are to be believed. He’s the world’s most jerkiest guy in supposedly the world’s most powerful position, and even he can’t get a fence put up because the HMO says no.

So why do we so desperately seek control? Because before we were two – and we figured out that screaming this way gets us fed, this way gets us changed and that way gets us a toy – we have tried to control our environment. And this goes on in life from “Ok, I had my food labelled in our staff fridge and someone ate all my thin mints!” to “If I rinse out this bottle of salad dressing and place it in the proper bin, I’m saving the world.” We think we have control, and so we stress out over it, but in the grand scheme of things, we don’t. And this is “pouring all the patience out of the bottle.”

I learned this watching motorcyclists and road-ragers. Do you know why drivers are so angry? It’s mainly because we’re doing something that we’re not designed for. When we go fast, weaving in and out of traffic, lane-splitting on a bike, or driving like we’re in a video game, we get amped up. Adrenaline rushes, we get focused (except for morons who still insist they’re good drivers that can text or watch TV while driving) and if we get hyper-focused (which we really should be while hurling a ton of metal around at speed) when that gets interrupted, we pop off. Add to it being late, trying to apply makeup, smoking, adjusting the radio, trying to open a bag of Cheetos… and we’re even more amped up. “I’m a good driver.” Yeah, but you know what you don’t control? The other drivers. They change lanes without signaling. They have blind spots (if they look at all). They think you should let them over, so they just come on over. Traffic, mis-timed lights, school busses, trucks that can’t get off the line because they have to go through 9 gears before they cross the intersection, anyone in a Prius, rental box-trucks driven by people used to driving a car that could be put in the back of what they’re driving with room left over for a couch… it’s not Frogger y’all. In some part of your brain, there is a small part, probably buried deep inside you that has been dormant since you got your permit – and it’s screaming “THIS IS INSANITY!” as you go past running speed and it’s churning away at the stress mill like an Amish woman making butter, and each mile, until our brains eventually shut it down (which makes us more dangerous) it builds, and builds, and builds until someone’s window washer sprays over their car and gets droplets of moisture on your freshly waxed… BOOM! Example: People have been shot over parking spaces and being cut off – YET we will still see people get out of their cars to go back to another car and complain. AND those people will actually roll their window down to shout back. AND then an even smaller percentage of that brand of idiot will get out of their car to directly engage. No one says, “Yeah, I’m so sorry, I’m glad you weren’t hurt.” And the biggest morons are holding a camera saying, “I got that on tape, I got that on tape” because at some point, someone is going to shoot them and take their camera/phone.

Telecomute? Computer viruses. Kid’s get sick. Customer service needs to be called. Pipes froze. The super is super-creepy. Flat tires. Need groceries. Power is out. The internet goes out. The DVR only recorded the first half-hour of Million Little Things. Parents. Homework. Projects. That evil person at work that has become your arch-enemy in some weird office drama/comic book situation that started over post-its and will end in death. We are all wound too tight. All the patience is poured out of the bottle, and we need a good stiff drink (If I EVER go into the bourbon business, my first product sold only in mini-bottles will be called “Patience”).

So relax. Which to show you how bad a shape we are in, is a trigger-phrase for most people. “Just relax.” Is pushing the final button. “What you think you’re better than me because I think this shows I care more, am more professional…” While you stand blinking & thinking “This is not relaxing.” But seriously, lighten up. You’re making it harder on the rest of us, at least until we stop caring, and (especially with Generation X) that’s a point we all get to eventually. And your level of mismanaging stress isn’t really helping anyone around you, “I’m just keeping it real?” Well, in the real world, you’ll notice when someone “unfriends” you. In reality your showing your lack of self-control and making a fool of yourself. “Well, they can think what they want to think.” Exactly – you have influence but no control.

IF you live in “crisis mode” you will eventually burn out and take out the people around you. Ever had a work-a-holic boss? The one that worked nights and weekends (while making 4x your salary) and expected you to do the same? You know the one with the really nice car, who is divorced and never sees their kids. The angry one. With the significant other that has the personality of a golden retriever (friendly, kinda goofy and not really ‘into’ things like the other dogs) The one prone to go off like a shot but then stay and carpet bomb? In other words, snap-reacts without all the information and starts a tirade that makes the employee go from “oh, I should do better,” to “Oh, this really must be important if they’re yelling this much” to “Ok, I got it, you can stop screaming now” to “And we’re still on this? When was the last time I updated my resume” to “Ok, now that I’m pretty sure I’m not going to get fired, does Chicken Palace deliver for lunch?”

Yeah – you can’t control work. If you’re an employee or a boss, or owner. You’re got to answer to someone at some time.

How about at home? When was the last time you got into a “discussion” and didn’t even realize it was a serious discussion until about two minutes had passed by? The “fun” about these is you get to have the same conversations over-and-over and in some cases both parties get to build stress. My first wife and I were together for 21 years. About year 6, I “corrected” her method of putting dishes in the dishwasher – she swore she’d never put another dish in it. 15 years later, in a cancer-induced morphine fueled fog she walked into the kitchen, looked at me and said, “I can’t remember your name, or why this is so important, but…” and put her dish on the countertop. (Important note: I loved her for it). You can’t control other people (see “carpet bombing”) forever. And, other people can’t control you unless you let them.

So – you can’t control “home.”

You can’t control who wins the big game (even if you have stood up and done the circle, wearing your rally hat and sporting the same socks as when they won their last championship).

You can’t control what other people think (even if you bring them Ruth Hunt Mint – Chocolate meltables – which are the single greatest thing every invented). You have influence, but not control.

And sometimes, you can’t control yourself. Look, I don’t just mean your mouth or thoughts, I mean physically. If you could, I would not weigh as much as I do and would still enjoy boxes of Ruth Hunt Chocolate-mint meltables. I’ve switched over to non-processed foods, limited gluten and almost no corn syrup… I drink a 12 ounce coke and my bowels are as irritable as my son when the internet goes down.

So – the first step in reducing stress is taking control of what you can (which is largely things about you), influencing others where possible and learning that HOW the dishwasher is loaded is much less important than if the dishwasher is actually run.

The old trope line (which I’ve yet to find scriptural support for) was “God will never give you anything more than you can handle.” Truth is, we often take on things that are well beyond our capacity to handle and then expect the higher-power to clean up the mess. And that is the height of our arrogance, and the depth of our ignorance. When we want God to take away our trash, but don’t invite God into the house that makes it, and think throwing in a $20 tip every now and again pays God back.

So give it up. Sit down and make a list of all the things you are “responsible” for, and then figure out exactly how much “control” you have over them. You’ll be surprised, and you may find yourself with more patience in the bottle. Sure, some things are going to fall apart – that’s what happens when you buy stuff at Buyabunchmart. But it’s also what happens when you buy stuff at Handmadeexpensiveprimo. But something is always going to fall apart. It’s life. And when you recognize your lack of control in most of it, it will give you focus for the things that you can control, or influence, or eliminate from your life.

But what do I know, I’m just a guy that still occasionally locks his keys in his car, with the spare key locked in a house, for which I have no spare key.

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