Human beings are interesting creatures. We think we rule the world, but at the same time, we’re all aliens.
As newborns, we’re plopped down on this strange planet without the faintest clue of how to maneuver it. So we start from scratch as we attempt to figure it all out—how to walk, how to talk. We try desperately to make some semblance of order and meaning out of utter chaos. Is it any wonder that we scream bloody murder when we’re born? And that we go through “the terrible two’s” a few years later?
My daughter, Stefie, used to scream out of frustration as an infant. At first, I tried everything to get her to stop. But “shushing” her did not work. In time, like most parents, I learned her different cries. Most of the time it wasn’t hunger or a dirty diaper—she was just feeling overwhelmed by the experience of being a new human. Recognizing this, I did my best to comfort, and even encourage, her. I’d say, “You go ahead and get it out, sweetheart. It’s okay.” Crying out in frustration, confusion, and humiliation is normal and healthy. Stefie would get out all her feelings and then she’d be fine. Now a young woman, she’ll say, “Looking back, my Dad was not your typical father. Raising a parent is not easy.”
Nor is it easy for kids to grow up. We learn how to fold our hands nicely in our laps and sit up straight at our desks. We learn to domesticate those wild, untamed parts of ourselves; to still all that confusion and chaos. To control our impulses and emotions through silence, repression, and lots of “shushing.”
It’s in our nature to want to be in control of our own lives. No one likes uncertainty, and we all want to look good in our endeavor to master our time here on earth. “Look at my name in the credits!” we want to say during the course of our lives, and even on our deathbed. “That’s me! Writer, director, producer, choreographer—I did it all!”
And it almost works. Sometimes we succeed at controlling the outcome of our lives—at least in certain situations. The control freaks among us become very skilled at choreographing certain aspects of our existences, which makes us feel safe and powerful. We develop great internal resources (creativity, tenacity, etc.) and external networks (relationships, businesses) to make things go our way. And for a while—maybe even years—it seems like we’re in complete control.
But at some point, each of us learns that we can’t control everything all the time. The times we succeeded were often only because “the forces that be” in the universe were cooperating with our agendas. But life is such that at some point, they won’t. The stars won’t be aligned in our favor, and we will have setbacks. Chances are you already have.
We’re not the only ones holding the reins of our lives, and never have been. As we said earlier, life is going to have its say.
So, how do we respond when it does?
Getting older and doing life-expectancy math in our heads, we begin to understand just how vulnerable we are. Our mortality, spirituality, and a sense of urgency compel us to make peace with life and death. (Exactly how we go about this is the subject of my Courageous Aging workshops.
What We Can Control
There’s a lot we can do to best insure the safety and well-being of our family, ourselves, and the freedoms we cherish. Sometimes this may involve taking charge and kicking ass, so we need to be prepared to do exactly that. But it may also mean sharing, or even surrendering, control. Ultimately, life is not something we can control completely. We may squeeze down until our knuckles are white, but it doesn’t matter. Some things remain out of our hands.
When we simply acknowledge that we are living life partly on life’s terms, it is no longer necessary to control everything. Relinquishing the illusion of control is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves and those around us. It also opens us to one of life’s biggest mysteries, which is that only when we let go of expectations can the wonderfully unexpected appear. Only when we empty our minds can we experience a life-changing revelation. Only when we allow ourselves to experience our separateness do we discover how much a part of everything we really are.
We’re all “a work in progress.” There’s no completed masterpiece among human beings. But the more honest we are in dealing with our fears, and the less we play them out on the stage of life, the less need we feel to control others and their responses. And the more peaceful and free we become as a result.
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Copyright Ken Druck, Ph.D., resilience expert, speaker, consultant, and author of The Real Rules of Life (Hay House). Permission to reprint granted with proper credit.