The Illusion of ControlSep 20, 2022
“When I argue with reality, I lose—but only 100% of the time.”
Control is an illusion. We all know that to be true. We can be diligent about planning, coordinating, and scheduling and even leave a margin for error. And sometimes, despite our best efforts, things don’t work out the way we had hoped.
My wife and I had carefully planned our summer. With the school year ending in mid-June and resuming in mid-August, we didn’t want to waste a precious moment. There was a trip to visit family, gymnastics and swimming for the kids, four weeks of day camp, and a trip to Legoland and Disneyland in the final week before school resumed. We were so excited about our family trip, but we hid the vacation from our children. We wanted them to enjoy every bit of their summer without being distracted by the theme park-driven grand finale. My wife and I couldn’t wait to break the news the evening before camp ended. It was going to be epic.
For those blessed with children, I don’t have to tell you that things rarely go as planned. The week we had planned to visit family, COVID infections were everywhere, including the home we planned to stay in. The trip was postponed by a week, and my schedule didn’t allow me to go. When my wife and kids returned home from that trip, my kids were able to enjoy some fun summer days at the park and pool. The following week, summer camp began. And so did the fevers, coughs, and colds—no COVID, just every other virus that spreads when kids are being kids. First, a GI bug took down my entire house, then walking pneumonia, followed by multiple rounds of antibiotics and inhalers for my youngest. My son missed nearly two weeks of his 4-week summer camp. He was finally able to return to camp for the fourth and final week. We remained hopeful that his antibiotics and multiple recent infections would carry him through his last week. And it worked! We made it through the final week of camp. We broke the exciting news on Thursday night: We’re going to Legoland and Disneyland on Sunday! The kids were over the moon.
The day before our departure was our annual block party. Waterslides, dunk tanks, water balloons, piñatas, food, music, and dancing were scheduled for the second-most anticipated day for our street. (Halloween is number 1, but I digress.) My son made it down the waterslide a few times before declaring that he was freezing. He came inside but just couldn’t get warm. And then we checked his temperature, and it was 102. Again. Sigh.
After many tears and several negative COVID tests, it was decided that my son could not travel the following day. My wife and I made the difficult decision to keep him home and rest. I would take my daughter to California while my wife and son stayed at home and recovered.
And then, the arguing with reality began:
- Why did it have to go this way?
- We worked so hard to plan this trip!
- How could he possibly be sick again?
- Maybe he was too young for summer camp this year.
- Was it all too much?
In our lack of control, my wife and I felt powerless. We had made so many plans, but they didn’t turn out as we had hoped. And we were making it mean a lot of things.
When you are in the moment when things aren’t going as planned, it is so easy to lose sight of the good stuff. My kids had an incredible summer. They spent time with family, went to the pool, practiced gymnastics, and made new friends at summer camp, where they danced, sang, fished, and made lasting memories. Would I have traded these experiences to avoid a cough or a sneeze? No. We will all remember this summer for the chaos, illness, fun, and memories that were created.
Ultimately, my son’s fever broke less than 24 hours after it started. He and my wife were able to fly out a few days later to meet my daughter and me in California. We had an incredible trip. And the memories are so much richer because it’s never about the destination. It’s about the journey that gets us there.
Control is an illusion. We may plan, coordinate, and schedule to our hearts’ content. We may believe we are doing things correctly. And then, like an unsuspecting toddler visiting the ocean for the first time, we get smacked in the face with a wave. It might knock us down and make us question our efforts. But in that moment, you get to decide how you will respond. Will you stay down, or will you get back up knowing that another wave is likely coming? Will you stand defiant as another wave comes crashing down, or will you learn to surf? Can you learn to ride the wave? Can you learn to go with the flow?
I’ve never tried surfing, but I enjoy the metaphor. I’ve also never been a “go with the flow” kind of guy, but I am learning. I can argue with reality, or I can choose to accept the obstacles I am confronted with and make the most of any given situation. I get to choose, and so do you.
The idea of control is quite appealing. I love the idea of knowing exactly how things will go and exactly how I get to live my life. But control is not reality. It just isn’t. And I have started examining why control has always been so important in my life. Why must I always have a plan? What have I made having control mean about me?
I’m not great at metaphorical surfing. Going with the flow does not come easily. The truth is that I do not need to stop planning, coordinating, and scheduling. Planning is the key to getting what you want and need in life. But, I can stop making it mean something when things do not go according to plan. It turns out that is one thing I do have control over. Happy surfing!
What does control mean to you? Are there things in life you wish you could control? How does that affect you and those around you? How might learning to surf, rather than arguing with the waves, change your life?
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PS. I get a lot of inspiration from music lyrics. Many people use inspiring quotes (and I do, too), but music really speaks to me. I hope you find inspiration in the songs too.
Janet Jackson - Control
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