Control has been on my mind a lot lately for many reasons. Some things have happened that are beyond my control, and some things have happened where I am taking control. Since I frequently write about the need to control what we can control, it has me wondering why this is my desire?
I would not consider myself a “control freak.” I’m actually really easygoing when it comes to a lot of things. In fact, what I’m realizing is that I may have been too easygoing in the past.
Control is defined as “the power to influence or direct people’s behavior or the course of events.” If you’ve read my intro, you’ll know that I believe leadership is about influence. Somewhere on my leadership journey, in learning how to influence others, I realized I am being negatively influenced by some people around me.
We all have the right to be treated how we want to be treated. Using our ability to influence, we actually have the ability to control how people treat us. Like, this may not be earthshattering news. But realistically, few of us are really aware of how we are being negatively influenced by others.
Not so coincidentally, I recently listened to a podcast episode of the Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos on Epictetus and the Stoics. The episode description says:
There are things we can control and things we can’t control. There are also things we can influence a bit. Being able to accept this concept and only set our goals accordingly saves us a lot of anguish. It’s a key lesson of Stoicism.
See why I said “not so coincidentally”?
To break it down: Philosophy professor Bill Irvine said that there is actually ambiguity in control: there are things that you cannot control, things that you can control, and things that you can influence. He calls this the trichotomy of control.
The concepts of trichotomy of control and Stoicism have shed some new light on the situation I am trying to find peace within.
Feeling trapped in a situation I didn’t want to be in, I had been looking for an escape route. But none of the escape options bring me immediate relief either. And an escape route is looking for an easy way out. And I never take the easy way. So here I am. Learning about Stoicism trying to reframe the situation to make it more bearable. And you know what? It worked. (So far.)
Normally, when people say “make a pros and cons list.” I’m like, “Yeah, okay 🙄. ” Then never actually do it. But in this situation, I actually made a list of everything that made me feel hurt or angry. I realized that there was only one common theme in the negativity, and it’s a big one: I felt my independence was being stifled and taken away. But all of the circumstances surrounding this lack of control, all came from a place of love and support. Motives were genuinely good.
So how did I reframe the situation? I put it in a language I understand: selfless leadership.
Basically, I needed to accept this gift for their betterment. I am doing them a disservice by not accepting, and that is not a selfless leader thing to do! Instead of looking at it through a lens of how they were helping me (when I didn’t need it, want it, or ask for it), I reframed it to how I. was. helping. them. This gave me a sense of control. I’m doing them the favor, not the other way around.
But that was only a partial solution. How do I regain my independence? I start my Master’s degree! Obviously. 😂
For real though, the gift I had been rejecting tied up part of my future, and I didn’t feel like I had much of a say in it. Grad school had been teetering in my mind for a long time, so I decided to just jump in. This was a future I had a choice in and control over. I’ve been able to channel the negative feelings to rise to a new challenge of. my. making.
By reframing my view, I’ve actually created a win-win situation – giving me a sense of control over all of it.
Change, especially not of our making, can be extremely uncomfortable. Change, even of our making, can be extremely unconformable. Controlling what we can control, minimizes the discomfort to the degree that we can. None of it is going to be easy, but we can make, at least, make it a little more bearable.