Letting Go of What You Can’t Control

Editor’s Note: the original version of this article was first posted on the C2C in 2010.

We want everything to work out exactly the way we want it. In a world of billions of people, billions of different life paths, trillions of different DNA strands that produce trillions of different personalities, we think we can safely determine the outcome of our personal lives.

That’s crazy. And yet we do it ALL the time. When something doesn’t work out the way we expect it, we throw a grown-up tantrum, which translates into:

“I’m having one of those days!” “It’s a bad day today!” “Things aren’t working out for me, why does somewhere up there hate me!”

There it is again. It’s that mentally deranged human tendency to want to control the outcome. In the end when we realize that we cannot control the outcome, we blame ourselves. The future is always our responsibility, even though the future is really the result of both well-intentioned plans and happenstance.

Writers and Their Need To Control

Our human need to control the outcome may seem to be outside of the realm of writing, but it isn’t. Writers are always power-hungry and we have a great, burning need to know what is going to happen. Not only with the story we are telling but (equally as nerve-wracking) our careers. We want things to happen quickly, in the right order, at the right time, with the right people, and the right circumstances that move us forward instead of push us back.

We never get exactly what we want. (Although when we look closely, we often get what we need. Paging The Rolling Stones.) When we don’t get what we want, instead of saying: “It’s out of my hands!” we become stubborn and angry, sad and frustrated. We shout (outside or inside) that this or that wasn’t supposed to happen, it’s just not supposed to happen this way!

Letting Go of What You Can’t Control

I’m realizing that we get a lot less done when we think this way. I struggle myself with the need to control the outcome of everything in my life. This need ends up resulting in an overextension of myself that slowly chips away at my personal will power. I will focus too much on what I can never possibly control and thus I take focus away from what it is I can control.

No, I don’t know if people will like the novel I write. No I don’t know if it will get published or become a success. In the end, that part is really out of my control, and thus is not my personal responsibility. It’s in someone else’s hands. The publisher who chooses to pick my book, the reader who for some random reason (maybe it’s the book cover that draws them in) that makes them pick up the book and reads it. Maybe it takes years before that person then recommends that book to someone else. Really the process, like many of life’s processes, are full a bunch of random coincidences that are really out of our control.

So why spend my energy over all that? My responsibility is to show up every day to that page and write. In that action I have great personal will power. However, if I increase my personal responsibility to include all of the random occurrences and travesties of the world, then I become small, weak, helpless and dreadfully useless. What good is that? And what good am I to the world if I only add to the ranks of the disparaging?

So no. I’ll try not to do that. I’ll try not to cage the future in a little box I’ve drawn for it in my mind. It isn’t fair to my future, anyhow. Unlike the times when I take on the role of creator on my laptop, when I live my life, I don’t have to worry about how the whole story ends up.  I am solely responsible for my individual character arc.  Which is challenging enough.

So join me in becoming a proactive protagonist.  Draw a line between what is in your hands and what isn’t. Because what isn’t in your hands will be taken care of by something far more random than you.

Whether you like it or not.

much love,

Ollin

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12 comments on “Letting Go of What You Can’t Control

  1. Wow, Ollin. You nailed it! Thank you so much for this post. I am having trouble with my writing and trying to get a bunch of other stuff done. I yell, curse and then give up on my writing. Then, I become bitter.

    Thank you for bringing me back down to Earth.

    “So why spend my energy over all that? My responsibility is to show up every day to that page and write. In that action I have great personal will power. However, if I increase my personal responsibility to include all of the random occurrences and travesties of the world, then I become small, weak, helpless and dreadfully useless. What good is that? And what good am I to the world if I only add to the ranks of the disparaging?”

    I need to remember this paragraph especially.

    Take care, Darlene

  2. Larry says:

    Well said, and timely. The only things we DO have control over are our choices in context to the constraints reality puts on them (versus the constraints we put on ourselves)… and our work. We have total control over what goes on the page, and the process by which it gets there. When somebody buys our work… that changes. But our writing is ours, until it isn’t. Nice, Ollin. L.

  3. Good reminder! I used to stress a lot more (I still do, just less) but identifying the things out of my control, and then letting go of that burden, has been very helpful. I sometimes forget. Still working on it😉

  4. Andrea says:

    Great post Olin, I think it boils down into believing in your product and positive thinking. There is a higher power that has your back. Recently I’ve surrounded and have taken my life in 24 hour increments. When my friends ask about something in the future. My standard phrase is: I don’t know. Even if I have some inkling as you mentioned I could experience a random event or it wouldn’t go as I thought. Meditation and Journalling help me live in the present moment.

  5. So trueeeee, and I’m with you totally. I was thinking just yesterday, that I’m over even caring what happens with these last few big publishers who have my submission at the moment. It is so totally out of my hands. If they don’t want it, so what, I know that plenty of readers will, and in this wonderful age, I can publish it myself – that I can control.

  6. LadyD says:

    I was thinking about the depth of character my protagonist has when his wife had a major stroke while on vacation and he is forced to let go of what he can’t change and chooses to stay by her side.

    Thanks for this great post!
    — LadyD

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