Let’s Talk About Control. Me First.

How’s your relationship with control going? Is it healthy? Causing you trouble? Keeping you up at night wondering how you can change all the people around you who just don’t get it?

One of my favorite, old timey shows was The Outer Limits. It opened with a deep “Voice-of-God” proclaiming: “You control the horizontal. You control the vertical.” I loved that fantasy. I was ready to walk out of my bedroom and turn the dial off on my father. If only we could actually do that with the jerks at work or toxic bosses or even our own loop of negative self-talk in the depths of the night.   

How do you measure what I call a healthy relationship with control—and why does it matter? Let me take the second part first. It matters because it affects how we lead, manage, or show up in any conversation that will help us move forward. We need to reign in our egos so that we can act with self-assurance rather than the thirst to be affirmed.  Your ego can keep you unhappy when it thrives on the junk food of title, position, and power. Can you let go of the need to be right and still exude the level of confidence that makes others believe in you?

The Cycle of Control and Blame

If we think we have control over all of the influences that affect our success at work, we blame ourselves when something goes wrong. Or we blame others for not valuing us. Or we look back and blame ourselves for our decision to take the job, as if we had control over all of those influences. Memory tends to fuzz the facts. One woman told me, “The job was a bait and switch. They hired me for one thing but when I arrived, it turned into something else. I thought I could rise to the challenge but I was over my head. They let me go. I should have known.” Really? Why? What was going on in her life and what intel did she have when she made the best decision she could make at the time? And where is all this blame getting her?  

As clinical social worker, Megan Margo has said, “If we think we’re in control, we think we can fix whatever went wrong.” It’s a false comfort zone. The fact is we can’t control leadership changes, organizational strategies from on high, stratospheric power plays, or a founder’s desperation when the start-up doesn’t actually start. As I write in my book, Involuntary Exit, “You’re on your own journey.  You’re not there to fix someone else’s journey.”

Tips to Loosen the Grip 

Here are a few key things you can do when you find yourself in the devil’s grip of control hell. These are not overnight cures but practices that you may think are in the woo-woo zone until you find yourself actually breathing more deeply in a newly relaxed state of mind. 

1. Make a list of your feelings after a particularly tough encounter. Now make a list of the facts surrounding the encounter. Did you realize you were consumed with details regarding your own authority or power and failed to notice the organizational mandate? Does this reduce the intensity of your feelings or at least give you more insight into the anatomy of the conversation? I call this the fact vs. feeling exercise.

2. Make a list of all the people you blame, and/or all of the errors you feel you made after a frustrating conversation or development. Now make a list of what you learned in this process. I call this going from blame to bold. Example: I should have known I didn’t have the experience for that role. Learning: I rose to the challenge and learned quite a bit about something I knew nothing about. That’s a new quality for me.

3. Write down the top reason why you think you’re not getting a senior role. Now write down how to use this to your advantage. I call this flexing your self-love muscles. Example: I’m not getting hired because I’m too old. Flexing: If they don’t want me to bring all of myself and my experience to the role, I don’t want to work there. Age = tons of experience.  (For ha-ha’s, read my blog, “What’s age got to do with it?”)

4. The big one: detach from the outcome. If you follow me, you know I’m a fan of Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, and this is one of them. This takes practice, even meditation. It’s the ultimate sacrifice of control. It means you put yourself out there and no matter what happens, you’re fine with it. You don’t measure your worth according to someone else’s acceptance. I know, we’ve been wrestling with this one since kindergarten, but now with all of our experience, age, and wisdom, we have a shot at feeling the freedom.

Having a healthy relationship with control is one of the skill sets associated with resilience. Even thinking about what this means is a first step toward a better path for you.  

Oops, I just realized that the opening of The Outer Limits said, “We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear.” It was the aliens who were in charge! How did I let that happen? Time to meditate, and let it go.

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