Before I went down for the count at the end of last August with my seizure disorder, I thought I had things pretty well under control. All my affairs were in order. My business. My family. My home. My health. Things were good and then, with no warning, it all came unglued. This past week I had an epiphany: control is an illusion. No one ever has things really under control. It’s all an illusion. And perhaps that epiphany is not all bad. I invite you to read on as I wrestle with the implications of that epiphany.
The idea that control is an illusion has been really gnawing away at me. Control is, after all, what we strive and even get tested for in life. When we apply for a driver’s license the question, in addition to whether or not we know the rules of the road, is whether or not we can control our car. Right now, due to my seizure disorder, I cannot drive because control is an issue. Indeed, control is the issue. From one moment to the next, there’s no telling what might happen. I cannot be trusted to reliably and consistently control a car.
It’s no wonder, then, that the question of control has been gnawing away at me! I miss driving and the independence that driving brings. Decide to do something, get something, or go somewhere, and – without a moment’s thought – one gets in the car and takes off. Now, I have no car and I’m limited to driving in and out of my driveway. If only I had my own personal limousine and chauffeur I would feel like a big shot! Instead, I feel limited and out of control.
That’s especially true because there’s no telling if and when I will have my next limbic event. Although things seem to be getting better, in both duration and intensity, these events still come upon me. And when they come, they come without warning. They are not invited and they are always unwelcome. They make me feel out of control. They seize me, as if by the scruff of the neck, and shake my brains with more or less intensity. Some events are worse while others are practically nothing. Whenever they happen, however, and to whatever degree, the clock resets as to when I can start driving again.
Having such moments is never fun; it is always a discouraging and disheartening experience. But such moments reveal much as to the true nature of reality. We like to think that we have, or at least can have, things under control: our bodies, habits, relationships, diets, finances, associations, commitments, understandings, and just about every other aspect of our lives. We make choices as to what is important to us in life and we like to think that we can control our ability to follow through on those commitments.
But, guess what? Our ability to control things, as I have learned all too painfully, is never more than a breath away from coming undone. Control is limited by all manor of factors, both internal and external, both conscious and unconscious. One minute we are sailing along fine and the next minute a strong wind blows and we find ourselves struggling to stay afloat. That’s the way things go out on the open sea and that’s the way things go in life.
Perhaps you are familiar with the famous Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Given what I’m going through, it brings me just as much if not more serenity to express prayer this way: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot control, the strength to control the things I can, and the wisdom to act accordingly.”
Wow. Think about that for a moment. “The serenity to accept the things I cannot control”? That has been one of the hardest things for me to do in the wake of my brain inflammation. If I can’t control something that I “should” be able to control, like my brain, then I can at least feel guilty about not being able to control it. Feeling terrible gives me the illusion of control. Even when the problem was not something I chose and is far beyond my ability to do anything about, feeling terrible leaves me with a small, albeit misdirected, sense of responsibility.
Ironically, feeling terrible – which gives me an illusion of control – gets in the way of the second part of that prayer: “the strength to control the things I can change.” Feeling guilty diminishes my strength and interferes with my ability to change the things I can change through the use of creativity, imagination, ingenuity, inventiveness, and resourcefulness. These are all essential to effective change management but they all get cut short when we sit around and stew in our own juices.
That’s why many people and organizations decide to work with coaches in order to improve their performance, either as a routine practice or at critical junctures like the one through which I have been going. It’s easy to become self-centered and solipsistic when we are left to our own devices. It’s hard but not impossible to get outside of ourselves, especially when partners come along who fill us with hope, insight, and wisdom. Whether consciously or not, such partners recognize and empower us with the third part of that prayer: “the wisdom to act accordingly.”
I like the ancient notion of wisdom as a spirit that must be invited in if we want her to join our company. She doesn’t break in and shake up our brains like a seizure. She stands at the door and knocks, quietly, until we open the door, invite her in and ask her to share whatever she has to offer. Then watch out: she may just talk our ears off! That’s because wisdom has a lot to share and those of us who would seek a well-lived life would do well to step back and absorb wisdom’s mysteries:
A well-lived life is not a well-controlled life; a well-lived life is a well-directed and well-coached life. That’s about all for which we can ask. Point our lives in the right direction, find guides and coaches who can help us on the way, and then do the best we can. The idea that we ever have things fully and truly under control is an illusion. But we can manage to nose around, conducting one experiment after another, until at least a few things fall into place.
When that happens, when we point our lives in the right direction and align ourselves with people who can help us on the way, the illusion of control falls away and we become blessed with untold opportunities for experimentation, discovery and growth. We become blessed with the mystery of life unfolding as only life can: moment by moment into the fullness of time.
Coaching Inquiries: What are the illusions that hold your life together? In what ways do they enhance or detract from your life? What if you told yourself a different story? How might things be different? Who could help you to make it so? Why not get started today?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
In your Coaching Inquiries you asked, “What is one thing you could do today to make it so?” Here are my thoughts: As I help my husband with his Sunday chores today, I will put myself in his “shoes.” He has more tasks than he can possibly handle today and this week. I will give him my total attention and effort to ease his stress and help handle the load. I will not add to his stress or make requests on his time when he truly could not handle another thing. Thanks for the compassion email. Though I had this in mind today, now that I’ve committed to it, it will happen.
Your last Provision rings so true. No matter how empathetic we are or think we are, there is one part of us that “looks down” or wishes that other people had our drive and determination. You put it in such a simple and perfect way in your provision- “Ha!” Although you’ve gone through this very rough period in your life, you’ve been enlightened in ways that you or we could never have been awakened to without that personal experience. Your life is a gift to us all, and so is your writing. My thoughts continue to be with you my friend, stay positive!
Thanks for your writing and sharing of your very human experience. A few years ago my friend who was 47 and the mother of an 11 year old died of breast cancer. Over the last few months of her life I was facilitating a summit on Palliative Care in the hospital where she was being given care. It was such a gift to spend time talking to her about the care she was receiving and it took us into a deeper conversation than I believe we would have had prior to my embarking on this project.
Chronic illness is an uninvited entity in my family and each member has to decide for themselves their relationship to it. Certainly my children are more compassionate and caring because of their experiences but sometimes they have become too much the caregiver to others and not enough toward themselves. I hope, trust, and pray that you will find just the right balance. Blessings.
I have followed your incredible story with prayer and thanksgiving. How wonderful that your doctor-daughter could play such a key role in your diagnosis. I receive LifeTrek Provisions and read them every week with great interest. What a miracle!
I do a lot of work in the realm of health coaching, and loved your Provision “Nodding Hello”. What a wonderful way to make a shift, and appreciate what is. I’d like to to share it with some clients, and link it to a blog post I’m writing. Editor’s Note: Great! Thanks. Here’s the link: Nodding Hello.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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