What we cannot control

Hello everyone!

In my post last week, here, I talked about how silent and calm times are often followed by busy times. This is what happened with me last fall (calm times) and then this winter (busy times). I would normally expect myself to be very overwhelmed, especially given that all the things that happened were very important things for my life (dissertation defense, moving out, job applications -all big things-). However, I was calmer than I usually would be. Perhaps the most peaceful I have ever been. Then, of course, I started thinking why and how. Here is what I found.

I experienced a very hard time last spring (my wedding was called off one month before the actual date). As hard as it was, it taught me the biggest life lesson that helped me be calm in the recent busy times: you cannot control everything. It sounds cheesy, but here is how it helped me: The dissertation defense is the culmination of years of study and it shows what it was worth. We are challenged by questions during the defense and we need to be really prepared and hope that we will be able to answer the questions in the best way. It is really stressful. However, based on my experience last spring, I had become fully convinced that there are so many things I cannot control. I can’t control or predict what questions will be asked; I cannot control the result (will I pass or not?); I cannot control people’s reactions to my research. All I can control is my preparation. I should design the presentation as clearly as I can, try to predict some questions that might come up (and there is no way I can predict all questions) and find potential answers (and I may not have answers to these questions), go over the research cited in my dissertation in case I need to refer to them. Anything beyond this, I cannot do anything about. That is how I stayed so calm before and during the defense. I only focused on what I needed to do but not on the results, not on things I actually cannot control. Similarly, when I applied for jobs, all I can do is tailor my resume and apply. Anything after that is not my responsibility.

I learnt this because when my marriage was called off, I tried to control the situation but I couldn’t. That taught me the biggest lesson of my life: don’t try to control things that you cannot. It is a waste of energy. And I am loving this version of me. This is who I wanted to be for years. So, I am grateful for all the hard times.

What are some of the things you learnt through hard experiences? Do you try to control more things than you can? How do you deal with it? Let’s discuss.


35 thoughts on “What we cannot control

  1. Guess like in the movie. In life, we need to “Let it go”, so we don’t remain frozen in place on our path through life.

  2. You are so right! There are many things we cannot control. Hence, the Serenity Prayer!
    God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    The courage to change the things I can change,
    And the wisdom to know the difference!

    Thanks for the reminder. I’m so glad you have found peace.

  3. Hard times make us who we are! All events happening in our life are all experiences that we learn from them…we can’t control everything, but we can learn from everything!

  4. I think the unpredictability and fear that we face at this moment in time, with the sad news of external events kind of forces us to adopt this mindset of focusing on what we can control. We don’t know what the future holds, but we can only try to do our part in acting with wisdom and responsibility

  5. Beautiful post, Betul! What a wise person you are to glean such a great lesson from a hard event in life. Thank you for sharing with us. It’s such a good reminder to clearly know what you can and cannot control!

    1. Knowing and then accepting out limits too. I have always known that I cannot control results, but somehow I wanted to. But that wish is gone too:)

  6. Wow, although it is said often that we can’t control everything, I don’t believe it really sunk in with me until I saw a transparent perspective from someone else’s experience. I too have had a hard time letting go of some things that I shouldn’t be holding on to, mainly revolving around outcomes on my job. You said something very key that the best thing that can be done is to prepare and don’t worry about the outcome. That actually has been my statement to live by in my work life, knowing that I prepared and gave the best I could and not worry about the outcome but yet I always found myself worrying about the outcome. It seems it intensified the outcome actually with the more worry I placed behind it. I am trying to move on beyond that control and in hope to have a joyful and rewarding life.

    1. It is very hard to achieve and it is definitely a process. The hardship intensifies with the external pressure we get. But I think what matters is to keep repeating these major terms (e.g. I cannot control the result). At some point, hopefully, our brain will start to actually really believe it.
      I am glad the post helped you see it more clearly.

  7. Your post embodies the Stoic concept of ‘the dichotomy of control.’ To be stay sane in life, it is best to find what you can control and work on that as opposed to working on things you can’t control. In the end, that would just wear you down to little effect. Solid post, Betul and thanks for sharing from your heart.

    1. Yeah, it would just drain our energy to no result. Also, I should probably read more about Stoicism. It seems like I am naturally inclined towards it.

  8. I think once you genuinely accept that you have no control in a particular situation, you can find peace and comfort in that and focus on doing your best.

  9. A thought-provoking post.
    I try to set things right if they have gone wrong for me. But once I realize that I can’t control a given situation, (even after I attempt to salvage it) I bow out. I try to see if something good has come out of that bad situation. If not, I leave it to the almighty.
    Easily said than done perhaps but, doable.

  10. Stoicism is entirely summed up in the Serenity Prayer quoted above. It is an important aspect of original Epicureanism. It also sums up most of Zen Buddhism. And the concept of radical acceptance within Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It is a conclusion reached by modern existentialist thought.

    We have a paleolithic mind adapted to a simple life with a small number of people, most of whom are related. We hunted and gathered and were in turn hunted and gathered in nature. It is ill-adapted to the modern world of cities of strangers and vast and complex political and economic machinery. The world is full of people insisting that we must lose *our* serenity for *their* benefit.

    Actual control of our own lives is shrinking. Simply identifying that which we ought not to worry about is quite a task.

    1. Nice points here! I am familiar with the term radical acceptance in CBT but it is good to know that other approaches have similar concepts too. And yes, it is becoming more difficult perhaps, and maybe now we need radical acceptance more than ever.

  11. Your brave post raises many thoughts for me Betul. It’s so difficult to let go of the control, especially when I needed to be in control during much of my career. Habits die hard sometimes don’t they?
    Your inspirational post encourages me to work more on it though 🙏🏼

  12. I’ve had to learn that same lesson myself, that and that it’s impossible to control others but I can control how I respond to others. It’s a really tough one to learn and sometimes I find that I have to re-learn it ❤️

    1. It is a good lesson to learn. but I can see that it can be challenged with new situations that arise. I hope we can master those situations easily.

  13. I agree that it’s pointless to try to control things that you simply cannot control. I used to get really bad road rage when driving. Every little thing that other drivers did, set me off! I don’t remember at what point I learned this theory of not letting things outside of my control make me mad… but it has really helped with my road rage. By getting angry, the only one affected is me, and I want to be nice to myself 😛

    1. I never thought of applying it to driving but it is a good approach. And I agree to what you are saying about the effects of trying to control things.

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