February 10, 2021

Why our “Controlling” Personalities don’t Work.


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Learning to Surrender to What Is.

For a recovering obsessivecompulsive, controlling perfectionist, this just might be the single most challenging and elusive life lesson to learn.

For as long as I can remember, I was a planner—I am damn good at it, too. I was paid quite well in the corporate world to strategize, organize, and make plans A through Z; so that I could pluck out and execute a plan based on whatever changing variables I managed to predict.

My motto at work was, “Proper planning prevents piss-poor performance.” Colleagues were amazed at how easily I’d pivot if plans changed, but what they didn’t see were all the sleepless nights I experienced with my mind spinning on what-ifs and an always “on” presence as I watched for any clues that my plans may be sidetracked. And it certainly didn’t prevent the five layoffs I experienced due to unforeseen circumstances.

My wedding is still talked about amongst the family as the epitome of detail: from the hibiscus flower that bloomed in the champagne upon filling the flute to the exquisite bouquets that adorned the mansion we’d rented. I guarantee that I drove our vendors crazy with follow-ups and quadruple checks. My soon-to-be (wise and intuitive) husband was so concerned this would keep me from enjoying our wedding day that he practically had to strong-arm me into hiring someone else to take care of day-of details.

In my mind, I couldn’t trust anyone to be as organized and detail-oriented as I was, but I ceded anyway and only because the woman I hired was a coworker who I knew was as obsessive as I was about getting everything “just right.”

Guess what?

Things still didn’t work out as planned: I tripped down the aisle. Our ring bearer cried through much of the photography. The cake flavors weren’t what we ordered. The sun was directly in my eyes, and I couldn’t actually see the man I was going to marry as we exchanged our vows…and I’m sure a dozen other things I’ve since forgotten.

This way of living resulted in chronic back pain, digestion issues, anxiety, and exhaustion bordering on adrenal fatigue. And yet, I couldn’t let it go. I was always trying to predict and see around corners so that I wouldn’t be caught off guard.

I recognize where my need to control and avoid pain stemmed from. I’d had a few traumatic experiences in my 20s, specifically my mother’s suicide as well as a then-good friend defrauding me that resulted in declaring bankruptcy and foreclosing on my house. I never ever wanted to feel that hopeless, shocked, and beaten down again. I felt stupid for missing the signs, and therefore doubled down on my vigilance.

Yet, no matter my effort, I haven’t avoided painful circumstances. I have yet to hear of anyone who’s managed to completely avoid tragedy by proper planning. Have you?

Look at us all now with COVID-19. No one could have predicted the world sheltering in place, lifelong-built businesses closing, hundreds of thousands of deaths, or how drastically our daily lives would change.

Control is an illusion. There is no way, in our capacity as humans, regardless of intelligence level or effort, that we can control everything that happens outside of us or other people. The concept of control lives in the future, which doesn’t actually exist except in our minds.

So if there’s no control, we really only have two options: we can either struggle against this reality and suffer in our denial and constant stress, or we can surrender to it and allow reality to be as it is.

It is like swimming in the ocean. We can try to stand firmly in the sand beneath us, as the water rises over our heads, and brace against the waves and tide, resulting in tossing, turning, crashing, and potentially drowning. Or we can position ourselves to let the waves take us with them—because they will, one way or another. I grew up in a beach town and learned early on that the latter is so much easier, even if I still ended up swallowing a little seawater and got sand in my suit.

Pain is an inevitable part of life—it is unavoidable. People we love will die; we will die. Things we don’t want to happen, will. We will be sad, angry, frustrated, and surprised. We’ll also feel elation, love, peace, and contentment. That is the cyclical nature of life.

We go through seasons of emotions and experiences; that is what makes life beautiful.

The experience of it all is what makes life worth living. It provides depth, color, and expression. It’s what inspires art, music, and our creativity.

Solutions are born from problems; we evolve when we struggle. The technology we enjoy now is the result of someone’s frustration at some point and deciding to innovate another way.

We learn; we grow, and that is what provides us fulfillment and purpose. Knowing that we can contribute in ways that allow us to leverage our unique experiences—especially including failures and pain points—that help build a better life and community for others.

When we surrender to what is, we find solutions and a path forward. We live in the present moment, which is all that actually exists anyway.

It’s taken me over 40 years to feel into surrendering, and it’s a glorious freedom.

Won’t you join me?


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