Control is an illusion. You will be wise to determine the context within which you think you have control. Control dissipates very quickly once you are outside that context.
Driving champion Mario Andretti has summed it up for his purpose as, “If you think you’re in control, you’re not going fast enough.” In his profession, there is a fine line between fast enough and crash. The same line is between champion and also ran.
For most of us, our world is not quite so Darwinian. The line between control and crash is quite a bit wider and there are no competitors who must be defeated for us to achieve our goals. Be careful with the need for speed.
In our world, “in control” means the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.
So, are we better off developing coping skills or are we better off developing controlling skills?
Controlling skills are a popular sale. Everything from guarantees to psychological approaches to negotiating skills. They tend not to work. Control is fragile. If anything within its ambit changes, away goes the control. No one can tell you about control until they know your particular context.
Adapting skills are more durable. They begin with the idea that situations are not usually deterministic. You can influence, but not guarantee an outcome. With that knowledge in hand, risk becomes less threatening.
Adaptation skills do not come easily. Many are from experience. Some are from education. Neither inexpensive. The valuable adaptation skill comes from attitude. New, interesting and exciting is a mindset. So is curiosity. The willingness to experience new and the willingness to fail, maybe even make a fool of yourself, is where adaptability really lives. No one need be adaptable to deal with familiar settings.
If familiar settings keep changing then they are not really familiar. The psychotic boss, the unreasonable customer, the volatile spouse all present adaptation challenges. Some people can use wit or irony or emotion to deal with these, but they must never mistake those for control.
Effective control is being able to flourish in complicated, previously unseen environments. That requires experience and skill.
You will have to admit that you have not seen everything until you have seen a dog fighting a lobster with a wooden spoon.
Be brave. Learn to be adaptable. Grow with, even enjoy, new situations.
Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is now with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.