I could write a book about my arduous struggles to maintain a sense of control of my life, I gladly inform you that I will spare you that 9-volume set in today’s post. No, my self-assessment–in this respect–will be much briefer. This is not due to a lack of material, but to the common theme found in all my challenges, which is “total control” is an illusion.
Seeking control is not explicitly a male “thing.” We all want it. We all need it. Without it, our lives threaten to spin out-of-control and cast us upon foreign, unexplored shores that fill us with anxiety and dread. Variables and unseen obstacles make us uncomfortable. Taking control (or at least thinking we are) is the balm that alleviates our tensions and worries, making us feel safe.
I have spent a lifetime trying to “keep things together.” Unfortunately, my efforts have been much to my own detriment. I have spent huge amounts of time and energy meticulously orchestrating the various elements of my life, such as work, relationships, finances, and success, hoping to realize the outcomes I desired (or thought I did), and it has been exhausting. So, if this has been such drudgery, why continue to do it? Fear.
Being in control of things does lend to my feeling powerful and masterful: two feelings of which I have never been able to get enough. It implies the ability to manage and navigate one’s life, seamlessly and efficaciously. I would be lying if I said that these things are not significant motivators of mine. For me, however, this is where the “illusion” come into play. Feeling like I am in control has never really been “the brass ring” that I have always tenaciously sought. What I desire more is to avoid feeling the lack of it.
It all boils down to “fear.” Being afraid that I will fail. Being afraid that I will succeed. Being afraid that I will not be able to handle things that, ultimately, reveal themselves as being outside of my scope. I hate not having all the answers. Always have.
Having walked this Earth for almost 50 years now (though there was some crawling in the beginning), I have managed to pick up a few pearls of wisdom, here and there—albeit some have been harvested from some dubious places and situations. With this in mind, I should feel empowered to tackle the unknown by virtue of my motley experiences. I should be able to put into practice what I have learned and utilize what I have observed to figure things out, but I do not. I plan, strategize, and proactively troubleshoot situations to death before taking a leap. There is nothing wrong with a well-thought-out plan, mind you: it is crucial to being successful in one’s endeavors. When it mainly becomes about maintaining a sense of safety, however, one hardly has the opportunity to enjoy or fully experience the opportunities life throws one’s way. That is problematic.
My perspective of “failure” needs some serious re-framing. Like many men, I tend to look at my own failures in terms of my personal deficits, which is a rather myopic view. Instead of extracting lessons from the negative outcomes in my life, I either focus too much energy (and blame) on external factors that “prevent” me from succeeding or turn my disappointment, inward, finding fault in myself–even when there is none or little to speak of. It is no wonder that I go to great lengths to avoid such emotional baggage and defensiveness. That, however, is a narrative I bought into a long time ago and have chosen to continue contributing to, since childhood. I can only assume such a perspective well-served me once; however, it does not, anymore.
As I write this, I think about the year 2009. My life had come to a stand-still and I began to find some answers through some self-directed Kabbalah study. I not only realized how much “fear” had controlled my life, but how much “life” I had missed out on because of my propensities towards avoidance and self-doubt. I quickly determined to make a positive—radical—change in my life, giving it a complete overhaul. I left the comfort and safety of an administrative job at a non-profit agency to become a trainer and program specialist for the Texas Department of State Health Services. I did on-site trainings and capacity-building across the state, despite my chronic issues with social anxiety. I started teaching social work at the University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley, after years of toying with the idea but never having enough guts to do anything about it. I ran two marathons and broke my way into doing a little writing for an online literary magazine. I had decided that 2009 was going to be my own personal “Year of Living Dangerously” and the opportunities that stemmed from that surprised even me, benefiting me, still, to this day.
Planning and careful deliberation are important, but, sometimes, letting life happen and trusting that “you got this” can result in outcomes that reach far beyond the confines of expectation. Risk is good. Risk makes life worth living. It is not about perfectionism, managing unseen variables, or avoiding failure. It is about pulling your eyes away from “the destination” long enough to take a look at the road, ahead, and enjoy the journey for a change. It is surprising what you can find along the way. You may just find yourself.
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