May 16, 2015

The Illusion of Control

You must learn to let go. Release the stress. You were never in control anyway. - Steve Maraboli

It had been a full 2 year since my husband and I had visited Utah where two of my children and 9 of my grandchildren live. I'd planned. I'd packed. I'd organized right down to knowing where everything was in my suitcase and the best way to get to it once I arrived - and in the necessary order.

We made arrangements for someone to watch our dog, took care of all last minute details that needed attending to, and even spent two days hooking up the new security system so I wouldn't worry about leaving the house unoccupied for the trip.

Travel day finally arrived. Feeling fully prepared and mostly on schedule we headed for the airport. We'd figured in plenty of time to handle any foreseen problems and traffic  so we arrived with plenty of time to spare. The bus from the off site parking lot dropped us right at the terminal door where we were to check in. Everything was going perfectly! Until it wasn't. 

Pulling my luggage behind me with one hand and carrying my purse and jacket with the other I walked through the sliding doors at Midway Airport in Chicago and BOOM. I hit the floor with full force on my right knee. With both hands full, there was little time to break the unexpected fall - though I must have to some extent as evidenced by the bruise on my left hand and wrist.

A curled up floor mat had been the culprit. My foot caught on the mat and there was no time  to recover balance. From that minute on, all of my careful planning and visions of what would be were completely derailed. 

A nice couple helped my mortified self to my feet. The adrenalin coursing through my body coupled with sheer embarrassment clouded all sense of what was happening around me for a time. The kind strangers helped me to the check in counter, pulled my luggage, and got me settled in line as I dazedly thanked them. I was shaking and in pain but felt I was OK. Until I wasn't.

After the 3 hour flight, picking up the rental car, and driving the 30 minutes to my sons home, I learned that I couldn't bend my knee.
I spent a restless night unable to find a comfortable position and by morning it was clear that I would be making an unexpected trip to the E.R.

The point of this story is not that I fell and was injured, but how quickly our best plans can be laid waste. All of my intentions of playing with grandchildren were instantly altered. My plans to spend time at the company convention being held in the same city were ditched as the brace went on my leg and I was told to elevate, ice, and rest it.

I've spent the last few days dragging the stiff limb behind me at a snails pace, wincing, muttering, and apologizing for slowing down my family, my husband and even complete strangers.

I've known for some time that control was an illusion. I've lived long enough to have seen evidence of it many times, and still, I find myself surprised and a bit bewildered when life doesn't play according to my direction. The better news is that I recover faster each time it happens.

With familiarity comes acceptance - to some degree. I understand that we will never be able to control all outcomes no matter how well we plan or execute. There will always be factors - a lot of them - over which we have no control. Does that mean then that we should throw up our hands and toss our lives into the hands of a fickle fate? No. I don't think so. 

What seems to work better is to plan for the best outcome and be flexible enough to go with the flow of what actually happens. It also helps to ask: If some good could be wrapped up in this awful situation, what could it be?

I guess in my situation I'm thankful that I only badly bruised my patella instead of breaking a bone or causing more permanent damage to what I've learned is a key component of my anatomy. I have a whole new appreciation for the miracle of every day motion that I took for granted before. I also learned never to be so distracted as not to be aware of my present surroundings. 

I've learned how patient and caring my husband is and the lengths to which he'll go to help me when I need him. I've witnessed the inherent kindness of people as others have gone out of their way to accommodate me and make me more comfortable.

My visit with my family has been wonderful. We've managed to work around the new temporary normal and still enjoy our time together despite the slower than desired speed.

I could have spent a good deal of this precious time feeling wronged, and sorry for myself. I could have let the disappointment of the change in plans make me bitter and angry. I might have made any number of useless decisions that could have altered the course of this trip - but why? What would be the point? Would it heal my knee faster? Probably not. Would I have enjoyed this time? I doubt it. I most probably would have made it miserable for those I came to see as well.

We always have choices. Not always about what happens, but most certainly as to how we respond.

I am happier when I choose to be. I'm more patient when I remember that this too will pass. I'm more agreeable when I can turn the focus off myself and on to those around me who matter. 

Another lesson that my husband suggests is that I learn to accept help when I need it and to stop apologizing to the world for having been born into it. He went as far as to ask if I'd apologized to my mother for causing her pain at my birth. My answer: Yes. While still on the delivery table.

My point is summed up very well in the opening quote. We must learn to give up the stress. We were never in control anyway!

How do you deal with unexpected changes when life happens as it wants to instead of how you've planned? We can all use more tools. Share!


  1. Hi Anita, I'm so sorry to hear about your knee. That's awful. I'm so glad you're still able to enjoy your visit though not as you had imagined. I learned through years of infertility that control is an illusion. That's not to say that I don't still desire control. I do. But I'm also a lot more relaxed when things don't go my way. I have an inner dialogue to remind myself that things happen the way they do for a reason; that I need to surrender to what is and to believe that everything is as it should be. I tell myself to let go; to trust that things are working out for my highest good. Sometimes it's easier to accept than others. Have a safe trip back! Oh and I love the quote!

    1. Jackie

      Sorry for the delay in response. I've been traveling and typing on my phone is a recipe for hilarity! I could do a whole post on typos that have left me embarrassed. :/ (Home safe now thank you.)

      I like your inner dialog. I'd like to introduce it to mine. Maybe it would be a good influence. When I do give up wanting life dance to my drum and fife and just enjoy the ride I'm much more peaceful. Wish I could say I always start from that place instead of ending up there.

      Thank you again for your insight and for stopping by.

  2. "You were never in control anyway." -- love that Anita!!

    So sorry to hear about your injury, but I love the reflections that you've had as a result. I'm about to embark on one of my greatest challenges yet: we're moving north, where we'll live in a trailer until our new home is finished.

    All belongings will go to storage and, for around 2 months, we'll be very dependent on trades people doing what we need, when we need.

    As much as I want to control it all, right now, before we even get there, I know that I can't. The next 2-3 months will be an exercise in letting go and letting be.

    Like you, I've been reflecting, and I can only hope that I will come out the other side with a greater ability to let go ... practice makes perfect, right? :)

    1. WOW did you pick a baptism by fire way to learn to let go of control! I've remodeled twice and am in the process of overseeing the rebuild of my mother-in-laws home that was destroyed by a frozen pipe last winter. You really have NO control over that process. Then after the original contractor ran away with $50.000 of a 96 year old woman's money, the court had control.

      Even over this injury I have no control. The healing process, while I can have some influence, takes it's ever lovin' time. Trying to find the party whose insurance covers my ER visit and follow up expenses has been a full time job too. I must have needed to know all of the things I'm learning for some reason. :)

      Life is going to happen on it's own schedule. We can go along quietly or kicking and screaming - but we'll arrive at the same time. The only difference will be how well we enjoy the trip.

      The advice I can give you is to follow up often, don't be afraid to ask hard questions, and before giving more money, get a written account of where the money you've already paid has gone. The new contractor is a dream to work with, and is doing a far better job, so in the end, it's all ended well for mom.

      From that experience, I learned to listen to the voice that tells me things aren't right. I learned to be more proactive than reactive and to forgive. Bitterness causes wrinkles!

      Thanks for sharing. Keep me posted on your adventure! DM me on Twitter and I'll send you my email address. I want to go along for THIS ride!

    2. Will do Anita! The closer it gets (less than two weeks now), the more uneasy I get. It's one of those situations where you know it's going to be challenging, but you don't really know how much. :)

      We also just bought a video camera, to record our adventure. A new "reality series" for YouTube? LOL

  3. I am so sorry you were hurt and had your plans waylaid! It is very difficult maintaining control over every thing in our lives, especially when there are always so many variables out of our control. Go with the flow sometimes seems too arbitrary. In general I tend to make a plan, but always count on deviations! :)

    1. Thanks! Since I'm still here to complain about it things could have been much worse. I think any plan that includes room for deviations is about the best plan we can make. I really thought I had all the variable bases covered this time - as though that's possible. Life is so much more creative than I am apparently. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.