I think I used to be a control freak; OK, maybe I still am to a certain degree, but I think I am starting to loosen up a bit; life does that to you if you’re listening.
I don’t know where I developed the tendency to need everything in complete harmony with my world. Growing up on a Wisconsin farm didn’t do it, I don’t think. Or maybe it did. You have to do things a certain way or crops don’t grow, cows don’t give milk, chickens don’t lay eggs and you don’t eat.
I can remember my parents and older siblings always telling me (the youngest) how to do things and that it had to be done just right. Of course, I didn’t always succeed.
Like the time when I was about 5 and my brother told me to stand in the upper loft of the barn and watch as straw was blown in to store it for winter. He made it very clear that I was to stay there in that spot and if the pile got beyond a certain point I was supposed to run around behind the barn and tell him.
Well, it was hot and sticky that summer day and after a while my attention wandered and I found myself in the house, telling my mother how hot and sticky I was. Next thing I knew, I was in the tub taking a bath–until my brother came storming in yelling at me because the straw had overflown and now it would take hours to clean it up.
I still remember the humiliation at not doing my job, not controlling my desire to get out of the heat.
Twenty years in the Marine Corps certainly elevated my control skills; however, even there it is accepted that “the best battle plan rarely survives first contact with the enemy.” You learn to always be flexible and adaptable.
Maintaining control can be exhausting.
I constantly try to control my day. I get up early so I can plan and get things done before distractions begin to pop up. I have lists and notes to keep me on track, then I make notes to remind me to look at the lists and notes. I have reminders set on my phone. I have reminders on my emails that pop up, I snooze them and they pop up again. Eventually I get to them, or delete them.
The thing about being a control freak is that eventually you may find that there are only a very few things in your life that you can actually control and if you focus on those, other things fall into place–or go away.
I find that I can control my attitude. Regardless of how the day starts, or is going, or has ended, I generally have complete control of my attitude. Problems and challenges will always arise but how we approach them will make the difference in how we handle them.
Just today for example, I had many things planned but when my computer started telling me my memory was too low to perform certain functions and I had to delete things to get it back; needless to say, the rest of my day hasn’t gone as planned.
However, instead of freaking out, I’ve just taken each setback as it came up and got done what I could get done–this blog was one of my accomplishments today. The rest will wait for tomorrow, or the next day.
I can control my response to people–normally. I was just talking with someone the other day about driving in traffic and how some people just have no courtesy or patience and others are plain belligerent.
There was a time where if someone cut me off in traffic, or pulled out in front of me, I would be angry and perhaps present the one-finger salute, or worse. Over time I have learned that it is much better for my blood pressure if I simply slow down and let them get far in front of me.
Inevitably, when we get to the next stop light, all their speeding did nothing because they are sitting there right next to me anyway.
I can control how people perceive me. I can smile often, saying hello doesn’t cost me a thing and trying to remember peoples’ names is a great memory exercise. I can say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ I can listen more and talk less. These little actions can go a long way in making everybody’s day a little better.
I can do the best I can at everything I do but not beat myself up if I’m not perfect at everything. It just isn’t going to happen. There may be a handful of people who are perfect at everything, but I’m not one of them, so I’ll be the best I can at anything I attempt. I’ll never play guitar like Eric Clapton, but he’ll probably never write a feature-length magazine article as well as me. We all have our talents.
So, Week-Enders, are there any recovering control freaks who want to share some words of wisdom? You never know when a couple of words you have to share might turn someone’s day–or life–around.
OK, I’ll start it out. My name is Randy, and I am a recovering control freak.
Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Beaufort, S.C.; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.