We had just completed map-making in a two hour live workshop.
The students had taken one idea, split it into all of it's individual parts, picked a three month goal, set mile-markers, listed to-dos and reorganized it all into a map, a plan they could take action on the very next day. We had even talked about how to make time for each day, to actually do all of their to-dos. We were wrapping up, when one stylish woman with a thriving art business asked me,

“I have a list of things I can do, but a lot of this depends on other people's responses. It's completely out of my control. What can I do about all those things I can't control?”

I burst out laughing, because, oh, this is the question of my life.

I like to have everything under control. I like to make a list and mark it off. I'm into accomplishing stuff, just for it's own sake, just for the feeling of having made progress. (My highest rank on that strengths-finder test was “Achievement.”)
But a business is (tragically) full of things I have absolutely no control over. The number of people who beam up. The press releases that are published. The speedy response to an important email.

Note: Most creatives that I work with vastly underestimate their power over some “uncontrollable” variables like sales, response, customer delight. You can do a lot to impact these areas.

So when the student asked how you deal with the things you can't control, I had to laugh because I wish there was something I could do to take all of the unknown of it.
But her question (and my answer) has stuck with me the past few weeks – it's something I am always dealing with, and I need to remind myself of it regularly.

How to deal with what I can't control:

  1. Acknowledge that there are things that are out of your control and this is not a personal failure. If you need to, write this down: “I am not in control of the entire universe and I'm ok with that.”
  2.  List all of the things you can do to impact results. (You can write your email with a clear ask and strong call to action. You can create a strong offer, take amazing photographs, create your best work.)
  3. List all of the things you can't directly do. (You can't force people to respond to your email or offer. You can't control their reaction. You can't control their thoughts, feelings, or judgements.)
    Double check that you are taking responsibility for what you can control – the quality of the work you create, the way you show up in the world, your generosity, your time building your business, the number of people you email.
  4.  Let go of the list of things you can't control. Take a deep breath and commit to just letting it go.
  5. Recommit to do what you can do. Make sure they're broken down into real to-dos (things you can accomplish in a day or so) and create a plan to make it happen. Commit to doing the best you can do.

When I find myself paralyzed, stressing over all I can't control, making this list helps center me in my own power, and I usually realize I have more to do than I thought. I also recognize that time and space are (sadly) outside of my control. Some aspects of business growth and project success just require (loads of hard work and) time.
You can't rush it.
You can only show up each day and do your best work.


How do you deal with the uncontrollable?

Share your own list of outside- and inside-my-control in the comments.





2 Comments on How to embrace what you can’t control.

  1. Kylie Bellard
    October 21, 2013 at 10:08 pm (11 years ago)

    Oh, this is wonderful! I don’t know if I’ve really ever stopped to think about what I can control and what I can’t. But now that you’ve mentioned it, I’m realizing that differentiating between those two might increase my sanity exponentially. I am totally, totally going to do this.

  2. Tara Swiger
    October 22, 2013 at 11:17 am (11 years ago)

    Yay! I’m so glad!
    This is another aspect of separating “your stuff” from “their stuff”. How people react or respond to your offering is “their stuff”, and trying to control that makes you less effective at “your stuff”.
    Yay sanity!