The Only Thing We Can Control


“You have to meet people where they are, and sometimes you have to leave them there.”

— Iyanla Vanzant

We were driving in the car (where everything happens these days), and there was a person who was intent on staying on my tail, pushing me to go above and beyond the speed limit. They obviously had somewhere they wanted to be, and in their eyes, I was hindering that goal. The kids all had their opinions of how to handle the speedster behind us. Go faster. Go slower. Yell out the window and tell them to follow the rules. Luckily, I know better than to take the advice of a 4-year old (although, sometimes she’s right on). I did my best to signal and get out of the driver’s way, and as I explained to my kids, it just wasn’t worth it. I could not control other people, only control my actions. It was a waste of my energy getting mad and trying to make the other driver do what I wanted.

And as it usually happens, our car ride turned into an intense conversation of the lessons life has to offer. This one happened to be about expectations and trying to control the thoughts and actions of others. And then the stories and personal accounts started pouring out.

We always have a choice. We can’t change other people. We can’t control other people. But we always have a choice as to our own actions.

No matter how hard we try, no matter what we do, we cannot change others. We need to let them be who they are and to make the choices they choose to make. Sometimes it can be the hardest thing – to let others be themselves and not constantly attempt to tweak their personality, assuming we know what is best. Not only can it be frustrating, but it can be scary to let go. The false sense of safety and security we get from assuming we know how others are going to act creates a comfort in our world.

When someone doesn’t act in a way we want or expect it breaks the bubble of our reality. Different reactions can occur – fear, sadness, anger – all directed at the person who simply didn’t act as we expected. We blame others for our own feelings instead of recognizing that we are the ones in control of ourselves and how we react.

We tell others how to treat us, and equally, through the behavior of others, we decide our degree of interaction with them.

This is something we can control. We can control our actions and reactions, our boundaries and our doorways, and when to close the door. I do believe people are inherently good, yet there are people and situations that are just not good for us. If someone is acting in a way that crosses your boundary lines, it becomes your choice to determine the level of engagement. With honestly and kindness, a firm boundary may be necessary. Equally, when we release narrow parameters of what we think is good for others, we are able to focus more easily on our own wants and needs, not what others are or are not doing.

We can be driven crazy trying to guess the next move of someone else. Spending so much energy trying to control anything outside of ourselves results in crazy-making. The thought is alluring: If we say a certain thing, or do a certain thing, then people will do what we want. In theory, it might sound attainable, but we are all so different and often come at life through different experiences, it makes it practically impossible. And when we get so wrapped up in the thoughts and feelings of everyone else, we tend to lose grounding. We are so focused on the input around us, our ability to listen to our own inner wisdom escapes us.

Our expectations of others must match our expectation of ourselves.

If we wish others to be honest with us, we need to be honest with them. If we desire forgiveness, we need to be able to forgive others. When you have a code of conduct that you follow and therefore lay out for others, it is clear for yourself what treatment you will expect as equal to what you give.

“It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

The sooner we realize and truly live with this acknowledgement that we cannot control others, the more peaceful our lives can be.

It is not to say frustration will never occur. Of course, it will. The desire for someone to do something different will happen. Daily. The disappointment when someone acts in a disagreeable way will result. The point is you can release the need to control others when you feel the need arise. You get to influence what you can control, and determine your degree of interaction; whether you say something, whether you get angry, or whether you don’t react at all.

When we release the need to control the actions of others, we release the wasted energy of expectation that comes along with it. Letting go from the entanglement of being in everyone else’s head gives more space for your own self-reflection. It gets the opinions and judgments of others out, leaving the decision making open to you to determine what belongs and what doesn’t. You are the gatekeeper.

Although, all of this is easier said than done sometimes. Now, whenever I get frustrated with someone or something, you can bet, my kids are the first to point out that I can’t control what others do; I can only control myself. And the split second before I give them my retort, I really am reminded that only I can control my reaction – especially to them in that moment.


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