A Violent Reminder

I’m writing this as Hurricane Sandy makes its way up the coast. In case you haven’t heard, Sandy is considered a storm of historical proportions.

I’m not a meteorologist, but my understanding is that Sandy is a Category 1 hurricane that is getting stronger by combining with other storms. News reports are saying that it will eventually have the power to cause problems for up to 800 miles from where it hits land.

Already, it has sunk a ship and caused closings and evacuations. It’s pretty scary stuff. It’s also a kind of reminder, at least to me.

I am a person who practices control. I run a business. I make investments I control. I plan and prepare. I like to think that I’m “in charge” of my life. It’s at times like now, with Sandy bearing down on people, that remind me that I’m not as in control as I sometimes think I am.

I don’t mean to get all philosophical on you, but something like Sandy, which has waves recorded as high as 32 feet and a 10-foot-plus storm surge, makes you realize that sometimes we’re helpless against nature. We are literally powerless against storms like this – Sandy will do whatever she wants.

We can evacuate and close down roads. We can stock up on groceries and make sure we have flashlights for batteries. We can take precautions and do our best to get out of Sandy’s way, but that’s it. There are going to be floods and power outages. People will probably get hurt. There will be millions of dollars worth of damage. It’s just what a super-powerful storm will do.

For me, it’s a reminder that no matter how “in control” we think we are, there are always some things that are beyond our control. It’s not always a nasty, violent storm, but something of that magnitude gets you thinking about how, in the grand scheme of things, our control is kind of insignificant.

No matter who’s president, no matter how rich or poor you are, no matter how in control and together anybody thinks their life is, we can’t do anything about it when Mother Nature decides to flex her muscles and batter us with her strength. We have to take it. We just have to ride it out.

That’s the opposite of most people’s instincts. We want to be able to DO something about what’s going on around us. Stocking the pantry, evacuating the coast, and preparing to be without power are ways to prepare, but they don’t change the outcome and don’t change the fact that we simply have to sit still and ride it out.

I think it’s important to be able to recognize the things that you can and can’t control. A massive, horrifying tropical storm is a pretty obvious one, but there are other things in our lives that are a bit more subtle. Being able to distinguish what we can and can’t control is sometimes tricky, but it’s necessary unless you want to go nuts.

You’ve heard the term “control freak,” right? It’s got a negative connotation to it because it’s come to describe someone who obsesses over controlling. My interpretation of a control freak is someone who doesn’t realize that there are things beyond their control. A person like this is probably going to be miserable – trying to control everyone and everything has got to be exhausting.

We can’t control what other people say, think or do. Ever. Trying to do that would be as nuts as trying to stop Hurricane Sandy. In any of our interactions with other people, we can only control what WE say, think or do. It’s important to recognize that we CAN control these things, and we should.

We can control what we do with our time, choosing to spend it productively or unproductively. We can control how we treat the people around us. We can control what kind of work we do, what kind of books we read and what kind of places we travel to. These are all things that we should be keenly aware of as controllable. These are the kinds of things we should take charge of to get what we want to get out of life.

The tough thing for someone who takes charge of all these things is the fact that there are simply some things that can’t be controlled. We can plan and prepare, but we can’t determine every outcome of every aspect of our lives. When you realize this and truly let go of the feeling that you have to control everything, life gets less stressful. Worry about what you CAN control, and just ride out the rest.

Stock up on canned goods, get the flashlights ready, make sure you’re prepared. That’s all fine. But realize that when a storm’s going to hit, that’s ALL you can do.