Control is a pervasive concept in our society. Remote controls, self-control, control panels, control over resources, or even others, just to name a few. Chances are the computer you’re reading this on has a control (ctrl) button on it. The concept of control is everywhere. And it’s one of the strongest illusions we have.
Many times, the strength of these illusions comes from their subtlety. This subtlety often masks the illusion, or keeps it below our conscious awareness. We feel like we’re in control of things, people, or circumstances, so we don’t bother to consider whether we are or not. At some point in our lives we’ve all found ourselves saying something like, “If this person would just do this,” or “If I could just get this thing to do something,” or “If I could just do this.” This is the illusion of control being unmasked, or coming into our awareness. It can be a first step in getting rid of the illusion or going further into denial.
Even when exposed, illusions of control can be among the hardest, and most painful, to break. I’ll give you a recent example from my own life. One of the illusions I lived by for most of my adult working life has been that I want my work to be judged on its own merits, rather than doing my part well and still being judged poorly because someone else didn’t hold up their end. This, among many other reasons, is why I went into software development. My code, my work, and no one else’s. I control my work, and whether the quality is good or bad is all my responsibility. Before this, I worked in some jobs where my individual performance wasn’t nearly as relevant. Since my part was a small part of the overall picture I could have done the best job in the world, but if the others involved didn’t do their part, I could still be judged poorly.
This situation comes up much less frequently in the software world, but sure enough, it came up. I was responsible for creating some software that depended on someone else doing something and providing information. When I tried explaining the situation, I was basically told, deal with it and get it done. That was when I realized that it didn’t matter what kind of work I did, I would never completely control my work. It will always be dependent on others to some degree. In the same way society relies on its members to do all kinds of different things that others will rely on, work will always reflect that in a smaller fashion.
Despite the illusions we harbor, we do have control over our lives. We have control over life’s circumstances and the people around us, but not how most people think of it. Control of our external circumstances is largely indirect. Yes, you can leave where you are and go elsewhere, but you will still be you. You’ll attract the same type of people, circumstances, and situations into your life that you just left. If you truly want to change something outside, you have to change what’s inside first. Want different friends, or want to be something, or do something, or have something different? Be the kind of person that has those friends, or is that something, or does something, or has something. You are not your circumstances, but they reflect who you are. You control them, or change them, by being who you are, or changing who you are. Just remember – you didn’t get where you are overnight. You probably won’t be getting out of it overnight either.