Other parts of life catch us by surprise. Serendipitous meetings, relationships, and “good luck.” Unexpected illnesses, accidents, or tragedies.
The predictable events in life “always” happen, but the unpredictable, life-altering events are things that we “never” expect to happen.
Why, then, do so many of us use the extremes of “always” and “never” to describe what will or won’t happen in our lives?
Given the right circumstances:
- Anyone can do anything – both good and bad.
- Anyone can become anything – both good and bad.
- Anything can happen to us – both good and bad.
To compound the conundrum, we humans are hardwired to paradoxically want both stability and surprise. Yet we are bored by the predictable (the “always”) and caught off guard by the surprises (the “never”). It’s impossible for us to simultaneously exist on both ends of this spectrum.
But life is not a black-or-white experience. Life is inherently about the grey nuances – nothing is either totally good or totally bad.
These grey nuances of life are colored by the surrounding circumstances. The exact same event can be viewed positively or negatively AND have good or bad consequences, depending upon what else is occurring at that time.
The events and results following whatever happens to us (both expected and unexpected) are shaped by our perceptions. While we can control our actions and reactions to any situation, it is impossible for us to control the thoughts, minds, and actions of other people which help to shape that situation. We might be able to influence others, but their free will assures us that we can never control them.
The curse and blessing of learning to accept that certain things are outside of our control presents a huge challenge:
- The curse occurs when – despite our most valiant efforts – we realize that we can’t control the world around us and that bad things can (and will) happen to good people. It can be terrifying if we choose to view ourselves as pinballs mindlessly being buffeted by the hands of fate in some cosmic game.
- But the blessing occurs when we finally agree to control the only thing that we can control: our own thoughts and actions. We then recognize not only our own self-imposed barriers to success, but also our inherent power to eradicate them. We finally have the freedom to get out of our own way.
Paradoxically, therefore, we have ultimate control yet we have no control.
The Peaceful Coexistence of Ultimate Control and No Control
Recognizing and accepting the boundaries of our personal control can be invigorating and exciting. It creates a fertile ground for the anticipation of surprise or serendipity in our daily existence. We begin to notice the nuances of the circumstances surrounding us and forego rigidly trying to change reality to match our personal expectations. Living life in this way is rarely boring.
Understanding the paradox of having both ultimate control (over oneself) and an utter lack of control (over others) shatters many existing paradigms. This balance is the core of staying on course toward our goals and mindfully enjoying the journey because:
- We acknowledge that some things are predictable and that certain actions lead to predictable consequences, so we consciously act in ways that are more conducive to success BUT…
- We also embrace the surprise and serendipity that are the “stuff” of life, so we focus on what we can control (ourselves) rather than what we can’t control in order to determine the ultimate “goodness” or “badness” of any unpredictable event.
- We accept that (despite sounding like an oxymoron) change is constant and we embrace it.
- Finally, we recognize the futility of saying “never” or “always” to describe what may or may not happen in the future. After all, life is what happens when you’re planning something else.
Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc. A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com. You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI.