August 27, 2010

On "control": Give me back my life!

Blog, I don't think you have to be a control freak to dislike not having control. (But yeah, I'm sort of a control freak too.) It's perfectly normal not to want your fate in the hands of forces that don't give a rip about your best interests. We all have times in our lives when this out-of-controlness gets, well, out of control. And I seem to being having one of those right now.

Work: It's commonplace to feel like your work life is getting the best of you. I think more of us are feeling this than ever lately. Because of scarcity of jobs, a lot of employers seem to have the approach now that they can have less concern for the welfare of their workers, even though business has improved. What are we going to do, find a different job and leave? In my own life, and perhaps in our readers' as well, this is having a real impact. Reduction of wages and benefits continues with no end in sight, and hard work no longer means any kind of reward. And there's nothing you can do about it except add the extra work of job-seeking to your load. (Of course, this beats the nightmare of having been unemployed for months, which thankfully I do not have to endure.)

Red tape: As life increases in complexity, so does the red tape with which we all must deal. Just maintaining the status quo is a taxing task: bill paying, record keeping, maintenance of your various electronic devices, your car, your house, your own health, etc. And of course there are always snafus. This week I had to deal with a $100 rebate being rejected for improper paperwork, when in fact the paperwork was fine. And of course I also had to spend about six hours with the latest f*-up by my health insurance company and equipment supplier. I also had three medical appointments, one of which I accidentally missed! I've never done that in my whole life, I was just that stressed out.

Weather: I had lunch with my dad last week and he expressed again his conviction that the predictors of weather are useless. He proved absolutely right just a few days later. My daughters and I went for our annual camping trip and our first night was virtually ruined by a storm that no one expected to be of that magnitude. Then our second day, which we spent at the beach, was totally overcast and drizzly in spite of a forecast that very morning of total sunshine. How can you hope to plan weather-dependent activities? Well, you just can't. No control.

Human beings: I am blessed with a family that is sane, supportive, and mostly strife-free. My life wasn't always this way, so I sympathize with people who must cope with things like mean in-laws, abusive spouses, and challenging children. But even if your close relationships are good, you can bet some of the other humans around you will be a pain in the arse. My silly example from this week: I often keep my office door nearly closed due to noise or wanting to keep the room warm. The woman who delivers the office mail never recloses the door after she comes in. She is the type who, if you asked her to change, would get really snippy and still not change. All you can do to cope with the [admittedly tiny] inconsiderateness is flip her off on the sly. Yes, I do stoop to that level.

Technology: You know I love technology, Blog. But sometimes it functions more as a tool for humans to annoy you rather than as a way to save time and effort. This week I suddenly found myself, for the first time, no longer inclined to just delete unwanted emails. I was so fed up with people thinking they could inundate me from morn till night with crap I didn't want, I started taking the time to unsubscribe. As of this writing, after 48 hours, I have unsubscribed from personal stuff 43 times, and from work stuff 68 times. In two days, Blog.

I have insulin-dependent diabetes, a challenging condition that requires constant monitoring and action, and these days that's a comparative cakewalk to the rest of my life.

Well, Blog, you get the idea, and now let's segue into a more positive theme: regaining control. You know what? I found that just doing those unsubscribes made me feel surprisingly better. Why? Because each time I did it, it was like saying to another source of annoyance, "I control my life, not you, and I don't want your stupid newsletter about beauty products."

So there's Tip #1: Put yourself first when you deserve to be. Don't use this as a justification to be a jerk; that'll do nothing for your self-esteem and only make the world an unhappier place. But you are entitled to as much control over your time and labor as you can reasonably achieve, and especially in response to people trying to take advantage of you. Save the time and effort for people who truly deserve it--not spammers, telemarketers, or coworkers trying to pawn work off on you that is their own responsibility. As long as you are conscientiously doing those things that are rightfully your own duties, no one has the right to object.

Which leads me to Tip #2: Give karma a hand. You know karma, Blog: "What goes around comes around." I don't mind if you call this "slight vindictiveness," even. Example: Yesterday a guy selling online advertising called me about renewing for 2011. I told him my boss had decided to cut the program this time. Naturally he pressured me to reconsider...for a long time, despite my arguments. He claimed we'd gotten tons of website referrals in 2010. I asked him to email a report and I would check with my boss. Well, we have our own tracking, and I could see his report was falsified to a high degree. Well, lie to me and you'll see what happens! I didn't ask my boss, I just emailed the salesguy back a "no."

Going back to the camping story, here's Tip #3: Make plans that increase your own control. After our little weather debacle, my daughters and I made a new plan for future camping. In a nutshell, it eliminates the tent part and gives us fun alternatives to be together even if the weather fails at the last minute. For similar reasons, I avoid the following as much as possible: group work, people who regularly cancel social engagements at the last minute, and doing business with companies that have burned other people (Google is such a helpful tool).

And here's a tip for your mental health, Tip #4: Flip people off on the sly. I mean that figuratively as well as literally, like in my earlier anecdote. Sometimes other people simply have the power to make you unhappy and you have no way to change that. The "sly flip-off" can be helpful to let off steam and give you a little satisfaction, and is certainly better than brooding. I have been known both to quietly hang up on salespeople as well as to goofing off on the job for a couple hours when I've been mistreated by an employer--not that I mean my current employer of course! :-) As in Tip #2, fair is fair, and tipping the fairness scale back a little bit in your favor is nothing to feel ashamed of in my opinion.

On the flip side, there's Tip #5: Know when to let it go. I'm particularly bad at this as you might guess. Sometimes you just have to accept the crappy stuff lest you do nothing but add to your own grief. It can help if you say to yourself, "There's nothing I can do about this so I'm going to forget about it and give myself a treat." Then have a cocktail, some chocolate, or a lazy night of reading.

Lastly, there's Tip #6: Simplify and de-stress your life as much as you can. Employment is never going to be all joy (that's why they pay you), red tape is a part of life, and both people and things will always have their way with you to a certain extent. You can counteract these forces by making sure, in those areas of your life you CAN control, you are leading a balanced existence. Exercise, take time for yourself, don't over-commit to activities, eliminate bad relationships if you can, channel your energy into things that matter most to you. Leave yourself some wiggle-room to accommodate the unavoidable junk.

That's all I got, Blog, and I guess I said a mouthful. Good luck to all of you out there that are feeling put-upon. I hope this helped, and if you have more tips, please share in the comments!


  1. Dear Diane,

    This sounds like another book in the making :)

    Kudos for this essay -- it gave me a few more ideas for coping!

  2. Thanks, Jennie, and I'm glad it was helpful!