When I was a kid, my mom went on a backpacking trek in Switzerland (I think it was Switzerland). To get ready, she loaded up her pack and hiked around the hills of Palos Verdes day after day, week after week. Because I was such a helpful, loving son and wanted my mom to be in top shape for her adventure, I placed (hid?) a few (more than a few?) cans of food in the bottom of her pack. And because she was training with the actual packed gear that she was going to be taking to Switzerland, she not only carried around the extra weight during her training…but also on her trip. The cans weren’t actually discovered until she returned home and finally unpacked.
While my mom has probably never fully forgiven me for my “help,” and while this story has been told over and over through the years, I only recently realized that there’s a bigger picture to this story. (No. The bigger picture is not about the value of grounding kids for months at a time!) I think the bigger picture is that we all carry around extra weight. And, if we would just “check our packs” from time to time, we can unload this burden before it’s too late (like it was for my mom!).
Instead of beans, peas and chicken noodle soup, the metaphorical cans that have traditionally weighed me down were filled with “control” (or more appropriately, a lack of it!). Until recently, I gave WAY more weight to things that were in these “cans.” That is to say I gave more weight to stuff that was out of my control. Even if I successfully achieved all the things that were IN my control, but something out of my control went awry, I could still end up in a funk. Sometimes a really deep, dark funk. I gave the stuff out of my control more importance. More value. Too much importance and value.
And that’s just ass-backwards!
What we do control, and the things that we do well, should LIFT UP anything that might not go right…not get crushed under the weight of them. The stuff in our control that we do right and do well (big or small) should be like the gas in a hot air balloon. Even with one, two or more things that didn’t go “as we wanted” weighing down the basket, we can still lift ourselves off the ground by focusing on doing our best with the actions we take within our control.
This isn’t to say that everything in our control always goes “right.” It’s just that if something went wrong, but we acted in accordance to our personal governing principles (because they vary from person to person), we can feel good about that. We gave it our best shot. There’s lightness in knowing and believing that.
What now regularly helps me eliminate the extra weight – even as things go wrong that I do control – is by constantly trying to avoid excuses and blame. The day I learned to take more responsibility for my actions, for the things that were in my control – even my mistakes (especially my mistakes!) – was the day that the stuff out of my control lost its importance. The day that stuff lost its weight. And the day my own actions gained more power. Perhaps more importantly, by letting go of the blame and excuses, I also discovered that I had more in my control than I thought.
I’m a reasonably creative guy. My brain is always bubbling over with “we should do this,” and “what if we did that?” ideas. In the past, when I started to make progress on projects, but they got stalled because someone else didn’t make a decision, or didn’t return a phone call (or repeated phone calls!), I always felt like my success (or the success of the project) wasn’t in my hands. My broken record excuse was always something like, “(Insert name, company, position here) just kills me. They don’t get it. I can’t do this because its success is based on someone else’s decisions.” I got to a place where if “they” said yes, I was happy. But, if they didn’t respond or if they said no, I could get despondent. And, of course, I could never forget that it was all their fault! And, damn, it weighed me down.
I know it’s discouraging to work hard, but then maybe not be able to get that final “yes” to make it (whatever it is) go (in whatever way that is). Absolutely discouraging. Does that mean that the world is ending, as I often let myself think? No. I often let a single negative response take down all the work that went into an idea. Maybe worse, I often let a single negative response kill an idea before it even really had a chance to get formed! Those negative responses carried way too much weight. And then I carried that weight with me, like the cans in my mom’s pack.
What I think now, however, is that if I believe in something, I’m going to make it happen. Get that? I’m going to make it happen. It’s not up to someone else. It’s up to me. If it doesn’t happen…that’s on me. Still discouraging, but I take responsibility for that and the extra weight isn’t on my shoulders. I control it.
We control so much more than we often think we do. I know I control way more than I thought I did. And by understanding this, the extra weight is no longer in my pack. (Oh, and again…sorry mom!)