The Illusion of Control

by Katy on April 2, 2010 · 16 comments

The times when I get most stressed out are when the tiny detailed tasks of daily life inflate themselves to gargantuan proportion and sweep me off my feet. I’m never going to be a perfectly organized person, but I can try and stay on top of things. And mostly, I do a decent job. The house may not be clean if your standards run towards Martha Stewart, but the laundry gets done, meals get prepared, the dishes get washed and the adult rooms are generally pretty tidy-ish.

But sometimes I whip myself into a frenzy of accomplishment that threatens the type-A’s and gives me an empowering sense of taking care of bidness.

Take this Tuesday as an example.

I started the day with a bang, with kids off to school, a blog post efficiently written and neat and tidy to-do list to rival all to-do lists.

  • Pack up The Story of Stuff book to mail to the giveaway winner? Check.
  • Call new insurance information to the kids’ dentist? Check.
  • Two loads of laundry washed and hung to dry? Check.
  • Litter boxes scooped? Check.

Okay, I won’t torture you any further here. I’m sure you get the drift.

I had agreed to clean one of my mother’s rental cottages while the kids were at school, so I grabbed my book to mail, (my mom’s post office never has a line) the audio book I’m currently listening to, library books to return and drove across town with special latex-free cleaning gloves even stashed in my purse.

I was drunk with power only a well organized woman can know. I am organized, here me roar!

But you know what I didn’t remember to bring? The keys to my mother’s rental house. So sure, I had gloves, audio entertainment and batched errands to run, but I had no access into the actual house I had agreed to clean!

So did I bang my head against the steering wheel and wail? No. I laughed really hard, all by myself in my car. So much so, that a guy started staring at me.

Because control is an illusion. Sure, I can take care of this detail and that errand, but it’s never enough.

I did figure out that my step-father was still at home, so I was able to drive the couple blocks over and grab a set of keys. Which turned out to be unnecessary as the previous tenants had chosen to leave the house completely unlocked when they left.

Which also made me laugh.

Does lack of control drive you up the wall, or are you one of those people that have every detail taken care of at all time? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Tina April 3, 2010 at 3:25 am

I have a horrible control problem and beat myself up about it all the time. Nothing is ever perfect including myself however for all of my life I have given up my own happiness to simply make it look as tho I am perfect. My life is better than half over and I have just recently “let myself go” enough to allow people into my home on a casual basis without “an appointment”. I sure don’t know where this trait came from. I just hope I can get myself re-trained and start enjoying life for a while.


Jinger April 3, 2010 at 4:07 am

Like you said control is an illusion…a balanced life is much better because then you are able to enjoy just living…taking notice of all the small things that make up life and savoring each one. Time goes by in the blink of an eye!


Marie-Josée April 3, 2010 at 4:36 am

It’s great that you just let go and laughed at the whole situation; good for you. I used to be a control freak and have mellowed out with time. I’m 44 now and I’ve started being forgetful. I am premenopausal and I know that my wacky hormones are partly responsible for this. At first this really scared me because my memory used to be phenomenal; I basically remembered everything. Now, I seem to remember really important things and stuff that touches or engages me in some way. So now I write (and try not to forget) to bring lists with me at the grocery store or for other errands. I make sure the kitchen and bathroom is clean when I have guests over, but I don’t go into a cleaning frenzy as I used to. I also used to be obsessed with punctuality, and have even mellowed in that area too. I observe my appointments, but don’t work myself up, frothing at the mouth, if I am a few minutes late to a social engagement. It took me such a long time to understand that I was taking myself and life way too seriously, just not enjoying it much, working myself up into a tense mess for nothing, really.


Lisa April 3, 2010 at 9:05 am

For the first 40 years of my life I bought into the illusion of control, and made myself and everybody around me miserable because of it. They just wouldn’t act according to MY script. Because I had a partial hysterectomy in my mid twenties, my one remaining ovary gave up the ghost at about that time. With menopause came a wonderful, unexpected gift….the realization that God, not I, was in control…and God didn’t need my help! What a relief it has been to just let go! Now when I slip back into old ways of thinking, it’s easy to quickly shrug off the habit by laughing at myself and thinking, “I can’t even make my dog mind!”


Lorene April 3, 2010 at 6:40 pm

The ovary story is great — an unexpected gift!


Tina April 4, 2010 at 5:17 am

Come on menopause, I am ready for you!!! I totally agree with Lorene….wonderful story.


Stephanie April 3, 2010 at 1:05 pm

This has nothing do to with this post, but I had to delurk to tell you that today, for the first time, I consciously chose to go to a thrift store for something instead of a retail store. We live in an area with terrible second-hand stores, but it felt so good knowing that I was trying to do my part. (I found what I needed, btw.) Thanks for making this more in the forefront of my mind.


magdalena April 3, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Control? Ha! I am a very organized person, but since I have to live with other people, there’s only so much control I’m going to get! Besides, things generally turn out all right, day to day – the details are not that important!


Jennifer April 3, 2010 at 5:15 pm

I have a problem with needing to do things efficiently. Like loading the dishwasher while I’m cooking dinner. Usually this works OK but occasionally I don’t have enough focus on one thing so something goes wrong, the dinner burns, I knock something over, etc. I have a really hard time taking it easy and not multitasking. It sometimes frustrating for people around me because I get annoyed when they don’t multitask. I’m trying to learn to let go and realize that it’s more important that things get done than get done the way I want them done.


connie April 3, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Control seems to be something I crave when I enter the unknown. Whether it be a new location, experience, relationships, work– my want of control = my real (or not so real) fear in my head.
I love my 40’s because I can now just sit with myself and remind myself that it’s okay to be vulnerable and not have all the answers (control).
I swallow hard sometimes, breathe deep, and wait for another’s suggestions. I am really quite boring if my “to do list” doesn’t blow up now and then.


Lorene April 3, 2010 at 6:38 pm

I can plan my day and do my best, but the minute I think I can CONTROL things, situations, or people… ha! … the joke is on me. Giving up control feels like a deep, nourishing breath of fresh air. My shoulders drop, a smile creeps onto my face, and I actually can live in the precious moment. That is where I want to be.


oldboyscout2 April 4, 2010 at 1:27 am

Control. Huh? Agreed ,we do have less than we think . People JUST don’t act as we want. Love could be called a lack of control. BUT we can have , if we plan, fall-back positions for when control fails. Some thoughts about easier default landings : insurance, cash for six months expenses, pre-nuptial contract , cell-phone, credit cards , first aid training, can of bear spray and extra keys everywhere.


Sense of Home April 4, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Sounds like you had a great day, took everything in stride with a laugh. Some days I suffer from the same syndrome, if I can handle it as well as you did I feel good. It does seem to be cyclical for me.


Michael Yanakiev April 6, 2010 at 3:00 am

Hey Nadia,
I am so close to your understanding and feeling of the issues. I seemed to care more about control in the near past,when I thought that somehow I have a grasp on everything. Now I can say that I know
something, next to nothing, but it feels more real. Maybe this is natural.
We tend to forget, that when we think that time has stopped for us,
we forget that we are standing on the shoulders of the giants of humanity. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, We see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, Are the ones who do.


Tracy Balazy April 6, 2010 at 9:49 am

Thank you, Katy, and everyone who posted comments, for the reminder that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up when things don’t go as planned. I tend to lose sight of that!


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