The Control Issue

As a working mother in my 30s and 40s, I was sure control was the key to success. I ran my life with lists and schedules. This worked well at work, except for days when the schedule called for leaving work promptly. In those days,

They never really get shorter, just change content, over a day, over a life.

much of the political part of work took place in bars and restaurants after work and for moms with children, the glass ceiling often looked more like the carved wood door to the club bar door. But I stayed ahead with strict schedules–often I’d sit with my to-do list for the day, the week, and each project.

It worked most of the time. When something unexpected came up, I would make a list for it, ignore it, deny it, or rarely, work around it. I often went to work sick. I truly believed that the cure-all tool was organization.

The trouble with organization, of course, is that it doesn’t allow for life to happen. It does allow for good problem solving, a regularly planned process and a good idea of what was going to happen in the future.

As I got older, I realized that we are less in control than we think. We are not in control of the weather, of when or how our family members will die, when or if we will get the flu, or be broadsided by a driver who is on the phone and runs the red light.

On Monday, I was coaching a client when my teeth began to chatter. I felt OK, but my teeth were knocking together. The chattering got so violent, I had to end the call. I began to shake uncontrollably and feel cold–an odd feeling in August, when the house is 85 degrees and the outside temperature is just over 100 degrees. I found a quilt, piled it on the bed and crawled in. I shook so hard, I cracked a tooth filling. Within an hour, I had a temperature of 104 degrees.

The next day, I was scheduled to teach. Years ago, I would have said nothing, gotten up, and staggered to work, done poorly, checked it off my list and heard about it at the next performance review. This time, I notified everyone that I was ill, and was amazed to find that my clients were concerned for my health and agreed to postpone the training. Not hire another trainer. Wait for me to get better. I was stunned. Happily surprised, but stunned.

For 24 hours I slept. When I woke up, I drank water. I had a pain in my left leg, which I ignored. The next day I discovered 3 small puncture wounds on my left shin. The skin around it–most of my shin–was hot and tender and swollen. Spider bites are rare–and I hadn’t been in places where spiders hang out. I don’t know and I’m not in control.

That is what surprised me the most. Not in control meant I didn’t post a blog, didn’t change the kitty litter, didn’t water the plants, didn’t change the hummingbird feeders, didn’t cook supper, put gas in the car, pay bills, call clients. The world went on without me while I slept and sweated. I gave up control and lived to tell about it.

There is a difference between control and organization. Organization works with what you have. Control tries to place (or nudge, or force) people, plans, processes into step with where you are at the moment. With varying results.

I don’t know what bit me, it’s unlikely I’ll ever know. I’m not in control of what bit me. I’m catching up and grateful for my immune system that took control without asking me. Now, to get back on schedule.

-Quinn McDonald is beginning to believe in alien abductions by secret poisonous spiders.