Control v. Organization

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. Nothing was unplanned, from grocery shopping to getting together with friends. Nothing was spontaneous because I was in control.

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

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

This worked well at work, except for days when the schedule called for leaving work promptly. In those days,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 organize my to-do list by day, week, and project.

It worked most of the time. When something unexpected came up, I would make a list for it, prioritize it, and schedule it. Rarely, I’d work around it. I often went to work sick. I truly believed that the cure-all tool was control. Self-control. List control. If it could be organized and controlled, I was on it.

The trouble with control, of course, is that it doesn’t allow for life to happen. It doesn’t allow for good problem solving either, or a flexible process. Unless I could predict the future, or control it, my life was sliding downhill. Uncontrolled. PIcking up speed.

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

As I get more experience, I prefer organization. Organization keeps an eye on projects, but doesn’t derail if something comes up to change the outcome.

Organization allows you to be flexible and re-solve a problem if the goal changes or the process has to change to solve the new problem.

Organization allows you to carry an umbrella and sunscreen, cold water and hot coffee in the same travel bag.

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. Often disappointing.

When organization doesn’t work, there is room to change the process. When control doesn’t work, we have to blame and crank up the rules some more. We are not capable of controlling as much as we’d like. Organization works pretty well, though. Most of the time.

-Quinn McDonald knows the futility of control. Confidence and credibility come from another direction.