Organization and Control

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, 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.

todolistI stayed ahead with strict schedules–often I’d sit with my to-do list for the day, the week, and each project. What I missed by socializing after work, I made up for by working once my son was asleep. My work was always on time or ahead of schedule. I was dependable and it had to stand in for social.

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.

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.

Control often runs off the tracks due to no ones fault. Instead of trying to force events by sheer will, see what happens if you look at the event in the light of “what works best here?” or “What can I do that works with what I have?”

-Quinn McDonald is beginning to enjoy the accidental and the flawed. It’s the gift of emotional wabi-sabi.



12 thoughts on “Organization and Control

  1. As someone who organizes professionally (my own and others’ creative output), I really resonate with what you’re saying in this post. A lot of skill in adult work life is adapting to prevailing/current conditions. Having the vision for how things “should/could” be is important, but if it isn’t happening, it may be time to look at what’s happening and reshape the vision if necessary.

  2. I learned so much about control and my lack of it living in Indonesia. I learned to rarely make plans ahead of time as it was not culturally appropriate and things never happened the way I planned. I learned that I can rarely make other people do what I want them to do and the best I could try for is to only associate with people who consider my needs.

    I often wonder about the balance between control and organization and what organization means for people from different cultural backgrounds or countries. Thanks for writing about it.

  3. I remember those days too however in my case I was trying to keep all the ends together so I wouldn’t fly apart and fall into some unknown, and therefore, chaotic mess and take my children with me. I wish I’d allowed myself to fly apart . . . just a little. Living a real life involves a good dose of the unknown.

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