Ever have one of those weeks when the world feels like it’s spinning on its axis faster than it should be?
I’m just coming off one of those.
I had four or five people disconnect from their worlds when I needed them. Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe it’s healthy to turn off your technology and forget about everything for a few a days. I encourage you to!
I had clients drop meetings at the last minute. I had business partners go dark when I needed their advice. I had potential partners go off the radar when we were trying to seal a deal.
While they were off refreshing, relaxing and recharging, I felt a bit lost. As a solopreneur, I was frustrated by how much their absences had an impact on my life.
The illusion of control
Not one of the people who disconnected is an employee or beholden to me in any way, but their actions had an effect on my world.
I panicked. I felt anger.
I realized I wasn’t in control of my world, and again reminded that control is merely an illusion.
American psychologist Ellen Langer studied the “illusion of control” in 1975, when she demonstrated that people often behave as if chance events are accessible to personal control. We believe we have control over events (and other people) in our lives, even when such control is impossible.
No matter how smart we are.
No matter how reasonable we are.
We think we have control over bits of our lives that don’t truly belong to us.
And when our illusions come crashing down, as they inevitably do, it creates chaos and stress in our world.
When I don’t feel like I’m in control of my world, when my business partners or clients or family members disconnect, it affects:
- My business’s bottom line
- My sleep patterns
- My temperament
- My stress levels
I have to step back and take that 60,000-foot snapshot of my world.
These periods in my life force me into a perspective of rediscovery and a time of clarity.
What can I control?
The more I thought through the disconnect with my clients and business partners, the more I likened it to my marriage with George.
We fight. Like all couples do.
When we reach that point in the argument — you know the one I’m talking about — George has to walk away and find a quiet space.
Me? I need to process these things by talking through them.
I always felt left in a lurch, dangling by a string, when George would walk away from me. After a few years of learning about each other and understanding each other’s communication needs, we decided he has to tell me he’s coming back before he leaves.
It’s the reassurance I need.
When it comes to my business partners and clients, I can’t demand they reassure me they’ll be back. They have their own lives to lead, their own businesses to conduct.
I can, however, try to understand better how they need to communicate and how I can process that.
I can understand what I can control.
How to gain control
When I start to get that panicky feeling from losing control, I want more control.
A friend and confidante said, “Janice, you have to go with the flow and trust that things will work out.”
In 2011, M. Ena Inesi of the London Business School theorized that people are willing to trade one source of control for another. If people lack power, they want choice. If they have choice, they don’t seek power.
She and her fellow researchers found people can be content with either power or choice — or both — but having neither leaves them dissatisfied.
You can imagine a person at an organization who’s in a low-level job. You can make that seemingly powerless person feel better about their job and their duties by giving them some choice, in the way they do the work or what project they work on.”
As a solopreneur, I don’t have the choice to walk away from my business partners and clients, so I have to empower myself in different ways:
- Control my response: I felt myself becoming reactive. I reminded myself you don’t make decisions when you’re thinking “Aw fuck, what next? Seriously, world!” It’s a not a good place to be making business — any! — decisions. When we’re emotionally reactive, we’re not making informed decisions; you’re making emotional decisions.
- See the opportunity: When you’re in team environments, you don’t always have the choice to walk away. If you have deadlines and a teammate drops the ball or needs to disconnect, somebody has to gather the reins and lead the team. People can rely on me to be the person who steps up to lead and make sure the work gets done.
- Plan for this to happen again: I want to make sure this doesn’t happen again. I need to have boundaries around expectations and have a backup plan. It means tough conversations about communication with the people in my life — my husband, my clients, my business partners, my friends.
Marketing genius and modern-day philosopher Seth Godin wrote about the illusion of control:
You can see where the disappointment lies. We’re never in control, not of anything but the monologue in our head and the actions we choose to take. Everything else, if we’re lucky, is a matter of influence. If we do our work and invest our energy, perhaps we can influence events, perhaps we can contribute to things turning out in a way we’re pleased with.
I work from such a place of community, partnership and collaboration that it’s jarring when my experiences don’t fit that mould.
If I choose to sit in an environment that isn’t supportive of my core values, I need to change the environment or leave. It’s just like a toxic work environment.
Life is how you plan and handle your Plan B. You can rise to the challenge, or you can let the world spin ruthlessly beyond your control.
I am Janice Otremba. I am a professional speaker, trainer and coach that specializes in stress management, health and wellness, personal growth and life balance. I invite you to share your thoughts and opinions, to determine how I can be of service to you. I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.