A few days ago I was meeting with one of my coaching clients, a nurse manager at a mid-size hospital. We were joined by a nursing student who was shadowing my client for a business class. My client mentioned a thought provoking question her student had asked:
“What’s your span of control?” My client’s even more thought-provoking answer made me pause.
“I thought about it,” she said with a chuckle, remembering her conversation, “And I said…Nothing! Nothing is really in my control!” She relies on her employees, her boss, physicians, the budget, the executives, the larger healthcare system. She recognized that she didn’t work in a vacuum. I thought that was a very poignant and self-aware answer to a seemingly innocuous question.
“Isn’t that refreshing?” I said with a smile. “You’re only in control of your emotions, your reactions and actions, your thoughts.”
I thought about her response as I walked through my neighborhood this evening, enjoying the cool autumn air and still-warm Texas sun as I strolled along the winding side streets. Nothing matters, not really, not in the big scheme of life, at least not most of the things we worry about. Nothing is permanent, and as George Harrison said, “All things must pass,” which is a relief and a little heartbreaking too. The more pressure we put on ourselves to control the outcomes and be perfect, the more disappointed we end up being. We must let go.
Nothing mattered to me at the moment but the breeze against my face and the setting sun on my back. I had no worries, no obligations, no regrets, no control except putting one foot in front of the other. And then I got back home…
It’s easy to forget that nothing matters–not really–when worry creeps in. I’m fairly detached from what society would guess would be my larger worries (job insecurity, lack of relationships) and instead am haunted by all those little things: guilt over seemingly insignificant actions, secret regret over what I let go of too quickly and what I held onto for too long, the itching scars of old grudges and deep wounds, angst over things I did and things I didn’t do, the relapse of body image struggles, loneliness I refuse to acknowledge, and a lurking feeling of listlessness and dread. Those are the things that slither into my brain when I have crawled into bed and am no longer protected by all my superficial methods of occupying my mind.
Of course as I’ve said many times before, the best place for me to clear my mind, focus on what’s important, and let go of needless and damaging attachments is in the dojang. Taekwondo gives me a quiet and mindful outlook. Even as I am practicing what has become the most important and fulfilling piece of my life, I feel a sense of lightness I haven’t been able to find anywhere else. The only thing I’m in control of is me: my emotions, my thoughts, my body to an extent although lately it has overridden some of the things my brain wants it to do…and hitting shit seems to make my endorphins soar, so maybe that’s part of it.
When you realize your span of control isn’t as grand as you thought it’s somewhat freeing. You don’t have to shoulder your burdens alone, and when you put them down for a moment you may even realize that you don’t need to put certain burdens on your back anymore. You are simultaneously surrendering and being more powerful than you ever were when you held on (too) tightly to things you thought would make you happy or solve your problems. Things always seem to work out when you back off a bit and when you stop beating yourself up over every misstep.
I really want to get to that point of being one of those old broads with “zero f*cks left to give.”
Nothing matters–not really, not in the grand scheme of things. Everything is impermanent. Our span of control is not what we think it is. We are not responsible for solving everyone’s problems. The worry, guilt, regret, and anger that gnaws at us will pass if we don’t hold onto it as tightly as it tries to hold onto us. The more we worry about everything the more we miss out on the beautiful parts of life. I can’t beat myself up for mistakes I’ve made in the past anymore than I can worry about disappointing my instructors with a crummy jump spin kick or a hesitant self-defense technique. None of it matters–not really, not even taekwondo. And once I recognize that I can actually start to enjoy everything. If I have to remind myself of that every day I will.