We’re all guilty of throwing our weight around from time to time and attempting to control things. Holidays are probably a prime time for that to happen because we want everything to be perfect. The exact perfect meal that will make everyone thankful (despite the fact that you might be trying to feed a picky eater who will only go for the mac-n-cheese alongside your healthiest friend who avoids all things fried, creamed, jellied, or otherwise delicious); the exact perfect gift that will evoke more than a fleeting smile and a mumbled thank you from the teens in your life; or, the exact perfect family photo to capture the beauty of this moment.

I don’t know about you, but the more I try to control people and things around me, the more out of control I actually feel. True at home, but true at work also.

We attempt to control people and things so we can determine the outcome. So, actually, control is deeply rooted in fear – fear of the unknown. We staff expend a great deal of time and energy trying to direct people’s behavior and then find ourselves frustrated and exasperated when, despite our best efforts, people use their behavior in a different way. We become too attached to the idea of a particular outcome and have a difficult time envisioning other opportunities. When we give up the idea of control we are then giving up the fight – a fight we cannot win anyway.

Not allowing others to make decisions they are perfectly capable of making is controlling. For some people those decisions are minor – which clothes to wear today or what show to watch on television. Expecting others to like the same things we like and do things the same way we do them is controlling. Isn’t variety the spice of life? Shaming others into doing what we want them to do is controlling. Manipulating people or playing on their emotions is not respectful or dignified.

Trust others with the outcomes of the tasks and responsibilities they’ve been given. Double checking or hovering over them is demeaning. Trust others to make decisions, even if you aren’t sure they are on the right path. People have the right to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes, just like you and I had the opportunity to learn from our own mistakes.

When we let go of the illusion of control we are making a choice about how to use our own behavior and giving ourselves permission to choose differently.

I had a friend once who was telling me about her wedding, which I was unable to attend. She showed me the pictures – everything was very beautiful and the width of her smile was matched only by her new husband’s broad grin. After several minutes it suddenly dawned on me that they had forgone the customary practice of flowers – there were no bouquets and no rosebuds pinned to lapels. It didn’t necessarily surprise me. My friend is very practical and quite thrifty so I figured the expense of the flowers was something she decided she just couldn’t justify. However, pictures of the reception most definitely had flowers – and most notable a very large and gorgeous bridal bouquet. When I asked her about it she told me that her sister had been in charge of the flowers but had forgotten them and as a result none of the formal wedding pictures included a single flower. She walked down the aisle without a bouquet as well. I asked how she had handled that and her response was so gracious and true: “what choice did I have?” Her sister had not purposefully forgotten the flowers and realizing that this situation was well outside her control; my friend just let it go and went with the flow. She was kind of cool like that. Fifteen years later that sticks with me much more than any “perfect” picture of her with a big bunch of flowers would have.

Nikki Wince – Mandt Faculty Supervisor