Power vs. Control

When we do something (create something, offer something, apply for something, etc.), usually we’re doing it because we want some kind of outcome – we want to receive validation from people we respect and admire, or be supported financially by our gifts, or quit our jobs, or have a certain number of people sign up for our class or buy our ebook.

It’s natural to want certain outcomes, but it tends to create a lot of problems and make life miserable.

Most of us believe on some level that if we take the right steps, we’ll get what we want. You pop leftovers in the microwave, push some buttons and you get hot food. We tend to think (or at least hope) that is how all of life works.

But the reality is we control a lot less in our lives than we think we do.

If you offer a class, you don’t control how many people sign up.
If you get a degree, you don’t control how easy it is for you to find a job.
If you bare your soul to a significant other, you don’t control how they respond.

And if you put a bowl of stew in the microwave, you might hear a loud pop and even though the microwave still runs, nothing gets hot anymore. (Ask me how I know this.)

Yes, taking the so-called “right steps” can increase our chances at getting the outcome we want, but in the end, it’s still outside our control.

It’s hard enough to deal with the disappointment of not getting what we wanted and expected, but where it gets excruciatingly painful is when we confuse our lack of control for a lack of power.

You try something, it doesn’t work due to something beyond your control, and then you think, “Well shit, I guess I don’t have it in me to do that.”

You’ve now interpreted that sequence of events as evidence that you are lacking the power you need to do what you want. But really, this was just how the cookie happened to crumble in this particular instance, and it says nothing about your power or lack thereof.

Power and control are two separate things. And if you confuse them it becomes really easy to give up at the exact moment you should lean in.

I struggle with this all the time.

I’ve had tantrums about my body and its various illnesses. And about how many people signed up for my classes. And about imploding real estate markets (to name just a few).

When faced with those situations, I wanted to crumple. I felt beaten down, and like my attempts at doing the right thing to the best of my abilities were in vain.

I felt powerless.

Sure, you could argue that not having control is a form of powerlessness. We’re powerless to control the outcome.

So then what is it to be powerful? What does it mean to use our power?

Power is nothing more than exercising our ability to act.

And it’s important to remember that taking action can happen on the physical, spiritual, emotional or mental plane. Even making a choice counts.

It’s not dependent on getting the desired results.

The truth is that even by making the attempt, you’ve already exercised your power. It was already a great feat of strength and courage.

Here’s what I’ve been trying to remind myself lately:

Even though I wish creating stuff and sharing it with the world worked a bit more like a microwave with predictable results (pop in a bowl of new stuff, push some buttons, and wind up with hot business growth), the truth is it’s more like making a phone call.

When I make a call, the person I’m trying to reach may not answer. And I might feel disappointed or frustrated about that, but I don’t hold myself responsible. I don’t blame myself for it. I work through the emotions and try again later, because I know I’m not in control of what’s happening on the other end of the line.

Similarly, when I create something and put it out there, I can take it as far as picking up the phone and dialing. The rest is out of my hands.

Sure, it still hurts if the call doesn’t go through in the way that I hoped, but it’s less painful when I remember that I used my power to do my part.

For further exploration

When you look back on a situation where something you tried didn’t go the way you planned or hoped, what did that disappointment say about you? What did the outcome say about you or your power and ability to make stuff happen?

Can you appreciate your power, even while feeling disappointment that you couldn’t control the outcome?

2 thoughts on “Power vs. Control

  1. chris

    This is gorgeous and deep and powerful, dear Victoria. Such wisdom you have gained from your travels to the dark realms! I’m so glad that you are sharing that hard-earned wisdom with the world.

  2. Kylie

    Gosh, Victoria. You’re always saying just exactly what I need to hear. My favorite part of this, the bit I’ll carry in my heart for the rest of the day, is this: “The truth is that even by making the attempt, you’ve already exercised your power.”

    That makes me feel…so much better. Thank you.

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